Building a ‘Network-of-Influence’ with those who can best influence a positive outcome – SME owner / managers; not the Government.
In October 2011, Tenby Powell and Sharon Hunter (of Hunter Powell Investments: PC Direct, Hirepool & NZ Rental Group, EuroPacific Foods and Envoy360) began contemplating why very few New Zealand SME’s create an international, or even a national, enterprise given this sector represents 97% of all businesses.
It came to mind over the wet summer of 2011, as their investment in new start-up venture, Envoy360, a maritime security company operating out of Dubai and Singapore, was experiencing significant growth after only six months of operations under challenging conditions.
Is it that Kiwi’s aren’t motivated? Is it that the moat theory has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for many and, therefore, it’s all too hard? Or is it that we have bought into the three B’s mantra (Boat, Bach and BMW) and simply stop at a comfortable point? Has the Reserve Bank’s capital adequacy rules stifled investment funding? And of those SME owners seeking growth funding, are they forced to leverage the family home for lack of alternative financing options therefore reducing their risk appetite. And importantly, is Government interested in resourcing this sector with growth enabling initiatives?
So, together with Chris Simmons, their friend and colleague from the 2009 NZ Entrepreneurial Summit, they decided to start The New Zealand SME Business Network. The founding motivation was (and still is) to develop an active Group of SME owner / managers from whom practical ideas can be generated to better understand & address some of these issues. This differs to past approaches in that it is not an academic exercise.
Over the past five months (the Group was started in December 2011 and now has circa 750 members) it has become very apparent that members of this network have a wealth of experience & abundant ideas to stimulate New Zealand’s sluggish economy. Something Powell describes as a “Network-of-Influence”.
When probed further, Powell says, “The discussion threads have been intelligent, insightful and, occasionally, inspirational. And, advantageously, it has also been apolitical enabling everyone to have a voice. This is something that has been lacking in the SME community for too long”.
“What we desperately need is Leadership Thinking, which small business owners have traditionally abrogated to consultant advisors, Politicians & Government Officials”, says Powell. “The prime objective in developing this Network-of-Influence is to create ownership of Leadership Thinking by those who can best influence a positive outcome – SME owner / managers; not the Government”.
Hunter, Powell and Simmons have a disarmingly simple thesis, which reads like a strategic plan drafted by successful entrepreneurs – it is clear, simple and easily executable.
In simple terms it advocates that practical, hands-on, small business owners are in a significant position of influence. Their collective commentary and contribution to the Linked In (social media group) discussion threads speaks volumes in quantity and quality of ideas to jump-step the NZ economy.
While discussions have mostly focused on economic growth, the founders go to some lengths to argue that the SME community offers much more to New Zealand’s future prosperity then just creating a business to make a profit.
Powell cites a recent article in Forbes magazine that talked about the new ethos that is emerging to take the tenets of corporate social responsibility to the so-called “little guy”, as an increasing number of small businesses integrate a mission of social impact into their profit motives.
“In essence Forbes was talking about Impact Investing – those investments based on the practice of assessing not only financial returns, but also the social & environmental impacts. An impact investor seeks to create social good or improve the health of the environment, as well as achieve financial returns”, says Powell.
“The SME economy is now gaining an optic throughout the world. While America’s media focus remains on Wall Street, it is the small businesses on Main Street that may yet win the medals of valor in the US war on economic recovery. And it won’t happen without an equally positive social impact; ditto in New Zealand & elsewhere”, he says.
Powell, an experienced builder of multi-disciplined teams, see’s significant economic and social upside for New Zealand by harnessing the potential Leadership Thinking lying dormant within the cultural diversity of the SME ownership group. “The heterogeneity among SME owner / managers, with their different ethnic, religious & educational backgrounds, is not dissimilar to a multi-disciplined team whose diversity often enables them to solve problems or execute plans more effectively than that of their homogenous counterparts”, he says.
“This diversity could contribute to a powerful source of Leadership Thinking which, if captured & executed appropriately, could change New Zealand’s economic landscape and with it, also make a positive social impact on our country”, says Powell.
Tenby Powell is the co-Founder & Director of Hunter Powell Investment Partners. He is Chair of ENVOY360, Hunter Powell’s latest start-up, Chair of Waikato Link (the commercialization company of the University of Waikato), a Director of Antarctica New Zealand (a Government entity) and a Trustee of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (Westpac Rescue Helicopter).