Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How to create a small business...

...give a New Zealander a large business!

The old Aussie joke is a little mean but I'm afraid it has a lot of truth. Over the past 25 years we have seen all the large NZ industrial companies either fail or reduced to slim shadows of their former selves. Fletcher Challenge, Carter Holt Harvey, Brierley Investments, Telecom, Air NZ, Fisher and Paykel...even Fonterra has not performed as expected following its creation from the dairy companies Kiwi and NZ Dairy Group.

I believe the reason that NZ is number 35 by GDP per capita (2008 purchasing power parity) and Australia is number 4, is that Australians know how to build and sustain big companies. Likewise the US, UK, The Netherlands, Finland, Italy and the other countries in the top 10.

We consistently read surveys rating NZ one of the best countries in the world to do business and we hear our prime ministers raving about our successes like Swazi, Line7, Old Fashioned Foods and Xero and how they are pursuing policies to encourage such innovative start-ups. But it takes a hell of a lot of Swazis to make up for one failed Fletcher Challenge. Our previous government managed to wipe $2B off our largest company, Telecom, in one day through their bumbling management of telecommunications policy. Think of how many Xeros it takes to make that up!

The record shows that NZ is a barren place for big companies. We're too small and too isolated with too high a cost structure, I hear you say. Finland is small and isolated and one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to live and do business and yet they have Nokia (and Kone and Metso and many other world-leading companies). And most of Finland is in darkness for half of the year!

New Zealanders love to see our sports people win and our musicians and film-makers on the podiums at world events, but when it comes to success in business, our petty jealousies come to the fore. This is a country where too often people vandalise expensive cars out of spite. Unfortunately, many New Zealanders do not appreciate that the owners of those cars are probably providing them with jobs.

If this country wants to climb back up the international ladder, the only way we are going to do it is to create and grow some very big companies. Unfortunately that will inevitably mean we'll create some very wealthy people along the way. New Zealanders and our governments need to learn to love and nurture big businesses if they are to earn the standard of living they expect.

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