Rob Fyfe is now leader of a Covid-19 business liaison group, seeking to connect firms that can help with the pandemic response to Government.
In February, as part of the Business Hub series - before the escalation of the crisis - we talked to Fyfe about what he has been up to and his vision for New Zealand business.
Traditionally New Zealand has suffered from being small and distant, says Rob Fyfe, talking to the Herald prior at the annual Craggy Range Speaker Series.
"That lack of scale and lack of connection to the big markets of the world has made us feel like we're sitting out on the edge.
"Actually now, being small allows us to be nimble, allows us to move faster, to get under the skin of those much larger big scale corporates that can't move at the same speed."
The challenge for us is to unshackle ourselves from a sense of not being in the race, he said.
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"Because we're the little guys. We need more ambition."
Fyfe became a household name as chief executive at Air New Zealand before going on to lead kiwi outdoor clothing firm Icebreaker to international success.
He is now a professional director and entrepreneur working with several start-up companies.
"I'm an introvert so I've spent the last few years trying to have very low profile roles," Fyfe said.
"I'm involved with three boards and I have six early stage businesses. I'm mentoring the young people involved in those businesses".
Although he's known as something of a marketing-guru, Fyfe's background is as an engineer.
That's reflected in the nature of some of his new businesses, which are not all high-tech in the traditional sense.
"One is a technology redefining the way nail guns work, one's a labour hire business, one's involved in store fit outs, one is a medicinal product," he said.
"They are businesses where I see an opportunity where good people can make a difference in an industry from the way it's done today, but not necessarily leveraging a new leading edge technology.
"It's all about thought leadership rather than technical leadership."
Technology was changing the game for New Zealand but it was important not to be daunted by the scale of what was on offer.
"The challenge is that you have to figure out how to access the data and the knowledge to power and fuel that nimbleness that we need."
The cost of accessing big data was falling fast.
Facebook, for example, now has up to 27,000 different data points on any one individual to help inform how we can present an idea to a consumer, he said.
"It's a mindset. How can use that data cost effectively?" Fyfe said.
The other key component was for businesses to think globally and be confident in New Zealand's story.
That's formula he applied at Air New Zealand and Icebreaker, he said.
"People love what we stand for as New Zealanders. It's incredibly powerful.
"I have people knocking on my door all the time wanting to invest … there's not a lack of capital wanting to flow into our market, to back people and back successful projects."
The issue was more about mindset than money.
"I had a dinner with Tim Brown from Allbirds [the globally successful merino wool shoe company].
"I said what is it about your business that you think has allowed you to achieve what you've achieved? He said it's just dreaming and thinking that we can be a [billion-dollar] business.
"I suspect too many of us don't think big enough," Fyfe said. "Perhaps it's trained out of us."
Fyfe believes the easy availability of data provides an opportunity to change our approach to education.
"The people I'm most interested in are the curious kids, the ones that don't quite fit the norm, the ones that ask the question where I think: why didn't I think of that question?
"The insights that come out of that question offer a new lens on something," Fyfe said.
"That makes you think: maybe we can create a product that does this, or maybe we can reorient our business to that.
"It's the questions that generate the insights."