As England battled the All Blacks this weekend on the Rugby field, it reminded me of when Prowse was undertaking PR projects here in Europe for the New Zealand Government. It was a fun time, including a ‘cook-off’ event in Milan and hosting kiwi journalists from the UK national media at Twickenham. At the time we reflected on how the All Blacks were succeeding off the pitch as well as on it.
Many former members of the world’s most successful sporting team have profitably made the transition from rugby heroes to business leaders. I am told that in their match preparations, the All Blacks have successfully used a strategy that gives equal weight to building confidence, developing leadership and harnessing the fear of failure. This positive approach has reaped rewards for former players, who have successfully transferred these skills to the field of business.
It seems to me that such a spirit is endemic across New Zealand, which, as a young country of only c4.8 million people, has become adept at finding creative solutions to a wide range of problems. The Economist once described the country as “an entrepreneurial powerhouse, leading the world in the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises” and from my experience, New Zealanders are driven to perform both in business and on the sports field. Far more than we are here in the UK!
Some former All Blacks have established their own businesses whilst others have taken on the challenge of corporate life. Try-scorer and marketing graduate Marc Ellis retired from professional sport in 2000 and co-founded juice maker Charlie’s Group. This successful company’s brand became a household name, and exported to more than 11 countries before it was sold to a Japanese company. Murray Mexted also set up a business but stayed closer to his former career. The former All Black founded the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand (IRANZ) and has grown it in scale and reputation into one of the world’s most prestigious rugby academies. This success reflects Mexted’s vision, business acumen, determination and commitment – skills which he learned on the pitch.
Former All Blacks captain, David Kirk, is another example of a player who has achieved significant career success off the pitch. When he left top-level rugby, he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford. The change of direction served him well, propelling him into the political arena as advisor to Prime Minister and then into a business career in Australia. He has subsequently held chairmanships at a number of high-profile companies.
But just what drives this success and ambition? All Blacks teams often win because they are smart and they have a burning desire for victory, said one former player who wrote a PhD study of the All Blacks culture. "The All Blacks have got to be smart”, he said. “Because of our lack of critical mass, we can't compete money-wise, so this means being innovative and having the best possible leadership.”
In my role as a New Zealand ‘Beachheads Advisor’ for the past ten years or so, I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs from New Zealand seeking success in the UK and Europe. It seems to me that New Zealanders are naturally driven to perform, both in business and on the sports field, win or lose. Their pioneering spirit is in the nation’s psyche.