Last month a director said, when commenting on how he believed New Zealand companies were responding to the economic challenge, that there were four types of business out there; those who are thriving, those who are surviving, those who are looking like possums in the headlights and those who resemble the walking dead.
There is no doubt the global economy is in a mess. International investors are trying to preserve what remaining value still exists in their portfolios, financial institutions are grappling with the enormity of the changes being forced upon them, share brokers are trying to prevent further free fall and small to medium size businesses the world over are praying those further up the food chain on whom they rely to stay afloat will be around long enough to give them time to adapt. Despite the fact we may be facing the greatest economic challenge of our time, it is important we understand companies do not capitulate, people do.
In my opinion there is wisdom in all of us reminding our business leaders their response to the challenge we face is pivotal to our economic recovery. It is all very well agonising over who is responsible in the hope they are brought to justice or partaking in debate about how the financial sectors much needed transformation will be orchestrated, but most important of all is that we, the citizens of this nation, encourage and support our leaders to focus on driving the changes, initiatives and advancements our organisations need to embrace to trade through and beyond the crisis.
Ever since man first stepped foot on this earth he has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to adapt to change – whether that be to climatic events or natural disasters. Indeed, it is our ‘capacity’ to adapt that has enabled us to not only survive, but to create the modern sophisticated civilisations some of us are privileged to reside in.
Mankind, despite his obvious failings, has achieved remarkable things. The creators, the engineers, the communicators and the builders have each contributed in their own unique ways but let’s not forget, it was their courage and commitment to persevere despite the enormity of what lay ahead that has made the world a better place.
So while we may be tempted to invest our time in searching for signs of a recovery, it is important we understand the real human challenge most evident in modern society is not the economic failure we find ourselves in, but rather the inherited loss of purpose we as a people have come to accept.
It is a very sad reality that so many people have no appreciation as to why they are here and thus feel no more inclined than to assume the purpose of their existence is just to try and get through. As our ancestors would surely testify, monumental challenges, as unwelcome as they may have been at the time, often prove the catalyst to unite its inhabitants in a cause. Whether that be war, famine, disease, economic depression or in all probability at some stage in the future, significant climatic or ecological shifts - such events so often precipitate a profoundly positive and united response.
If we were to acknowledge such occurrences, and the world’s political and commercial leaders, both of whom are vital to our long term prosperity, had the foresight to position the challenge we face in this vein, we will be more likely as independent nations and as citizens of this planet to create the very opportunity we need to engage humanity in our recovery. If we fail to do this, we will no doubt look back in time and discover the agony extended longer, and affected far more people than it needed to, not because of market issues per se, but because of the magnitude of inappropriate and fearful mindsets and the resulting activity that transpired.
I believe the current economic situation offers New Zealand companies a once in a lifetime opportunity to position themselves internationally as a safe, modern and thoughtful alternative to what they have traditionally experienced.
Can we, using our small but acknowledged expertise, become leading international authorities in the area of solving ‘new world’ problems? Can we position ourselves as non biased thought leaders in the industries we understand? Can we engage other nations, our potential customers, in a uniquely open discussion because our modest size would negate the majority of risks they may otherwise associate with larger trading nations? After all, we are only 0.02 per cent of the global economy and therefore a most unlikely threat.
As we know, too much of our international identity and future revenues are built on traditional markets. Producing product that was once considered premium but today, because of modern technology, is commoditised is not a recipe for long term success. Can we, to mitigate this trend, position ourselves as a nation of creators, innovators, teachers and advisers in the industries we lead, rather than working ourselves into the ground trying to compete with low wage economies?
Our timber industry is worthy of examination to this end in that we have, within just a few generations, seen its much anticipated rise lead to its own demise. If we as a nation want to improve our mid to longer term prosperity rather than becoming a remote pacific camping ground, we need to create a new vision that allows us to offer meaningful solutions to the worlds emerging problems.
The reason I believe we ‘could’ create such a vision for New Zealand is because our greatest strength, and in my opinion our greatest asset, is the fact that we continue to be rated as one of the most honest and trustworthy nations in the world. I am convinced virtually every major economy would pay many times our GDP to be perceived in such a way. As a consequence, the opportunities presented to us on a daily basis are extraordinary.
If we are to advance as a society, and thus enjoy the benefits of doing so, we need to create a ‘step change’ in our economic capability and supporting policy. This monumental transition will require a new level of leadership to realise. Not just in government or private enterprise, but throughout the wider populace.
I believe if we were to embrace our commercial entrepreneurs the way we do our national athletes, we would be more likely to advance. However, to ensure such a strategy worked, we would need to redefine how we as a nation perceive the importance of such activity. At present, the tall poppy syndrome is not only alive and well, but making a dramatic return to mainstream New Zealand. I absolutely accept New Zealanders have suffered at the hands of self interested parties, however, there are many others out there trying to make a difference and these people and their ideas need to be supported.
If however we continue to support the notion that ‘we deserve what they’ve got’, we as New Zealanders will be the losers. Let us not forget the government doesn’t employ people, businesses do. In my opinion, those who identify an opportunity and invest in the risk deserve to benefit more than those wanting employment. I believe if we were serious about our future, we could invent a tax system based on employment i.e. those who employ more, pay less. Those who employ the most, coupled with the highest wages, in the least damaging industries using the most sustainable practices should pay the least and those who employ the least, or damage the most, should pay the most. In other words, employees are the ones who require the greatest investment and thus support to sustain. If people were compelled to add value to our economy by way of their ambition, we would all be winners. If however we continue to punish those who take the risk to support those who chose not to, we can only ever be losers. Incentivising companies to reward their employees better in the future than they have in the past is the way of the future, and whilst I imagine such a suggestion would gain its fair share of criticism it must surely be better than soldiering on with an outdated system that simply focuses on the denigrating practice of redistributing wealth.
To this end, I believe our future requires more people to become more courageous to enable us to build a nation more people of this world want to be a part of and contribute to.
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