World Class New Zealanders are high achieving New Zealanders who are making their mark on the world and defining NZ’s image internationally. These Kiwis are all outstanding and have worked hard for their international success. Kea sat down with World Class New Zealander Ian Wright for a Q&A about his journey, being a New Zealander and what advice he has for New Zealanders going forward.
How has your New Zealand background contributed to your journey/success?
Growing up on a farm in the far north, I was given a lot of responsibility at an early age, and plenty of chores.
Also, in New Zealand, business ethics are very strong. That’s internationally recognized, and, in the yearly transparency index that’s published on levels of corruption, New Zealand usually tops the list as one of the least corrupt places to do business.
For me, and many of the people who grew up on farms throughout New Zealand, I’ve seen that people from rural areas tend to be stronger, more self-reliant and have a can-do attitude. Combining that with a good grounding in how to do business have been a great attributes for me to have as an entrepreneur.
What are some stand out failures/problems you faced on your journey and how did you overcome/learn from them?
Throughout my career, I’ve seen the importance of both choosing whom to work with and in assembling the right teams to work with. I’ve made some mistakes, both in choosing who to work for, and who to hire. I’ve taken those lessons and now have an acute focus on building the right teams. It turns out that, just as in engineering, asking the right questions is key.
My team at Wrightspeed has done an absolutely amazing job, and I am very proud of them.
What in your professional career or personal life are you most proud of?
In my personal life, without a doubt, the thing I am most proud of is my two children. They are wonderful human beings.
Professionally, by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done has been to take Wrightspeed from nothing to where the company is today. It is also the most rewarding, and I think will have the most positive impact.
What’s an important issue which needs attention in your industry?
We operate in a regulatory environment in transportation that’s only evolved for older technologies and hasn’t kept pace with new innovations. The regulations were formulated to solve real problems when they were invented, but now they don’t match the current technology environment very well. For us at Wrightspeed, this can make it difficult to get our technology deployed.
As a step forward, the attention should be towards expediting simplified regulatory issues for clean transportation technologies, like the solution we are bringing to market. It doesn’t need to be complex, and expediting a simplified regulatory environment would help scale intrinsically clean solutions more quickly.
How have you used global New Zealand connections/networks to help achieve what you have?
New Zealand is a small place, so you generally know people both inside and outside of the country who are always willing to help you.
At Wrightspeed, we’ve done some great business with kiwis. Right now, we’re working with Zane Fulljames and his team at NZ Bus to bring cleaner transportation throughout New Zealand. People like Simon Bridges and Judith Collins have both been incredibly supportive of the work we’re doing, and we’ve met with them on a number of occasion, both in New Zealand and at our facility in California, about how we can further clean transit in the country.
What is one key lesson you want to share with New Zealand entrepreneurs/ businesses/ SMEs?
From NZ, it’s sometimes hard to get a sense of the scale of global or even the US market, and the capital needed and available.
When raising capital to address these markets, it’s really important to think through the value proposition to the investors, quite separately from the value to customers.
In your experience what do Kiwis excel at in the eyes of the world?
I think there are three common characteristics: willingness to try (and try really hard), perseverance, and inventiveness. Those three things really stand out in the eyes of the world.
Kiwis are of course famous for sporting achievements far beyond what anyone would expect from a small country. But my personal heroes add an engineering, inventive flair to that: Bruce McLaren, John Britten, Richard Pearce, any of the immensely talented people involved with the America’s Cup.
What are the biggest growth challenges and potential opportunities for New Zealand companies/businesses/SMEs?
It can be hard to raise capital in New Zealand for new companies, or for growth. There are plenty of well educated, inventive, hard-working people willing to try new things – you’d think that would be attractive to financiers, and I believe it will become more so.
What will be New Zealand’s biggest strength in 10 years?
New Zealand is an interesting place. It’s a long way from everywhere, so it’s not really involved in the perpetual strife that’s going on around the world, and we tend to be apart from that. I think that will still be true, and even more important in 10 years.
But New Zealand is not by any means an insular country. Kiwis go around the world and come back with a broader view of world issues perhaps because Kiwis are always looking outwards. In New Zealand, you can read the news and it’s really the world news. This will continue to be a strength.
Ian Wright, founder and CEO of Wrightspeed Inc, worked in electrical engineering in Silicon Valley for companies like EngNet, Cisco Systems and Tesla Motors before founding Wrightspeed in 2004. Ian is considered one of the leading minds in electric transportation and has won a number of awards for his work.
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