A brighter shade of Yellow

By Steve Hart

Chris Armistead explains how the household name in business directories is changing its focus. He talks to Steve Hart

Chris Armistead came from America to lead Auckland-based firm Yellow. Photo / Supplied
Chris Armistead came from America to lead Auckland-based firm Yellow. Photo / Supplied

After graduating with a degree in advertising and public relations from the University of Georgia, Chris Armistead turned his back on the industry to follow a passion for systems and IT.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, the CEO of Auckland-based firm Yellow is not new to the business directory game.

He's spent 26 years in the industry, including time with Yellow Pages in the US. He may even have yellow running through his veins.

His father worked for Yellow Pages for 35 years and was general manager of sales. But Armistead junior's fingers did their own walking to the firm.

"My father had retired by the time I joined Yellow in the US," he says. "I was working for an IT firm and was asked if I would be interested in working on a project with Yellow Pages. I said, 'Sure'.

"The job involved designing the contract processing systems that were used by the sales teams for data entry, billing and advert publication."

He went on to enjoy senior roles at Sensis, a directory owned by Telstra in Australia, and was managing director at Truvo.com - a European directory publisher known as World Directories until May 2007. Then followed a period at AT&T Interactive in LA where he was executive director at YellowPages.com.

He left in 2011 to move to New Zealand and take up a job as managing director at Yellow, leaving his wife and two adult children behind in the States.

"They visit frequently," says Armistead. "It's great to go travelling with my wife Kathy, daughter Lia, 20, and son Feeney who is 24. My wife decided to stay near them to ensure they have someone to watch over them and to help as they grow as adults."

Armistead has made time for sightseeing his new home, spending Christmas at Coopers Beach, visiting Cape Reinga, 90 Mile Beach, Queenstown and Dunedin.

"I've been told by a few Kiwis that I've seen and done more than they have as natives," he says. "It's truly fantastic and unbelievable to have all the aspects of the world in one compact place.

"From what I see with the team here at Yellow, Kiwis are hard workers, dedicated, fun and have a well balanced life. New Zealanders are amazingly well connected - it's great knowing someone who in turn knows someone I either know or should know."

Armistead enjoys reading history-based fiction, exercises three times a week and is a regular cinema-goer. Just like his Kiwi colleagues, he likes his sport too.

"I am a big baseball and gridiron fan," he says. "Luckily, I am able to watch all my US-based sports over the internet, but it does require getting up early on Sundays."

After just 17 months as Yellow's managing director, Armistead was given the top spot in July.

"It was something I hoped would happen quickly," he says. "This was a great opportunity to continue my career, so I was happy to be given the offer."

He has a clear plan for the company as it pulls away from being known as purely a printed directory publisher to being what he calls a "trusted adviser" to small business owners.

"I think we are moving on our way to being a digital company that also offers print," says Armistead. "We are adding new products all the time.

"Small business owners are busy and don't typically have the time to work at their marketing, so we want to become more of a solutions provider and a trusted adviser.

"We have spent a lot of time getting more products that are digital such as selling websites and promotional videos the products that SMEs really need."

Armistead says Yellow is in the middle of a three-year transformation. Last year was about getting the sales force right and retraining them to sell solutions rather than just advertising space. Now his focus is on IT infrastructure, to improve systems.

"When you are going through any kind of transformation it is a big task," he says. "We have our challenges every day. But my plans are to be here for the long haul. We have an exciting journey ahead and my total focus is on Yellow."

- NZ Herald

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