Posts tagged ‘Victoria University of Wellington’


Slides and a podcast: my MMBA 505 lecture and Access Granted, episode 45

23.04.2015

As promised to the MMBA 505 class at Victoria University of Wellington last night, here are my slides. My thanks to Dr Kala Retna for inviting me along as the guest speaker. To the students: thank you for attending at such a late hour. MBAs are hard work.
   I just realized I used to have a whole page of downloadable slides, which I believe we removed when we redid the site for the 2013 Wellington mayoral election. It might be time to reinstate the page with the presentations I’ve been doing here and abroad.
   Thoughts on Leadership is probably self-explanatory as a title, with my main five points being:

1. Be the first.
2. Prove something can be done when conventional wisdom says it can’t be.
3. Change the world for the better.
4. Break glass ceilings wherever you can find them.
5. Find the people who understand your vision.

The first four tend to be the “rules” that have guided me, while the fifth is one I had to learn the hard way some years ago, and can retitled: ‘Find the people who understand your vision and don’t get suckered by those who spout buzzwords.’ As a firm we tend to be a bit more of a closed shop than we used to be, and like any other, we get our share of fakes trying to ride off our coat-tails. Lucire seems to attract quite a few, in particular, which is what the fifth point addresses in some part.
   For a bit of levity after the academic stuff, there’s always this great podcast by Mike Riversdale and Raj Khushal, published today with me as their guest, as part of their ongoing Access Granted series. Only a little bit has been cut for commercial sensitivity, and the rest is a bit of light-hearted banter—the sort you’d have between mates, and I have known Mike and Raj for many years—with no hair-pulling.

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Posted in business, humour, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


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 

   â€˜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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Four ingredients of leadership

26.01.2014

140121 Defining leadership_Page_02

I was asked by my Alma Mater, Victoria University of Wellington, to give a 90-minute lecture on leadership last week to students visiting New Zealand from Peking University and the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. (My half-serious suggestion that I spoke Cantonese and the three students from Guangdong who understood could translate to Mandarin to the rest of their classmates was turned down.) The above was the second slide, and the four main points I wanted to get across. When I posted this on Facebook and Instagram, it got quite a few likes, so I’m sharing it more publicly here.
   They were a personal look at my style of leadership and what drove my career over the last quarter-century or so.
   The first one was more down to luck and necessity than my being a great visionary who foresaw virtual firms and how we could be brought together through online communications. The second, however, is probably down to a number of factors, though one must also evaluate the risk of taking those steps.
   The third and fourth, however, should be things we can all accomplish, by finding causes close to our hearts.
   One student asked about the fourth, because she noted that there were circumstances where dissent might land one in trouble. (You may think I was taking a dig at China there, but I suspect Edward Snowden might have a thing or two to say about that.) I gave her the example of a person who had a criminal record for a minor matter because he had fallen in with the wrong crowd, and had repaid his debt to society. Did he deserve a leg up because you knew he was a good person? Now, what if that person wanted to go for a particular job? Even if the glass ceiling isn’t shattered, you can still put cracks in it if you believe he’s the best person for it. Help him out: give him feedback on his CV, offer him advice, help rehearse a job interview.
   What if it was someone who wanted to go to a good school but his parents couldn’t afford it? Would you write a letter of endorsement and put your weight behind his application for a scholarship—because you knew he would make the most of that opportunity?
   My apologies for the use of the masculine pronoun but the above are based on real-world examples.
   We all have something to offer the next person, and those opportunities to help others will always arise.

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Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, social responsibility, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Volkswagen is a case for critical thinking, not blind following

16.12.2012

Here’s an article from Autoblog that combines several of the themes I enjoy writing about: cars, leadership, management and education.
   I’ve already hinted at this on my Facebook fan page, where I seem to post some of the pithy things these days. I sometimes try to avoid blogging about the same thing—a lot of what you see here are ideas that haven’t changed, especially a lot of the posts about social responsibility and branding.
   I don’t want to dissuade anyone from getting higher education but one has to remember: education, especially tertiary education, is meant to open your mind to other possibilities and to get you thinking about them critically. It’s why I enjoyed papers at law school like public law and jurisprudence: both had lecturers (Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Assoc Prof Ian Macduff) who enjoyed a well reasoned argument, even when it didn’t agree with their own thinking. It’s also why I didn’t appreciate banking law, or several other papers, where you had to agree 100 per cent with the lecturer, and to hell with independent thinking.
   The MBA, then, can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing for those who treat it as it should be: a skill set, providing a framework, from which to analyse things. A curse for those who believe that certain case studies must be followed religiously, failing to take into account the conditions of their own organizations. Which brings us neatly to the Volkswagen case.
   It may be a bit of a simplification to say that MBA thinking killed GM, and Volkswagen has eschewed that to become one of the world’s greatest car manufacturers, but it’s not too far from the truth. If you read period American books on management—or even one of my favourites, Lee Iacocca’s autobiography—there is this idea of what ‘efficiency’ is, usually with a lot of outsourcing, finding cheaper and cheaper bases of manufacture, with another eye on how to raise the share price for the quarter. Not the best way to run a firm, especially when visions need to be set for years, decades or quarter-centuries. I’ve written about that aspect before.
   But the way John McElroy puts it in his article, ‘efficiency’ means an absence of overlap and vertical integration, yet with them, Volkswagen AG is the world’s largest car company ‘if you measure it by revenue and profits. Its revenue of $200 billion is greater than every other OEM. Last year’s operating profit of $14 billion is the kind of performance you expect from Big Oil companies, not automakers.’ Yet:

   Any efficiency expert would tell you that VW is too vertically integrated, has too much overlap and duplication, and has way too many brands. VW, meanwhile, keeps growing bigger, stronger and more profitable 

   Efficiency experts will tell you that on an employee-per-vehicle basis, Volkswagen looks hopelessly inefficient. Financial analysts will tell you that the company woefully trails its competitors on a revenue-per-employee basis. But VW will tell you that it makes more money than any other automaker—by far.

In fact, McElroy goes on to say that Volkswagen looks a lot like the General Motors of Alfred P. Sloan—before the MBAs got hold of it.
   The idea of ‘efficiency’ is often a misnomer. Most of British industry was dismantled with the mantra of efficiency, essentially giving it up to globalist, technocratic forces, helped along by the Slater Walkers and the governments of the time. Those decades, too, were driven by “experts”—and what resulted was neither efficient nor productive. The decline of British Leyland is perhaps one of the most telling examples of period thinking applied disastrously to the British motor industry, its skilled workers now happily picked up by the Japanese, Germans and Indians.
   By all means, if real savings can be had and long-term goals achieved, then efficiency is a wonderful thing. There are areas where technology should aid productivity. But watch out for that word efficiency. It doesn’t always mean what the experts say it means—and if revenue and profit decline as a result of it, and corporate culture is harmed, then you may be better off heeding the lessons that Volkswagen’s management has. Use that MBA as a framework, not as a playbook.

PS.: I took the same stance when arguing over how to save General Motors, as published as a reader letter in CondĂ© Nast Portfolio magazine when it was still running. Naturally, GM followed the downsizing, brand-stripping route because it’s more efficient. Time will tell.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, leadership, media, politics, USA | 6 Comments »


Innovation is the way forward for New Zealand, says Prof Sir Paul Callaghan in Chancellor’s lecture

15.09.2011

Prof Sir Paul Callaghan’s address for the Chancellor of Victoria University, Ian McKinnon, held at a packed-out the Wellington Town Hall, was inspirational, and I felt that he confirmed a lot of my thinking for this city.
   It’s great we have free wifi in certain parts of Wellington now, and in our libraries, because that means we start bridging the digital divide.
   The next stage is to spread the wifi network to other parts of the city—during election year, I was told this would be at a cost of $250,000.
   Thanks to Opera Mini not working any more with Twitter, I was unable to live-Tweet Sir Paul’s speech, but here were the pertinent notes on my Facebook (expanded here with some extra thinking).

Callaghan: we have reached the limits of our natural resources, so we need to start using our brains. Sounds familiar?

Callaghan: R&D is terribly low. Again, sounds familiar with the themes of my 2010 campaign.

   He did show a graph, not dissimilar to one I kept with me on the campaign trail, where our ICT sector lagged well behind, as a proportion of GDP, a country such as the US. I’m not saying we emulate the US—goodness knows successive governments’ desires to emulate certain economies have landed us in what Sir Paul calls the ‘New Zealand paradox’. We’ve done everything the experts reckon we should do, yet our GDP has been lagging.
   So, what next? This was the next status on my Facebook:

Callaghan: we should be prescriptive, not be locked into one sector. We are innovative people. Seems to justify my creative clusters idea. I like this guy.

   Prior to my making this note, Sir Paul had shown how poorly a national focus on biotech had benefited this country. His conclusion: the biggest innovative players, the ones generating high-value jobs, were in niches, such as Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Rakon, and, of course, Weta Workshop.
   I believe creativity can breed if people can learn from each other, and I’ve always maintained the vision of forming creative clusters. Admittedly, during the campaign I did target more an ICT focus, because we had been lagging, and it would have been wise to have had a focus on it from Positively Wellington Business. (Indeed, a lot of these city agencies could do with considerably more transparency and networking.) But Sir Paul is right: we are good at playing in niches and even dominating them.
   Here’s a stat that he says Kiwis don’t know enough about, which might be leading on to why so many young people leave overseas (he mentions a one-million-strong diaspora):

Callaghan: World Bank shows our high-tech exports are growing at 11 per cent p.a.

   The New Zealand Government does not measure this, but the World Bank does—and it seems evident from what Sir Paul discussed and what I found prior to my campaign that high technology, especially for an isolated country, benefits us. These create largely frictionless exports, and the ones that are manufactured here can be highly value-added.
   There was one sobering moment toward the end, and it was this:

Callaghan: disparity between races at schools, reflected in our income gap. We export more of our talent and they don’t come back.

Māori and Pasifika students are not achieving as well—and we really need to show all groups that there are no glass ceilings in society based on race. I know they exist, and it’s high time we began dismantling thinking that creates classes in our city and our nation.
   Prof Sir Paul Callaghan is, by any measure, smarter than me. If you can explain Adam Smith to me in five minutes versus a year of Econ 101, then you are smart. And it’s always quite a buzz when someone of his stature and reputation says things that make you think, ‘I wish I had you endorsing my campaign last year.’

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Trading identities in the personal branding space

05.03.2010

The day the current mayor, Kerry Prendergast, announced her intention to stand for a fourth term, I was asked by a few media colleagues what I thought. The wittiest reply I gave to Salient, as it was an email interview, and I seem to be cheekier in writing than I am in speaking. I won’t spoil it yet, but let’s just say one learns an awful lot from television.
   This morning was a very good start to the day, giving a guest lecture at my Alma Mater, Victoria University, thanks to my friend Helen Baxter, who has begun teaching there. In fact, I taught out of the same building in 2000 when the campus was shared with Massey University, and the A on the front was not mounted backwards (typography students must have taken note by now).
   One thing I hit upon, and I don’t think I have shared with readers, is the concept of personal branding taking on corporate behaviours. We know that corporations and countries have been swapping roles a bit in the 1990s (Wally Olins wrote a book on it, called Trading Identities), but I don’t think it has been properly addressed at the personal sphere (corrections welcome).
   We have corporations trying to look mean and responsive, and speak with a personal voice—the One principles that Stefan Engeseth has talked about, and the idea of one-to-one from Christian Grönroos. They are trying to look like individuals, so the person in charge of the Tweetstream is the “voice” of the organization.
   Meanwhile, people are becoming aware of branding themselves, of differentiating who they are, and finding the right things to align with in order to make themselves employable. Of course, such efforts must still remain authentic, as we can see through the spin, but it would not surprise me if the nascent ideas of personal branding in the 1990s become formalized in to whole courses on personal brand management.
   I refer not just to styling, of course, but making sure embarrassing stuff is taken off Facebook (I believe my words were along the lines of, ‘By all means, party and show you’re human. But photos of you doing a powerchuck: maybe not’), of figuring out what your vision is from a very early stage, of engaging with your audiences, and, if I may be so bold, living your brand as part of living your life.
   The cynic in me recognizes that last phrase sounds dodgy because it cheapens the whole experience of life into a brand event, which is not precisely what I mean. But it is important to have some idea of a personal direction in mind and doing things that are compatible with that. This is, in some respects, no different to some of the self-help claptrap out there, explained in corporate branding language as opposed to spiritual fulfilment.
   However, it’s not altogether a bad way to think. I’m willing to bet some of us have done exactly this, perhaps unconsciously or informally. We all have some purpose, some raison d’ĂȘtre, and whether we like thinking about it in branding terms or some other method is up to us. Brand, at least, provides a framework and some boxes to tick, and if they help people get a personal advantage and get the job of their dreams, then why not?
   Note to self: Keeley Hawes jokes work a lot better with heaps of Brits or Anglophiles in the room.

PS.: I got one post-lecture question, to which the answer is: yes, I am the guy opposing the liquor ban.—JY

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Posted in branding, business, humour, marketing, New Zealand, politics, Sweden, UK, Wellington | No Comments »