Covid-19 has thrust senior economist Brad Olsen into the spotlight and he is now New Zealand's go-to guy on the economy. Reporter Jenny Ling finds out what is behind the former Whangārei resident's drive and success.
Maybe his success was written in the stars.
Picture this: A young Brad Olsen, around 12 years old, watching the national and international stock markets and fuel prices on the news every night then recording them meticulously in a little notebook.
Fast forward not even one full decade, and Olsen is working as a senior economist at a leading consultancy based in Wellington, and has become New Zealand's go-to commentator on the economy.
The 23-year-old is now a familiar face on TV, being interviewed about the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and is often recognised by people on the street.
Here he is, this overachieving young man who grew up in Whangārei, giving his two cents worth to the nation via the likes of Mike Hosking, John Campbell, Simon Dallow, Patrick Gower and Hilary Barry.
"I didn't realise how much attention and focus was on the economy," Olsen said.
"It's a pretty incredible position to be in at the moment.
"To be at the forefront of understanding and evaluating how New Zealand is moving, though the middle of a pandemic and possibly the largest recession in a century."
But maybe it wasn't fate but hard work, focus and determination that has enabled Olsen to get where he is today.
Taking time out of his hectic schedule recently to visit family in Ngunguru, and to sit down over a lime milkshake with the Northern Advocate, he recalls being civically minded, even as a child.
He met a local MP at the tender age of 8 to discuss water quality after becoming concerned about a polluted culvert.
As a diligent student of St Francis Xavier Catholic School Olsen put his hand up for a variety of volunteer roles and continued to do so while attending Whangārei Boys' High School.
In 2014 he was honoured for his work progressing youth issues in the district with a Youth Week award.
Two years later, Olsen was presented with the Queen's Young Leader award and has now met Her Majesty in Buckingham Palace three times.
By the age of 18 he was travelling to Malta having been selected to participate in a refugee and migration summit before a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Olsen describes himself as "painfully inquisitive" as a child.
"Mum says one of my favourite questions growing up was 'why'?
"I wasn't shy about asking, no matter who it was, you'd always get a question from young Brad.
"I saw a lot of problems and challenges to be discussed and questions to be posed."
OLSEN'S CAREER as an economist with Infometrics kicked off after high school.
He joined the firm as a part-time data analyst while studying for a double degree in economics and politics at Victoria University.
The promotions kept rolling in, and by the time he graduated in May last year, he was already their senior economist.
"It's been a wild ride the past few years," he said.
"It's not what I planned but things have evolved the way they have and I'm in a pretty exciting position at the moment."
It probably goes without saying that downtime is a "foreign concept" for Olsen, whose reading list consists of journal articles and official documents.
Saturday nights are spent volunteering with Take 10, a Vulnerable Support Charitable Trust programme that creates late-night "safe zones" for youth partying in Wellington's entertainment district.
Olsen gives up his free time to hand out water bottles and phone chargers, and make sure revellers have fun safely.
He's also a member of the Global Shapers Community Wellington Hub, Wellington City Youth Council, the Citizens' Health Council, the Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network and the Wellington District Licensing Committee.
Oh, and he's the country's youngest Justice of the Peace.
Olsen admits he has always worked hard.
He recalls a typical scenario while studying at university.
"While everyone else would go home for the holidays I remember going to the hall of residence and making a packed lunch sandwich and going to work."
OLSEN'S CURRENT role involves getting useful information to businesses, decision makers and the public.
Though he has been taking media inquiries since 2017, it went up a notch last June when Infometrics released a regional wellbeing report, which Olsen co-authored.
Regional Wellbeing: A broader view of community outcomes around New Zealand was designed to help local leaders and their communities better understand how their areas function and design innovative actions to improve the wellbeing of the wider community.
Just as he was getting used to fronting the media, "Covid took it to another level".
Olsen is now one of New Zealand's youngest and more prominent economic commentators, regularly featuring across TV, radio, print and online.
"Economists are generally poor at explaining things in a way people can understand," he said.
"Apparently, I can make it more understandable for the public – also, I pick up the phone.
"And when you're in a journalist's phone book you can be sure you'll get called on again."
Olsen remembers March 23 when Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand would move to level 3 then quickly to level 4.
He'd left the office early and was at the supermarket when TVNZ rang asking if he could get to a laptop for breaking coverage.
"That was probably the most nerve-racking interview in my life, because I was live and for six minutes with Simon Dallow questioning me about what was happening with the economy now.
"At that point the world was spinning for everyone, I think."
That interview was done at the kitchen table from his Wellington flat as he didn't have a desk.
After that he found the ironing board worked much better, which is where most of his other interviews were done during lockdown.
OVER THE past seven months Olsen has spoken on wide-ranging issues on the economic effects of the pandemic including unemployment, the wage subsidy scheme, property prices and the housing shortage, interest rates and infrastructure.
While genuinely concerned about Northland, he is hopeful for the region because "it has shown incredible resilience in the last couple of months".
"There are some strong sectors include primary industry, dairy and horticulture, they are doing well and that's keeping people in work.
"On the other hand, there are other challenges already present, like high levels of benefit dependency. We already had issues connecting people with work and jobs prior to Covid. That's been exacerbated now.
"Because of the changes that are emerging from the pandemic we won't see the economy bounce back to normal.
"But there's potential for provincial areas like Northland to benefit and change the way they operate, to take some risk and be innovative and create jobs for the community."
Olsen would move back North "in a heartbeat", though there are no immediate plans.
He's been reported as saying he would consider a career in politics.
However, "I've still got a way to go in Wellington".
Ultimately Olsen sees his work as a public good.
"It's important to make sure people are well informed.
"These are people with real livelihoods and real families.
"We have to make sure that when we talk about big issues, we keep the people at the core of that, so they're front and centre of the debate."
Of his 12-year-old self, he said he didn't really know what he was trying to achieve by jotting down those share market changes.
"I was trying to understand what was happening in New Zealand and across the world.
"I guess I want to leave the world in a better place than I found it."