New Zealanders hold their national heroes in high regard but are not so sure how to rate business leaders

Sir Edmund Hillary is considered New Zealand's most recognised hero but singer Lorde is ranked third by under-30s, according to a survey about what it is to be a Kiwi.

In the final of the Herald's five-part series, the questionnaire by Colmar Brunton shows 52 per cent of the 1,009 respondents considered the late mountaineer to be a nationally or internationally recognised New Zealand hero.

His closest rival was All Black captain Richie McCaw on a mere 8 per cent, followed by the late Sir Peter Blake (7 per cent) and former Prime Minister Helen Clark, Olympic gold medallist Valerie Adams, film-maker Sir Peter Jackson and the All Blacks all on 5 per cent.

Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Lorde came in at 3 per cent but was third overall among the younger-generation voters.


But when asked who was New Zealand's top business person, 36 per cent of respondents answered "don't know".

Rated the most successful business person on 10 per cent was Prime Minister John Key, a former investment banker, followed by Sir Stephen Tindall, founder of The Warehouse, Graeme Hart, one of the country's richest businessmen, and economist Gareth Morgan, all on 6 per cent.

When New Zealand advertising agency DraftFCB hired two American anthropologists to analyse Kiwi culture, they discovered that culturally New Zealanders were not as open to celebrating success as Americans or Australians.

"In New Zealand we're happier if people are a little bit quieter about their achievements," DraftFCB head of planning David Thomason said.

"One of the perceptions is that it's this selfish thing where you climb on top of other people to get to the top," he said.

"Yet when we got past that, New Zealanders consistently did have an ambition. But the nature of New Zealanders' ambitions is likely to be more collective - that it's for their family or the kids or their partner."

The anthropologists, from Practica Group in New York and Chicago, concluded that Kiwis kept ambitions to themselves and were poor at making plans to do something about it.

In an online survey in 2010 of 1,000 people, DraftFCB found 35 per cent of respondents wished they were more ambitious and 79 per cent wished New Zealanders as a whole were more ambitious.


Mr Thomason said tall poppy syndrome was very real and intelligence did not necessarily go hand in hand with success.

"You're born with it. Intelligence is often seen as an unfair advantage but people will celebrate things like hard work and innovation more, rather than just they're really brainy."

Mr Thomason said Kiwis also appeared to be easily satisfied.

"People talk about the BMW, the bach and the boat and New Zealand business people are often satisfied once they have achieved these and don't want to go further."

Economist and philanthropist Gareth Morgan said New Zealand was a perfect place to do business for smaller operators.

"We're basically a nursery where you can grow those businesses to a certain level and either sell them or use that base to build internationally."

Mr Morgan dismissed criticisms such as being held back by government policy or lack of funding as "whinging" and said that having a small population was a huge advantage.

"You can develop your business in this test market pretty much under the radar before you take it international."

Golden girl Val happy to be a heroine

One of Adams' goals is to inspire young people in NZ. Photo / NZ Herald
One of Adams' goals is to inspire young people in NZ. Photo / NZ Herald

Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Valerie Adams is proud to be internationally recognised as a heroine by other New Zealanders.

Putting New Zealand "on the map" was an honour, according to Adams, who has gone up against shot putters from around the world and come out on top.

"If I can put little old New Zealand up there amongst the biggest countries in the world, especially in track and field which is one of the most competitive sports ...

"One of my pet peeves at the moment is that people just assume that we're part of Australia if they don't know where we are."

Adams, whose late mother Lilika is her hero, said Kiwis held ambitions but didn't talk about them in the way other nationalities such as Americans might.

"We're so laid-back but also quite a humble country that we don't want to say to the whole world what our ambitions are.

"I set my goals out but my ambitions I keep to myself. I think in New Zealand that's just the way we roll here."

Adams said one of her goals was to inspire young people in New Zealand.

"I've always said that if I can inspire one person, I can die happy. If I can inspire one person to change their life and make it better for themselves, and that's not necessarily in sport, I can tell you now that I will be happy to die and that my job is done."