Sir Paul Callaghan

In 2011, we were fortunate enough to have Professor Paul Callaghan, New Zealander of the Year 2011 and one of New Zealand’s most pre-eminent scientists, talk about innovation and sustainability. More about the YIA in another post tomorrow.

Sir Paul Callaghan’s discussion centres strongly on his hypothesis outlined in his excellent book ‘Wool to Weta’ . Which has graced our studio shelves since it was published in 2009. It is one of the few books which provides a strong insight to innovation in New Zealand, and the fact that it was authored by such as pre-eminent scientist has given its subject matter relevance and weight.

The discussion ranged from New Zealand’s position and lack of credibility around our ‘100 Pure’ brand, to the simple economic fact that Tourism and some Agriculture sectors are limited in per capita earning power in comparison to other sectors.

He drew attention to the ‘TIN 100’ (a benchmarking study of the country’s 200 largest (by revenue) technology companies in the areas of High Tech Manufacturing, ICT Software/Services and Biotechnology.) Their combined revenue was $4.9 Billion and many of the companies were not household names but were making and selling high value export goods and had sustained levels of high growth. These companies employed highly skilled people, worked in great locations and provided staff with great opportunities.

This, Sir Paul roused the audience, was where our future lay. This was how we could transform our economy and pull back the $45 billion gap with Australia, not by bringing another 8 million tourist into NZ (we concur with the mention of high levels of traffic on the Tongariro Crossing). It is hard to argue with the logic that high levels in value delivered by advanced skills and knowledge are the way forward.

He argued that it was not politics, but a business plan, a business plan for New Zealand. He called for young people to ‘Become an Entrepreneur to Save you Country’. He noted that the top 10 TIN100 companies were led by business people that new how to get the best science and technology behind their businesses and make them successful.

These companies achieved $4.9 billion of turnover without overt strategy or support at a nationwide level, think what they could achieve if there was a deliberate and clear strategy to advance these sectors to generate another 100 companies capable of earning similar leves of export earnings and growth, this, he argues would give us a sustainable economy. New Zealand needs to be ‘a place that talent wants to live’ and this means protecting our environment and not taking the easy road offered by mining national parks and the other critical assets New Zealand has to offer people who live here.

It was also great to hear Sir Paul talk about the fact that being in New Zealand enables you to make a real difference, as a small country you can directly impact on how things are done positively and make a constructive contribution.

Bravo.