Diverse directors share optimism for Otago

The Otago Chamber of Commerce confirmed three new directors to its board last week. Brent Melville caught up with Firebrand founder Bex Twemlow, Dunedin Mitre10 Mega group chief executive officer Neil Finn-House and Wilkinson Rogers Lawyers’ marketer John Guthrie.

He found that despite different backgrounds and businesses, the three share one thing — a belief in the future of Otago.

What do you see as the key emerging themes across the Dunedin and Otago business community?

Bex Twemlow
Bex Twemlow
Bex Twemlow: ‘‘Dunedin has the opportunity to continue positioning itself and proving its worth as the technology and engineering powerhouse for New Zealand and internationally. With the funding recently announced through the PGF for the Centre of Digital Excellence, our engineering businesses and the coming major projects of the hospital rebuild and the Harbour Basin redevelopment there is ample government support. The big challenges are the workforce availability, housing and the ongoing infrastructure/land availability challenges for the city.’’

Neil Finn-House: ‘‘Certainly there are capacity challenges to ensure that we have the appropriate skill sets to deliver the opportunities and growth that will undoubtedly occur with the forthcoming activity that is planned. Another is ensuring that we get a world-class retail CBD once that the impending changes occur with the enhancements of the retail precinct upgrade.

John Guthrie: ‘‘Startups and online businesses operating throughout the world.’’

Neil Finn-House
Neil Finn-House
What advice would you give to a prospective business or investor who was considering starting up here?

NFH: ‘‘That Dunedin and the Otago region is generally a supportive business community that appreciates and values innovative people and businesses who are not afraid of hard work, taking a risk and backing themselves. The infrastructure is well set up to support startups with an established network of innovative entrepreneurs, with a loyal, educated and hard-working workforce and commercial real estate capacity to grow into. As digital industries develop the city has well-developed plans to capitalise on its strengths and the tyranny of distance is not so critical as it has been in the past.’’

BT: ‘‘Get your hustle on and connect with the many great business people here already. Before you even come you will find many of our champion business leaders are very open to having a yarn about the how, why, when, who and what. There are a heap of resources provided via the City Council, the Otago Chamber and if you are a true ‘‘startup’’ we have a growing list of shared workspaces, an incredible ecosystem of startup support organisations and incubators.’’

John Guthrie
John Guthrie
JG: ‘‘Dunedin is an easy lifestyle city, a good place to raise a family. Schools are excellent. Dunedin also has a close relationship with the University of Otago — the source of world-class employees.’’

What are our challenges for the future?

NFH: ‘‘Availability of housing stock and new residential sections is impacting on pricing and supply which will impact on growth. The challenge for the future will be ensuring that we can keep the city’s productivity working as it grows with the pressure on the roading network from the new construction and the short-term challenges that will impose on parking and traffic flow.’’

JG: ‘‘An obsession with climate change, that would lead to even more red tape could destroy the city. We’re all on board but drive the ‘free’ bus carefully.’’

BT: ‘‘Our retail sector continues to face the same challenges being experienced everywhere — more competition, tighter margins, consumer expectations of ‘‘need it now’’ and accessibility. The shift to digital, eCommerce and IOT/AI/Automation is here and if a business hasn’t considered the impacts of these technologies and the strategy to embrace them they are already being left behind.’’

And finally, how are you planning on celebrating your year of hard work with your teams?

NFH: ‘‘I work in retail so know all about being busy this time of the year! Our team celebrated Christmas in style a couple of weeks ago with a big party at the Glenroy Auditorium which was a fabulous night. We’ve had a great 2019, in particular winning best large format home improvement store in NZ; In 2020 we have ambitious plans to execute to keep ensuring we grow and stay relevant in a very competitive market and ensuring we look after our customers and team at the standard they have come to expect over the last few decades we have been in business.’’

JG: ‘‘Managing mental stress over this period is paramount. Manage your staff accordingly and enjoy the season with them, involving staff in the strategic planning process.’’

BT: ‘‘Every year in business for us has been bigger than the last, we turned 10 years old in August and reflection has been key to that celebration. We are blessed to be based in Dunedin, our city is part of our business story and this year has further cemented our roots and zero interest or need to ‘‘move north’’. Our team will be celebrating with a Firebrand family-friendly day out of laser tag, mini-golf and lunch then our traditional adults only ‘‘court session’’ and fancy food with no doubt some dancing (and Karaoke!). We will all then head off on our own adventures for the closedown period of three weeks — Otematata, Twizel, Melbourne, Noosa, Rarotonga and Hong Kong are some of the various places the team are all heading to!’’

Note: The opinions expressed are personal and not necessarily those of the Otago Chamber of Commerce.

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