From a C Lister, to the CEO of NZ Inc

Sir Ian Taylor with a Kiwi-made UBCO electric motorbike. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Sir Ian Taylor with a Kiwi-made UBCO electric motorbike. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Sir Ian Taylor pens an irate letter to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.

Prime Minister,

I imagine that you will be pleased by the comments from Business NZ, the organisation which positions itself as the foremost advocacy group for businesses in New Zealand, that your comments on past trade missions being made up of "C Listers" aren’t such a big deal and will be dismissed by today’s business leader with a bit of a chuckle.

Nothing too serious to get ourselves in a tizz over.

Given Business NZ’s remarkably bland stance, I feel someone has to speak up on behalf of we, the C Listers, who have been on past trade missions.

I have been on three.

The first was with Prime Minister Helen Clark to India in 2004. That was the first visit to India by a New Zealand prime minister for 20 years.

The focus was on moving the perception of New Zealand from an agricultural economy to a knowledge economy, based on technology and innovation.

Those of us on the delegation paid between $20,000-$30,000 each to be on the trip, so we were not along for the free ride, which you suggested was the case.

You may find this hard to believe as well, but not all of us were there to see how we might benefit from the trip.

A number of us were there to support the Prime Minister’s focus on technological innovation, being delivered by small, agile companies, from the bottom of the world, that were globally punching above their weight.

I can still recall the delegation meeting with two of the wealthiest men in India, the Ambani brothers from Reliance Infocom.

They were fascinated to learn that the graphics being delivered for the cricket coverage in India were coming from a small New Zealand company.

The word "cricket" changed the tone of the discussions immediately, so much so that they asked if it would be OK to fire up the gigantic screen where we were meeting because India was playing Australia for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the time.

And there were those graphics — from a small C list company in New Zealand.

Today, one of those brothers, Akash Ambani, is arguably the most powerful person in world cricket.

More recently our CEO, Cheryl Adams, was part of Prime Minister Ardern’s trade mission to the US. We paid almost $20,000 for her to make the trip so, again, this was no free ride.

As many have pointed out, most of the so-called A Listers you had on your current trip to Japan were also on Prime Minister Ardern’s trip to the US.

But alongside your A listers were innovative start-ups like Partly and UBCO, and my friend Grant Straker from Straker Communications.

Like me, Grant would have sat outside your definition of an A Lister when he went on his first trade mission with Prime Minister John Key.

It was 2010 and his Kiwi-based language technology company had a staff of 10 and revenue of just $1 million.

Ten years later when he went on the US trade mission that Cheryl was on, Straker Communications had 250 staff, a global client list, and revenue of $50m.

He didn’t make your A List for the Japan trip, but he is negotiating major business there anyway. These are deals that are a result of having doors opened for him years ago on the early trade mission he went on as the innovative owner of a technology start-up whose vision was to take on the world.

As I mentioned, also on that trip with Grant, and our CEO, were two start-ups who regularly feature in the New Zealand Hi Tech Awards, Partly and UBCO.

Both have their sights set on the world market and they really don’t need our prime minister telling that market that New Zealand has lost its mojo.

Fortunately, most of the clients we, and they, work with are as bemused by these comments as we are.

Just three months ago we introduced Fox Sports in the US to a small Dunedin architecture company called Architecture Van Brandenburg (AVB).

This is a company that designed a 190,000sq m, state-of-the-art, building in China that has already been declared a building of national importance by the Chinese government.

As a result of the introduction we made with Fox Sports, this month millions of football fans around the world watching the Uefa Euro 2024 have been wowed by the largest virtual sports studio that has ever been built.

Fox have called it "The Cathedral of Sports".

Designed by a Dunedin company of five people. A small team — but one full of mojo.

I got a phone call from our client at Fox Sports the day after the studio was launched. His comment was one I have heard many times before.

"You Kiwis have done it again. What the team at AVB pulled off was remarkable. We have no idea how they managed to do it. I just tell people up here it’s just what Kiwis do."

[Last] week while you were in Japan another team of mojo makers from a Kiwi organisation called Wool Impact were in Chicago.

They are working with the largest architectural design company in the world, Gensler, who have 2 billion sq ft of property under management.

The discussions under way will see Wool Impact provide one of the key elements in Gensler’s strategic move from being the largest architectural design company in the world, to being the largest and most environmentally impactful architectural design company for the world.

The key element in that strategic move will be New Zealand wool, delivered by mojo makers taking on the world.

In a couple of months, we will be heading to Barcelona to provide the 3D graphics for coverage of the 37th America’s Cup.

This will be a showcase of New Zealand technology taking on some of the world’s most advanced technology companies, including two of the top F1 teams.

As a result of the trade mission our CEO went on, with the CEO of UBCO, we will be showcasing two UBCO electric motorbikes around the streets of Barcelona, proudly carrying the silver fern, as they move their focus from New Zealand farms to the streets of Europe.

A couple of C Listers taking on the world — because they met on a trade mission.

Who knows where that may take them, but I did note that Sir Peter Beck joined you in Japan to announce a deal he had done before you or your delegation headed up that way.

This is the same Peter Beck who many years ago, as a young kid from Invercargill, with no degrees, decided he would build a rocket company in New Zealand, to take on the world.

Today only three countries in the world, the USA, China and Russia, launch more rockets into space than Peter does, out of Mahia.

I couldn’t help wondering if that young Peter Beck would have made your A List back when he had that vision to take on the three most powerful countries in the world?

And, if you are thinking of taking a delegation to Barcelona, which is within three hours reach of over 300 million Europeans, give us a yell.

We would love to see you riding a Kiwi UBCO electric motorbike.

There’s a news story for you.

— Sir Ian Taylor is founder and managing director of Dunedin company Animation Research.