Posts tagged ‘economy’


Too many white cars make fake news

17.09.2017


A photo taken in Wellington with a test car I had for Lucire. White cars aren’t the over-represented colour in New Zealand: guess from this photo what is.

A friend of mine put me on to this Fairfax Press Stuff article, entitled ‘Silly Car Question #16: Why are there so many white cars?’. It’s a silly question all right, because I haven’t noticed this phenomenon in New Zealand at all, and if any colour is over-represented, it’s the silver–grey tones. It seems like “fake news”, and if you read on, then there’s more to support that assertion.
   ‘It’s because every second car imported from Asia is white – literally. Latest research tells us that 48 per cent of all vehicles manufactured in Asia, particularly Japan, are painted white.’ (My friend, of Chinese descent, summarized jokingly, ‘It’s our fault,’ and my thought was, ‘Not again.’)
   Let’s break this one sentence down. The author says that we source a lot of our used cars from Japan, hence this 48 per cent figure is reflected in the New Zealand fleet. But you only need to ask yourself a simple question here: how many of those white cars made in Japan (or Korea, or India, or Thailand) stay in those countries to become used imports to New Zealand? These nations are net exporters of cars, so whatever trickles on to the Japanese home market will be a smaller percentage of that 48. How many are white—we don’t have that statistic, but, as I noted, it’s certainly not reflected in the cars on our roads. Now, if we’re talking Tahiti, where there are a lot of white cars, then that’s another story—and that is likely to do with white reflecting light in a hot climate. As this is a foreign-owned newspaper group, then perhaps the author does not live in New Zealand, or if he does, maybe he hangs around taxi ranks a lot.
   Let’s go a bit further: ‘Statistics gathered by Axalta Coating Sytems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, showed that worldwide 37 per cent of all new vehicles built during 2016 were painted white, which was up two percentage points on 2015’ and ‘All this leads to the next obvious question: why are all these cars painted white? / It may be because that’s what the manufacturers want.’
   From what I can tell, this article was cobbled together from two sets of statistics. A bit of research wouldn’t have been remiss. However, it is a sign of the times, and even we’re guilty of taking a release at face value to get news out. But the result on Stuff just doesn’t make much sense.
   James Newburrie, a car enthusiast and IT security specialist, has a far more reasonable answer to the high number of silver (and dull-coloured, which includes white) cars, which he gave me permission to quote in May 2016:

Car colours are fairly well correlated with consumer confidence. In an environment where consumer confidence is high, regular cars are likely to be available in all sorts of bright and lurid colours (purple, green, yellow, etc). As consumer confidence tanks, people start to think more about resale value and they chose more “universal” colours (the kind of colours no one hates: Silver, conservative blues, etc).
   Cars directed at young people tend to be cheaper and maintain strong colours throughout the cycle – but to keep costs down they tend to stay around red, black, white, blue and silver, perhaps with one “girly” colour if it is a small car. Cars directed to financially secure people as second cars, like sports cars for instance, tend to be more vibrantly coloured, because your buying into the dream.
   So, in the 1950s while the economy was good, people bought cars in bright colours with lots of colours, the oil crisis comes along and they go to white and beige, the 80s come along and we all vomit from car colours, the recession we had to have leads to boredom, then everything is awesome again and you can buy a metallic purple Falcon, or a metallic orange commodore – then the great recession and we’re all bored to death again.
   Consumer confidence probably is just starting to recover now. If history is any indication, there will be a point where people just go “oh screw worrying” and then they will see that other people aren’t worried anymore and they’ll say “screw worrying” etc … and we will snap back.

   Follow that up with what car dealers are now selling, and bingo, you might have a serviceable article.

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Posted in business, cars, media, New Zealand | No Comments »


Getting inspiration from Douglas Rushkoff

03.01.2017


John Nowak/CNN

I’ve had a 52 Insights interview with Douglas Rushkoff open in a Firefox tab for nearly half a year. It’s a fascinating piece, and I consider Douglas to be spot on with a lot of his viewpoints. I’ve revisited it from time to time and enjoyed what Douglas has had to say.
   Here are a few ideas I took from it. The italicized parts were added by me to the Medinge Group version of this post.

  • There are a lot of idealistic ventures out there, but to grow, often founders have to compromise them. It comes back to our thoughts at Medinge over a decade ago about ‘Finance is broken.’ Because of these compromises, we don’t really advance as much as we should, and some brilliant ideas from young people aren’t given the chance they deserve. This needs to change. We already have branding as a tool to help us, and we know that more authentic, socially responsible brands can cut through the clutter. When these ventures start up, brands are an important part of the equation.
  • How are governments going to fund this universal basic income if they themselves aren’t getting a decent tax take? It’s the same question that’s plagued us for decades.
  • Douglas sees ventures like Über to be the same-old: its customer really is its investor, and that’s not a new concept at all. It’s why we can’t even consider Über to be a good brand—and the tense relationships it often has with governments and the public are indications of that. It’s not, as Douglas suggests, even a driver co-op. It’s still all about making money the old-fashioned way, albeit with newer tools.
  • Worrying but true: some of the biggest companies in the world are required to grow because of their shareholders. As a result, they’re not creating sustainable revenue. ‘If you’re one of the top fifty biggest companies in the world and you’re still required to grow, that’s a real problem.’
  • Kids these days aren’t as into all this technology and social networks as we are. Thank goodness. When Facebook reports another billion have joined, you’ll know they’re BSing you and counting all the bots.
  • Many people see things as though they were created by God and accept them. Douglas gives the examples of Facebook and religion. I can add the capitalist and socialist models we have. If people believe them to be God-given, or natural, then they feel helpless about changing them. We need to wake people up and remind them these are human-made constructs—and they can be unmade by humans, and replaced with better ideas that actually work for us all.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, politics, social responsibility, technology | No Comments »


What a great opportunity for New Zealand that lies before us

09.11.2016


Above: When I refer to Hillary in the below blog post, I mean the self-professed ‘ordinary chap’ on our $5 note.

As the results of the US presidential election came in, I didn’t sense a panic. I actually sensed a great opportunity for New Zealand.
   I’ve been critical of the obsession many of our politicians have had with the US, when they were in an excellent position to carve our own, unique path as a country. Aotearoa, with its bicultural roots and multicultural awareness, has the advantage, in theory at least, of appreciating traditional notions of Māori and what had been imported via pākehā; and on an international scale, our country has sought trading partners outside the Anglosphere, having been pushed into it by factors outside our control. The loss of the UK as an export market and the damage to New Zealand–US relations in the 1980s might have seemed anathema at the time, but they pushed this country into new relationships, which now looks prudential.
   New Zealanders are welcomed wherever we go, our passports aren’t looked down upon, and we still largely enjoy a freedom of movement and safe passage without much hindrance. And it’s a reality that the centre of the global economy has been shifting eastward over the last decade.
   We don’t need something like TPPA in order to form trading relationships with China, and when I went to India on two occasions, there was a great acceptance of the potential of a trade deal with another cricketing country. In fact, my audiences, whenever I gave a speech, were rather miffed that we hadn’t gone to them first. But we only make good negotiators when we deal with our own cultural issues successfully, for how else can we claim to understand others and then do a deal? Deal-making, regardless of what certain American politicians might tell you, comes from understanding the other side, and at our best New Zealanders are good at this. It’s why we need to confront our own racism head-on and to say: this shit needs to stop. In fact, this shit needn’t even be an issue. We’re too small a country not to be working together, and we need knowledge of all the cultures that make up Aotearoa now more than ever.
   We are frequently confronted with the need to look at our national character. Perhaps an early sign of it was in the 1970s with the Commonwealth Games in 1974; certainly I’ve noticed New Zealanders begin to find our own identity as a Pacific nation, not a post-colonial Anglosphere satellite. We’re beginning to discover our national brand. And wherever you were on the flag debate, at least that, too, forced us to consider who we are. The sense I got was that we want change, but we didn’t like the design—but certainly there’s no real fondness to be tied to Empah. Anti-Americanism over the years suggests that there’s no real desire, either, to keep importing economic ideas, corrupt governmental practices, and failed health care policies, even if certain political and economic élites seem drawn to them.
   We know where they will lead: greater divisions between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, urban and rural. Those tendencies exist but here is an ideal opportunity to nip them in the bud. History has taught us sensible solutions, more humane solutions, that at least recognize human actors, social responsibility, and kaitiaki. The younger generations have accepted these as they have grown up in a globalized world, and we can see that in their own consumer choices, where they favour responsible companies, those that have a cause. They believe in a form of global citizenship, and want to be treated as such—and those ideas are present in their politics, too. It is right for people like my friend Simon Anholt to run global polls on matters that influence us all, including the US elections, and realistically it will be our technology and the free sharing of ideas that will help with our progress as a planet. If we seek our own destiny, we at least will be able to show some leadership again—and then we’ll really have something to talk about.
   When I was in Reefton last month, the first place in New Zealand to get electricity, I noted that it was up to a bunch of mavericks who brought this newfangled technology in. New Zealand suffragettes won their battle first to secure women the vote. And another person called Hillary succeeded where no other had done so before when ‘We knocked the bastard off.’ Kiwi leadership isn’t new to us, but in recent years I held a great fear that we had lost our mettle. That did indeed spur me to run for office, among other factors, to say to people: stop listening to foreign companies and foreign-owned media who don’t have New Zealand interests at heart. New Zealand has been filled with people who call themselves ordinary but it’s always been those—like Sir Ed—who have shown real leadership, not some political lobbying group in another hemisphere. But you can only be great without following, and it’s high time we stopped following divided nations and recognized that we already have the right stuff—and by that I mean our smarts, our innovation, and our independently minded way of thinking.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, globalization, leadership, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, USA | No Comments »


Autocade reaches 7,000,000 page views, growing at its quickest rate

10.10.2015

I was surprised to see that Autocade managed its 7,000,000th viewer some time this month, five months after the 6,000,000th. Considering it took three years to get to the first million, this means people are willing to use Autocade more regularly as a resource on the web. As something that started on the side, this is very heartening news, especially as there have been relatively few updates since the 6,000,000th due to general busy-ness.
   Here’s how the numbers stack up:

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 page views (five months for seventh million)

There are presently 3,258 individual model line entries on the website, so at this rate it’ll be some time in 2016 before Autocade gets to 3,500. Number 3,250 was a Chinese car, the Besturn B90 (above left), although with the economy there slowing, it’s likely there will be fewer new models. It had been very hard keeping up with the pace of change there, although many significant new models made it on to the site during the boom years.
   The Frankfurt show saw many débutantes, which will begin appearing over the summer break when I get a few moments to oversee their addition.
   In 10 days’ time, meanwhile, Lucire will celebrate its 18th anniversary, proving many naysayers wrong.

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Posted in business, cars, China, media, New Zealand, publishing | 2 Comments »


Volkswagen’s scandal won’t spread to other German car groups

24.09.2015


If you want a humorous take on what happened at Volkswagen this week, the above video sums it all up.

During my 2010 mayoral campaign, I noted that if New Zealand did not diversify its economy to have more of a focus on technology, there could be a problem. Relying on primary products (I didn’t say dairy specifically) wasn’t something a western economy should be doing and, of course, one signal that things would change in Wellington would be my idea for free, inner-city wifi. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-arse; I was just pointing out an obvious fact, one that has taken many years for others to be concerned about, with Fonterra payouts dipping. News travels slowly.
   Right now, this Reuter article (sorry, folks, having grown up in New Zealand where ‘NZPA–Reuter’ was in the newspapers every day, the plural form doesn’t come naturally to me) suggests that the Volkswagen débâcle could harm other German car makers. How great that harm is depends on how tied those brands are to the German nation brand. The danger is, according to the article, that with the German car industry employing 775,000 people, and car and car parts being the country’s most successful export, a dent in their reputation could have drastic effects for an economy. According to Michael Hüther of the IW economic institute, the car industry is at the core. Having other industries that are strong is important to any economy, and Germany has ensured that, despite one taking a knock, it has others that will keep it ticking over. Nearly 70 per cent of the German economy is in services. There will be worries in foreign exchange, but I doubt we’re going to see other German car makers tanking because of this.
   But Volkswagen, some argue, is very wedded to the German psyche. Its founding, which no one really talks about because you’d have to mention the war, ties it to the state, and its postwar resurrection was borne out of the British Army wanting to get the people of the former KdF-Stadt some gainful employment. It was the great German success, the company whose Käfer became a world-beater, overtaking the Ford Model T in terms of units made.
   The VW symbol is very German, borne from their graphic design ideas of the 1930s. The German name, the quirkiness of the Käfer, its relative reliability, and its unchanging appearance probably tied VW and Germany closer together in terms of branding. For years, you would associate Volkswagen with ‘Made in Germany’, just as you would with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, even if a sizeable proportion of their production is not German at all today. (Mercedes and BMW SUVs are often made in the US; Volkswagen makes its Touareg in Slovakia. Volkswagen is one of the biggest foreign players in China, and in Brazil it’s practically considered a domestic brand.)
   Think of the postwar period: Germans weren’t always smart about how to market their cars. BMW had a bunch of over-engineered cars that were completely unsuited to the market-place, such as the heavy, baroque 501; it wound up making the Isetta under licence toward the end of the decade because it was in such deep trouble. Volkswagen eschewed fashion in favour of a practical little car that, too, placed engineering ahead of marketing fads. From this, the idea of German precision engineering was enhanced from its prewar years, because engineering was, by and large, top priority. Mercedes-Benz, being far more successful at selling its luxury cars to the rich than BMW, cemented it and added cachet and snobbery.
   It was only the foreign-owned makers in Germany that went for fashion, such as Ford and Opel, selling convention to the masses wrapped in pretty clothes: the Ford Taunus TC had styling excesses demanded by Ford president Bunkie Knudsen at the time of its development, but it broke no new ground underneath.
   Nevertheless, any time Ford sources from Germany, whether it’s for the US market or here in New Zealand, the notion of “German precision” seeps through in the marketing; when the sourcing changed, as has happened with the Focus here, it’s very quietly dropped. The German car manufacturers carved themselves a nice, comfortable niche, thanks to an earlier era which, to some extent, no longer exists.
   Mercedes-Benz decided it was not about ‘Made in Germany’ some years ago, favouring ‘Made by Mercedes’, and turned itself into a marketing-led organization; quality suffered. Volkswagen, in its quest to become the biggest car maker in the world, and the master of everything from Škoda to Bugatti, did what GM did years before, by allowing each brand to maintain its character but sharing the stuff that customers didn’t see. It, too, became more marketing-led, and it’s not had a stellar performance in owner surveys for a while.
   You could say that there has been a gradual separation between the brands and what we hold about the German national image in our minds. The “Germanness”, which once accounted for the companies charging a premium, has been decreasing; Volkswagens, in many parts of the world, are affordable again, even in the US where the NMS Passat is built locally in Tennessee. South African- and Mexican-sourced Volkswagens in New Zealand are cheaper in constant dollars compared to their predecessors of a generation before. The German image is not gone altogether—the name, graphics and the æsthetic of the product see to that—but it does mean the effects of the scandal might not spread to other brands as much as some commentators think.
   The original study that showed Volkswagen was cheating on its emissions’ tests in the US, which is nearly two years old by now (it makes you wonder why it only surfaced in the media this week), also showed that BMW performed better than what it claimed. It’s not impossible for the other manufacturers to separate themselves from Volkswagen, because their individual brands have become strong. Thanks to the weaker relationship between Volkswagen and the German brand, this scandal will likely confine itself to the single car group. It’s not great news for the world’s biggest car maker, but its compatriots should see this as an opportunity more than a threat.

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Posted in branding, cars, culture, globalization, marketing, media, USA | 2 Comments »


All the Geelys on Autocade

01.12.2014

The Geely King Kong Hatchback, one of the new entries on the Autocade website.

Not that I blogged it at the time, but Geely’s multi-brand strategy in 2009 felt doomed. Earlier this year, the company retreated, and brought everything from Englon, Gleagle and Emgrand back under its parent brand again.
   It wasn’t unlike Mazda’s attempt to do the same in the early 1990s, when it began selling cars under marques such as Efini, Autozam and Eunos, as well as its own brand. The bursting of Japan’s bubble economy didn’t help things, but the problems went deeper than that. Those who were used to buying a Mazda Capella from a certain outlet were surprised to find that it had become one of these new channels, and there was no Capella or equivalent to be seen. In fact, for those years, there was no Capella—a nameplate Japanese buyers had become accustomed to for decades—as Mazda decided to offer cars such as the Cronos, which went over the 1,700 mm width that landed it in a higher tax bracket.
   We never noticed much of these issues outside Japan, as these cars were simply sold as Mazda 626, and there were fewer signs of the company’s ambitious plans that landed it in such trouble then-shareholder Ford installed a Scot in charge. It was the first time a Caucasian wound up running a car maker there. Mazda felt embarrassed it wasn’t one of their own.
   Geely might not have had the Chinese economy collapse on it, and it may have been buoyed through the 2000s as it went from being a manufacturer of recycled Daihatsus to a major Chinese automotive force, but there was the obvious problem of increasing its marketing costs dramatically. Could it also develop lines for four marques all of a sudden? Remember, too, it would swallow Volvo around this time, giving it a fifth marque.
   The answer was no: Geely wound up shifting various models to different marques, badge-engineering others, and generally confusing the state of affairs for Chinese consumers. There’s a solid argument to be made for Geely at the time though: the automotive market was clearly segmenting, and there was a need to have budget and luxury brands. But it didn’t seem organic, but dramatically forced. I take my hat off to Geely for carrying it out, nevertheless, even if some of the models were lacking: the Emgrand EC7, for instance, had rear torsion beam suspension, and it was supposedly a premium product for the well-to-do upper-middle-class Chinese buyer.
   It all came crashing down earlier this year, when Geely realized that it lost economies of scale in marketing, and the most important player in all of this—the consumer—really couldn’t follow what was what. To top it off, these new brands had no goodwill, just as Mazda’s didn’t 20 years before. Unless you’re willing to push these brands like crazy, it’s a hard battle to win, especially in the most competitive market on earth. China, too, has had a downturn in car sales this year, and the heady days of thinking one can adopt multi-brand strategies without the numbers to support them are over.
   Why has it come up? Today, Autocade has successfully recorded the entire current line of Geelys, and there are quite a few historical models in there, too. It was incredibly confusing, too, tracking the new identities of a lot of the models—did the Englon SC5 get renamed? Which lines were dropped because there was a badge-engineered equivalent? And, as is particularly common among Chinese models we put on Autocade, how on earth shall we translate some of these model names? (The practice is to use the Chinese company’s own translations, where available, and not succumb to using the export names to index them.)
   While some pages had the new Geely names appended to the old Englon, Emgrand and Gleagle model pages, there were new entries for the Geely New Emgrand, the old King Kong line along with the Englon SC5-based King Kong hatchback, the two generations of Geely Vision, and the historical Geely Haoqing (an old car based around a 1980s Daihatsu Charade: to think, at the turn of the century, this described pretty much every car in the Geely range) as well as the new flagship SUV that now bears the name.
   The reason for being a bit obsessive over the Geelys, as well as some other models (we added nearly all the current Cadillacs and a few more Chang’ans), is that with the demise of Auto Katalog, I believe more will go online. If we can present a credible new-car site—although we have a long way to go before we get every current model line up—we may go some way to filling the void with Autocade.

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An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

29.09.2014

Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
   I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
   Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
   I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
   And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
   Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
   Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
   He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
   Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
   I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
   The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
   Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
   The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
   Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
   Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
   They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
   While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
   It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
   Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
   It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
   Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
   This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
   Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
   It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
   That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
   Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
   One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
   Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
   Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
   I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
   The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
   The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
   Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
   And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
   Taiwan, too, will be watching.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, politics | 1 Comment »


A familiar call after two mayoral campaigns on Wellington’s knowledge economy

01.08.2014

The latest Victoria University study, expressing that there is a shortage of creative people, sounds very familiar.
   Dr Richard Norman highlights in a Fairfax Press editorial that knowledge economy companies are ‘struggling to capitalise on opportunities for growth because of limited local talent …
   ‘Many of these companies are well-seasoned and high-earning—a third of those interviewed had total sales of over $50 million for the most recent financial year and about half had been here for more than two decades.’
   The study also revealed, ‘Views varied widely about the effectiveness of current promotion of Wellington. The strongest recurring idea for promotion of Wellington’s attributes was to focus on its potential as a digital city.’
   In other words, had people been listening to this sector—as I had for many years—this comes as no surprise.
   In both my mayoral campaigns, I expressed that Wellington needed to be open for business for tech and the knowledge economy, and last year I made it very clear that I would find ways to bridge the training at the tertiary level with these very companies seeking talented graduates. Not only would there be a city-supported internship programme modelled on that of Dunedin, but specifically geared to this sector, but there would be another that would connect graduates directly to these firms, which told me that they knew these young people were there, but their sits vac weren’t known to them.
   Wellington is a haven for companies operating in the knowledge economy, whether it’s down to our creativity thanks to the highest-profile firms being based here (Xero, Trade Me) or our work–life balance, and it has been heading that way for all of my career, since I began developing digital fonts in the 1980s and digital publications as the 1990s unfolded.
   Frictionless exports form part of a productive, profitable future for our city and yet they have often been ignored by some of the same-again politicians and business “leaders” who have a Life on Mars mindset to our economy.
   To this end I approached the Chancellor at Victoria University last week, and formally in writing earlier this week, to see if I could still create something that would help today’s students find the jobs that they want.
   Already I had signed up to the Alumni as Mentors programme (on to my second “mentee” now), and was part of the pilot programme for Vic internships late last year, to help enhance the employment prospects of final-year students. But that’s just in one company. I can do more.
   After a discussion with a senior Victoria University professor last year, I was very keen, had I been elected as mayor, to get Wellington to a level of critical mass when it came to R&D and technology. I have similarly been talking to representatives at other tertiary institutions such as Weltec, and of course, I still serve on one advisory board at Whitireia.
   My hands are more tied as a private citizen, and things will take longer, but they are still worth doing.
   As Dr Norman’s study was developed in partnership with the Greater Wellington Regional Council, with support from Grow Wellington and the Wellington City Council, there will be others who are thinking along the same lines. I’m sure that all these efforts will intersect, but we have to act.
   I only wish such a study was released a year earlier, as I don’t recall anything of the sort in The Dominion Post during the election cycle.

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Cities are, or at least should be, driving globalization

06.06.2013

My friend and colleague William Shepherd directed me to a piece at Quartz by Michele Acuto and Parag Khanna, on how cities are driving globalization more than nations—a theme I touched upon on this blog in March 2010. As he said, I had called it three years ago, though admittedly Acuto and Khanna have fleshed things out far better.
   It’s not just the fact that cities elicit less pluralistic feelings among the populationWellingtonians felt pretty strongly when PM John Key made his comment that our city was ‘dying’—but there are practical reasons for cities to lead the way.
   First, we can’t afford to wait for central government to take the lead on a lot of policies. When it comes to economic development, cities should be able to mobilize a lot more quickly. The idea is that cities are leaner, flatter and more responsive to change. The reality is that some are mired in bureaucracy, and if voters agree that that has to change, then I would love to see that reflected in this year’s local body elections. Based on what I’ve seen, you won’t find the agent for change within politics, however—they have had more than enough opportunity to voice this very view. This has to come from outside politics, from people who understand what cities are truly capable of, especially when they engage and realize their potential.
   Acuto and Khanna cite several examples where cities have had to go above and beyond what their national governments have provided, in the areas of security, climate change and academia. Even stock exchanges are merging between cities:

Stock exchange mergers testify to this changing geography of influence: the popularized link between New York and Frankfurt via the 2011 talks on the NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Boerse merger only hinted at a wider trend that, in the past two years alone, has seen negotiations between London’s and Toronto’s stock exchanges, and similar discussions between Sydney and Singapore, Chicago and Sao Paulo, Dubai and Mumbai or the Shenzhen–Hong Kong–Shanghai triangle, all of which indicate how global finance networks are being redrawn through emerging global cities.

   In my discussions with MBIE, the New Zealand Government has been aware of this trend, but other than the discussions about regional reform, very little of it has surfaced in Wellington. Yet the government has a focus on Auckland, and Christchurch will be state of the art once its rebuilding is completed. We have a perfect opportunity to use our inherent agility, if only we had our eyes on the prize, and moved forward rather than played politics, stuck with “think local, act local” thinking.
   Secondly, cities should find the task of marketing themselves less confusing. A nation-branding exercise, for example, hits a snag early on. When I quizzed Wally Olins about this many years ago, he identified a very obvious problem: which government department pays for it? Is this the province of tourism, internal affairs, foreign affairs, trade, or something else? A city should be able to establish sufficient channels of communications between its organizations and trust in one—in Wellington’s case, tourism—to handle it. If these channels are broken, again, it’s going to take some new blood and real change to fix them and inspire a spirit of cooperation. There’s a pressing enough need to do so, with a vision that can be readily shared. We need to think differently in the 2010s.
   Thirdly, cities can foster offshore relationships more effectively. New Zealand, as a country, has not done as well as it should in promoting itself in various Asian cities, for instance. In one major city, I have had feedback that New Zealand stands out for the wrong reasons, in not having its chief diplomat join other countries in celebrating a particular national holiday. We seem to be on auto-pilot, not being as active as we should. Yet, as Acuto and Khanna point out, almost all global economic activity is being driven by 400 cities. Wellington, especially, should be able to take the initiative and head to the world’s major cities, promoting ourselves and ensuring that the innovators and enterprises here can hook up with others. We can establish trade and cultural links more quickly if we go to the source. Many cities and provinces even have their own economic offices, so they expect such approaches: they want to work at the city level.
   And if we head offshore to promote our own, then we should expect that foreign direct investment can flow more effectively inward, too, having established that relationship.
   This all makes sense if you consider how democratization has changed the world we live in. On so many things already, we cut out the middle man: in printing, we no longer need to go to typesetters or plate-makers; online publishing has meant our words can go to the public on blogs; social media have allowed us greater access to companies and politicians. Air travel is more affordable than it was 30 years ago. Cities have the resources to engage with citizens and learn about their needs. Offshore relationships can be maintained between trips using Skype and other digital resources. The nation-state will remain relevant for some time, but cities can deliver more relevant, more specialized and more customized programmes in a more timely fashion. Now, do we have the courage to declare that we no longer want “politics as usual” this year?

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Wellington isn’t ‘dying’, but we’re going to have to prove our mettle

07.05.2013

That didn’t take long, John.
   I know, the economic statistics aren’t pleasant.
   Wellington’s economy is stagnant and our population growth lags behind Auckland’s and Christchurch’s. I did predict this in 2010.
   The difference is that I don’t give up on us quite so quickly.
   I don’t think political leaders should.
   Not if we’re looking at a long-term view. Yes, the last three years haven’t been great, but then we’re not rebuilding from as large a shock as our brothers and sisters in Christchurch.
   In fact, if you have spent any time here, and I suspect that since you work here, you would have seen that the ingredients that men like the late Sir Paul Callaghan believed could lead an export recovery are here. Innovative thinking, intellectual capital. We just haven’t nurtured it properly because we’ve entrusted same-again politicians to do the job.
   But, Prime Minister, you’re right to at least raise your points, because at least we’ve kicked off a debate.
   A debate about just what Wellington is, and should be in the next half-century.
   This is not just a knee-jerk, defensive response from a little town so offended by comments made in Takapuna.
   We recognize that there are problems, and since it’s election year, it’s our opportunity to fix them.
   You’ll see from today’s reactions, in the video that Andy Boreham has filmed here, that there’s civic pride in Wellington, most likely because Wellingtonians see what I do: a more cultured, globally minded workforce that’s intelligent and savvy. We know Sir Peter Jackson’s not alone—because there are so many other innovators here, not necessarily in something as glamorous as film. They’re the backbone of our city’s economy.
   You’ll also see that this identification with and sticking up for Wellington is the same energy that drives everything from trade to Olympic bids, more so than nation branding efforts have ever managed.
   My plans, if elected, call for not only identifying and promoting those great firms that are innovative and socially responsible, but the use of my knowledge globally to do just what is needed for Wellington. Like the city’s next big firms—those who have Weta, Trade Me, 42 Below potentials—they’re all waiting there, their latent energies ready to be released. I see them regularly, and the region’s mayors and I can work with Grow Wellington to identify them with a new set of criteria, then market them properly.
   It’s why in 2010, and again in 2013, I’ve made innovation a priority. Free wifi, which I proposed and we now have, was only a signal to say Wellington is open for business. The costs of extending it are relatively low. Pedestrianization, greening the CBD, and transportation improvements are needed—and we have the nous and the knowledge to get them done.
   If prime ministers can lose faith in a city in three years, I believe we can begin rebuilding it in less time—since, as you’ve seen, we’re united. You’ve given us the perfect opportunity to prove our mettle.
   And you know my record, Prime Minister. If I can work at the C-level with companies around the world, I can work with central government, whomever is in power, for a fair deal for Wellingtonians. We’re not asking for sympathy—we’re getting ready to show you what we’re made of.

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