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World-Class New Zealanders

The results are in for this year’s Kea World Class New Zealand Awards. From agricultural improvements to working with top athletes these innovators have made a real difference on the international stage, MiNDFOOD reports.

World-Class New Zealanders


Business Leader, Engineer & former Chairman 
of Beca Group

Winner Finance, Investment 
& Business Services Award

Sir Ron Carter is no stranger to success. This New Zealand gentleman has forged a stellar career as an engineer and company director. Now retired as chairman of engineering consultants Beca Group, he dedicates his time to serving on numerous company boards, consulting on various New Zealand Government advisory boards and offering his expertise to 
non-profit organisations. In 1998 Sir Carter was knighted for services to engineering and business, capping off a life committed to bringing out the excellence in others.

The secret, he says, to developing a successful career is “respecting other people’s knowledge”. He elaborates: “No matter how well you are trained in your own discipline you will need to work well with others at some point in your career, so it is important to listen and learn.” Sir Carter is also vocal on the need for strong, honourable leadership among communities. This, he says, goes across the board from small businesses to non-profit organisations – it is not the sole domain of high-profile politicians. “Leadership is fundamental to our society,” he says. “Life is so complicated that no one can really understand the full decisions and analysis that are made in directing our society; we are reliant on supporting a chosen leader. So it is disappointing when someone in such a position betrays this trust.” To this point Sir Carter suggests, “we can all play a role in leadership no matter how simple our job is”.

Living by the ethos, Sir Ron is currently sitting on the board for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, to be hosted in New Zealand.  He enthuses that the event has the potential to “be a celebration right across the country”. There are challenges facing the organising team, however Sir Ron is adamant that the media coverage generated throughout the tournament will do wonders for the nation’s international reputation, not to mention inspire cultural exchange.

He cites Italy as a perfect example. “Italy is a strong rugby nation but it also has an incredibly rich culture. The visiting teams will be participating in a cultural exchange and they’ll take their stories and experience back with them.”

While Sir Carter is looking forward to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, his main cause for celebration in the coming year is his 50th wedding anniversary. It is, he muses, the strongest example of success he can cite.


Professor of 
Computer Science, University of Waikato

Winner Research, Science, Technology & Academia Award

One of Professor Ian Witten’s primary projects is Greenstone, a digital library software program developed and distributed in cooperation with UNESCO and the Human Info NGO.

The philosophy behind Witten’s work can best be summarised by the phrase, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ As opposed to conventional library software that cannot be updated and therefore quickly becomes outdated, Greenstone software is designed to enable developing countries to build, store and maintain information collections that can then be updated by local users. This information, including medical and agricultural texts, is vital to the survival and growth of communities.

The software, available on the internet or CD-Rom, extends beyond conventional library databases to include collections such as a first aid library that is completely illustrated and can be used by illiterate users, and a music collection where users can sing their requests.

The project also has diverse cultural benefits. For example, one of the first Greenstone projects was to preserve the Alexander Turnbull Library’s collection of Maori-language newspapers. Greenstone has also been utilised by large organisations such as the BBC to store their records for radio and television programs.

An accomplished clarinettist with a love of sailing, Witten divides his time between his work at the University of Waikato, which includes supervising a number of graduate students, travelling for teaching and research, and spending time with his family.


President of Global Media Group, Time Warner

Winner Creative Industries Award

When Mark D’Arcy received an email telling him he’d won a World Class New Zealand Award he was at The Groucho Club in London with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc in hand. While his prestigious choice of destination for that evening may have been a sign of his success, his choice of drink was a reflection of the ties he has to his country of birth.

“When I landed the job as chief creative officer of the Global Media Group at Time Warner I was terrified because the role I was stepping into had never been done before. I thought, ‘I’ve no idea what I’m doing.’ I don’t think they did either. I think taking a job you’re not 100 per cent sure of is a positive trait of New Zealanders because you can’t grow in a job where you know everything,” says the 38-year-old New York resident.

D’Arcy has since been promoted to President of Time Warner’s Global Media Group, where he is responsible for partnering with industry-leading advertisers to create programs that lever the assets of Time Warner (cable networks, magazines, consumer relationships) against its advertising partners’ biggest challenges. “I get asked by people, ‘what do you do exactly?’ And we do whatever we want to do. We work across so many different fields in advertising and media that there’s an incredible amount of flexibility and experimentation,” D’Arcy says.

Part of his job is to stay abreast of the constant changes in digital media – a task he finds exciting rather than daunting. “Anyone who says they know everything that’s going on in digital media is either a liar or far more confident than I’ve ever been,” he says.

As a general rule D’Arcy returns to New Zealand at least twice a year, often visiting his property on Waiheke Island. “My experience of New Zealand is so wrapped up in family and social things, but I do think the country has something going for itself in the way of food. The ingredients are so fresh and the chefs are really creative. Particularly when it comes to breakfasts,” he says.


Biochemist & 
Vice-President of 
Amira Pharmaceuticals

Winner Biotechnology Award

Asthma sufferers worldwide can thank biochemist Dr Jilly Evans, for the successful development of asthma treatment and prevention drug Singulair.

The New Zealand-born, San Diego-based biochemist has been conducting biochemistry research for more than 30 years. Her impressive international scientific career grew from inspirational teaching she received in rural New Zealand schools and at the University of Auckland.

Vice-president of Amira Pharmaceuticals, a successful multi-million- dollar company she co-founded in 2005, she is currently developing LPA (a bioactive lipid) receptor blockers for diseases in which fibrosis and cell proliferations are important, such as pulmonary and kidney fibrosis, 
and cancers such as pancreatic cancer.

“We are also continuing to develop inhibitors for asthma,” she says, “however, I would love to have a liaison role between industrial and academic science in New Zealand to motivate the public to see the very positive roles biotechnology and engineering play. We need to innovate, create value, protect and exploit that value, then re-invest for new innovation.”

For the past 15 years, the proud Kiwi has actively encouraged science education and biotechnology in New Zealand. “Winning this award will raise my profile in the local business world enabling me to be an even better champion for NZ science and biotechnology,” she says. “We must be able to work from our strengths in agriculture, for instance, to develop a biotech sector.”

When Evans is not deep in work, she is busy championing other causes, including promoting women in science-based careers, alleviating child poverty and lending her expertise to helping NZ find a niche for commercialising biotechnology research.  


CEO, Gallagher Group

Winner Manufacturing Award

Bill Gallagher Sr, a farmer, first came up with the idea for an electric fence to stop his horse from rubbing against his car. He built it out of a car’s ignition coil and a Meccano set. He soon refined the concept and launched a company his son has since expanded on a global scale.

When Bill Gallagher Jr joined Gallagher Group there were 10 employees. It has since grown to 600 employees and the company exports to 130 countries. This global focus means travel is often on the agenda and Gallagher averages 160 days overseas each year. “I went around the world five times last year,” Gallagher says.

Agricultural applications are still the company’s biggest sector, although the humble electric fence has now morphed into high-tech, fully integrated animal management systems designed to make life easier for farmers. Gallagher says tracking where an animal was born and where it has been is becoming mandatory in many countries. “People want to know where their food is coming from,” he says. So animals can now be weighed, treated and identified electronically and the results logged for data collection with sophisticated animal management software.

Gallagher Group has also expanded into security in the form of access control and fencing designed to keep people in or out of sites as diverse as airports and parliaments – and even Buckingham Palace.

The diversity of products offered by Gallagher Group has meant the company has weathered the global financial crisis well. “We have a good team and we seem to get good results and we can adjust our tune to good times and bad,” Gallagher says. Recognition for his team is one of the reasons Gallagher appreciates being named a World Class New Zealand Award winner.

“What drives you in life is achievement and having nice people to work with,” Gallagher says. “Money is only number three – it’s just the scorecard of whether you’re successful or not.”


CEO & Founder,
 Orion Health

Winner Information & Communication Technology Award

In 2006, Orion Health CEO and founder Ian McCrae told business magazine Unlimited that he thought his company could do for New Zealand what Nokia did for Finland. Four years on, McCrae hasn’t changed his tune. “It’s a very strong commitment among the shareholders [to achieve this]. We’re in a big market and there are no dominant vendors. There’s a huge market potential and New Zealand is a good place to develop new products. There’s a high degree of self-motivation and we frequently come out with a breakthrough product or idea from this country,” he says.

The World Class New Zealander Award is just one of the many positive reinforcements McCrae and his company are receiving: “I do several trips a year, and when you go to somewhere like Boston, people know all about us. It’s amazing. When you go around the world and get all this feedback it’s a very positive feeling,” says the 51-year-old.

Much of his success, he humbly admits, lies in hiring good people to support him: “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without that. There are some very talented people in the company,” he says.

His advice to entrepreneurs looking to emulate his success is simple: “Get out there and do something. A lot of entrepreneurs spend a lot of time planning and thinking about what they might do. But the best thing is to do something, anything, and develop loyal customers. And from those customers you’ll learn things and go on 
in different directions,” he says.

Founded in 1993, Orion Health sells software to the health sector that allows doctors to view patients’ medical records. The company is based in Auckland and 
has offices in the United States, Canada, 
the UK, France, Spain, the Middle East, 
Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia.


Neuroscientist & Author

Winner New Thinking Award

Neuroscientist, author of The Winner’s Bible series and mental trainer for the New Zealand Olympic teams and the All Blacks, Dr Kerry Spackman has a rich history of entering a new field and coming up with award-winning ideas. “I’ve always been an original thinker,” says Dr Spackman. “I was nine years old when I ‘invented’ the supercharger without knowing it had been invented 40 years earlier,” he adds.

“I constantly think about things from different angles,” says the self-confessed speed demon, something that helped when he came to develop a Formula One simulator to train drivers. “What most people don’t realise is the difference between the average boy racer and Michael Schumacher is probably greater than the difference between their tennis ability and Roger Federer’s. It’s just not so obvious as you don’t see just how impossible Schumacher’s car control is,” he explains.  

While Dr Spackman is pleased to be recognised with this award, he feels a real responsibility comes with it: “I’d like to use this platform to encourage other Kiwis to reach out and be confident that we can make a difference on the world stage – that we don’t have to live in anyone’s shadow.”

“To become a winner you need to use a detailed program that works through all aspects of your personality, physiology, philosophy and history. It’s important to remember that there are no shortcuts in life,” cautions Dr Spackman.

The energetic 53-year-old says he winds down by “driving his Suzuki Hayabusa motorbike too fast” and kicking back at his home in Kumeu, a place that has made him “feel once more what it is like to be a Kiwi”.

The best bit of his job is “helping others and seeing a change in their lives”. And the worst? “The travel. I’ve flown Auckland to London more than a hundred times!”

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