News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


Speech: Kevin Roberts: The New Zealand Edge

Address by Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, to the New Zealand MBA Association, The Northern Club, Auckland, 14 July 99.

It’s great to be home in Auckland. Great to be among this group of seriously smart New Zealand business people. It’s particularly satisfying to have squeezed a donation out of each of you for TYLA.

TYLA stands for ‘Turn Your Life Around’. It’s a transformative coaching programme for young people who have made some wrong choices and got themselves into trouble. We help them focus on goals and to make their lives positive. We’ve had some inspiring success stories. Jonah Lomu was an early graduate. On behalf of TYLA, I’d like to thank you for your support.

I’ve got a lot to say this evening. No surprises there I guess, but it won’t be a Fidel Castro-length monologue because I have to go after this to the opening of the new Leftfield Sports Café on Princess Wharf. I hope it’ll become the place to go in Auckland.

I’m going to talk a little tonight about what I’ve been doing at Saatchi & Saatchi. And I’m going to widen my brief to talk about Peak Performing Organisations to propose how we create a high margin international context for New Zealand. After Saturday at Carisbrook, I guess a 28 to nil margin is as good as any benchmark I can possibly think of. Finally, I want to share with you my thinking about the way we should be framing our attitudes as a nation that lives and breathes and performs “on the edge”.

I get a lot of time to think. Most often in Jumbo Jet cabins. Leading a global organisation of 6,000 people with offices in 91 countries means I travel a lot.

The game we all play as marketers is the game of consumer attention. We operate in the Attention Economy. Connecting with consumers requires breakthrough creative thinking that captures their imagination in unexpected ways.

At Saatchi & Saatchi we’re transforming into an ideas company. We want to be revered as a hot house for world-changing ideas. Ideas that transform our clients businesses, brands and reputations. That’s what the New Zealand tourism debacle was all about. We wanted to transform the way the world looked at New Zealand.

Around the world Saatchi & Saatchi is pulling in people who have no obvious connection with the traditional way of advertising. Ideas people. Like artist Laurie Anderson. Like thinker Edward de Bono. Like Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arno Penzias. Like Michael Fay. All game-breakers! It’s liberating to work with these minds! It’s liberating to know that ideas from individuals and companies do make a difference.

I’ve just been in Cannes for the advertising Olympics. How we do there is our creative benchmark against the rest of the advertising world. And we’re pumped! Saatchi & Saatchi went up from 4th to 2nd in world creativity ranking.
For me the most exciting part was the stellar performance of our two New Zealand agencies. Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland won Silver and Bronze Lions for their breakthrough “Natural Masterpieces” campaign for Auckland Regional Council Parks, and for Greenpeace. Saatchi & Saatchi Wellington took away a big one - the Golden Lion for Toyota’s “Bugger”.

That’s great for the Saatchi & Saatchi teams in New Zealand, and their leaders Geoff Vuleta and Johnny McCabe in Auckland and James Hall and Gavin Bradley in Wellington. These Kiwis are inspirational players in our world. They are people who inspire others to achieve peak performance.

After the year we’ve had with the local media, Tourism and dinner dates, I can certainly relate to the gesture Merhts made when he dropped the winning goal against the Bulls in Pretoria this April.

I’ve been obsessed by the notion of peak performance all of my life. Peak performance is what drove me to escape the working class north of England as a 17 year old. It’s driven me all of my business life on five continents for 30 years. I’ve had fire in my guts, love in my heart and optimism in my head – and now I have a name for it. Peak Performance.

Peak Performance is an idea that is world changing. It’s the belief that people and organisations can perform to the peak of their abilities every day. That they can be always “in contention”. Constantly in preparation. Always restless. Always fulfilled by what they do. Never satisfied with their performance. Striving for perfection. Dreaming of making magic.

I’m convinced of the power of this idea to make the world a better place. If more people and organisations were galvanised by the singular focus of performing to the peak of their potential every day, then we would live in a far more constructive, positive and prosperous world.
My passion for Peak Performance is at the core of my association with the University of Waikato Management School.

Teaching on the MBA programme at Waikato energises me. I love the environment of intellectual curiosity, the debate, the testing of new ideas, the questioning of assumptions. I love the searching, the way it makes me re-examine what I believe in.

When I’m with MBA students at Waikato, I’m continually being asked to justify my ideas. Continually questioned about what is really important. Confronting the great business leadership challenge – getting to the future first.
I tell them not to confuse creativity in business with casual Fridays…or a development I’m hoping to introduce in New York, Tube Top Tuesdays!! Don’t get bogged down in process. Don’t invest too much in the excellent arguments that inevitably stack up on either side of a debate. Don’t rely too much on other people’s ideas, set formulae and textbook responses.

Don’t look away from simple, original answers in favour of someone else’s complex theory. Pursue failure. Go for the intuitive over the logical.

Complex theories are always exploded by simple questions. At Waikato I’m a hand grenade that gets tossed at students to blow up assumptions with simple questions.

Waikato Management School has a great programme. Saatchi & Saatchi China have recruited a number of graduates with major success. Waikato has great people come to teach. Robyn West is another Senior Fellow there. She’s Head of Marketing for Compaq in the Asia Pacific region and one of the smartest New Zealanders operating in a global business context. My sister Trisha McEwen is head of HR for Fletcher Challenge and she teaches at Waikato. She’s seriously into it.

We’ve just had Jay Barney from Ohio State University for a week on campus. He is probably the world’s pre-eminent economic strategist, the brains behind the “core competencies” idea that Prahalad and Hamel popularised.
Jay’s a brilliant thinker. We got him to come because core competency is a key concept in achieving peak performance. You’ve got to know what you are good at before you can achieve it. Jay’s thinking has been contributing to the work I’m doing with three of Waikato’s smartest brains, Professor Michael Pratt, Professor Clive Gilson and Dr Ed Weymes. We’ve been working on a model for Peak Performance Organisations, or PPOs.
It’s a radical theory. It rejects the traditional approaches of management science – which are more of a cross between military strategy and the laws of civil engineering than a realistic model for human organisation.

We looked to sport. Sport is inclusive, it’s all about teamwork, excitement, fun, skill, achievement, winning and dreams.

More than that, it’s the greatest current social phenomenon. Bigger than music. Bigger than the movies. Bigger even than the Internet. Sport is empowering and enfranchising more young women and men than any other movement of our time.

We’ve gone inside some of the world’s great sports organisations to find the secret of what makes them so special. We’ve inhaled the fumes of the Williams Formula One Racing Team. We were in the dugout with the most successful baseball team of the decade, the Atlanta Braves. We’ve heard the bones crunch up-close with the San Francisco 49ers. We’ve trod the sweat-soaked boards in training sessions with Michael Jordan’s great Chicago Bulls.
Naturally, we’ve been with the mighty All Blacks, who have maintained an astonishing 72% win record in tests over more than hundred years of play. And we’ve hit balls with the Australian Cricket team, who have just paid us the ultimate compliment by winning the World Cricket Cup. A typical PPO soundbite came from Glenn McGrath after they won the Cup: “You win the World Cup, next morning you’re even more restless.”

This is what has fixated us. Not so much how success comes, but how it stays.

The research for PPO has been an inspirational journey. Not just because we’ve been dealing with the operation of talent at the highest level. But because we’ve tried to understand the laws of magic.

For me, this is the most basic business question we can ask: How is magic made?

We discovered that peak performance is controlled by intangibles. Positive motivation, self-belief, a sense of community and sacrificial plays, the psychology of belonging, and the capacity in every individual to be inspired to out-perform their personal best.

We’ve developed a series of ten principles of Peak Performing Organisations. Our theory emphasises elements like inspirational players, the ability of teams to make magic, and the sharing of dreams.

These are big, world-changing ideas. Simple to apply and uplifting even to be exposed to. They are all about creating cultures of constructive co-operation and shared achievement.

Forces outside our control are too often presented as an excuse for mediocrity and failure. Too often individuals are left feeling alienated by the pace of change and the ever-increasing complexity around them.

The goal of Peak Performance is a tool for empowerment that allows individuals to create their own future. It’s a tool that gives businesses an edge.

I’m using PPO principles at Saatchi & Saatchi. They work. They’ll work in schools; they’ll work in the church; they might even work in Government.

You can read about PPO at my website,, and in February 2000 you can read the book from our team when Harper Collins publishes it worldwide. We’re waiting until then so we can include our own World Cup triumph!

Believe me, this will be no dry management textbook. This is story-telling! You can smell the burnt rubber in the pit-lane. You can taste Dennis Rodman’s lipstick. You can share in the dreams of the players and the coaches and the fans.

I want to talk about dreams now. Or one dream at least. A really big one. One that we can all have as a nation.
My dream is that New Zealand will become one of the world’s most prosperous countries if we re-orient our collective psyche away from murky introspection to a rampant, ballsy internationalism.

For New Zealand, prosperity starts and finishes with our place in the world. Period. I spoke to the New Zealand Secondary School Principals conference in Christchurch two days ago and said that young people must look outwards for opportunity. Look north. Look east. Look west. Stop looking inward because we have no market here to speak of. Look to the world and imagine how you can take it on.

Wouldn’t it be great, I said to the school leaders, if every student graduated from school with the clear goal of helping New Zealand take on the world? Because that’s the mindset we must have.

New Zealanders are actually genetically programmed to take on the world and beat it. To play way above our league. To “knock the bastard off.” The Topp Twins have given us the anthem from their song Untouchables: “we’re stroppy, we’re aggressive, we’ll take over the world”!

It’s just that our historical psyche of modesty means we see world-beating achievements as an accident of nature. That excellence is the result of individual but not collective achievement.

We need to create an optimistic sense of national purpose, in language that is not going to be cynically received, in language that has powerful imagery, is exciting and yet has a sense of danger.

We need a national mission…and you can image the response we’ll get from those chewed-up, worn-out idea-less cynics who masquerade as political commentators writing about it instead of doing it!!

I want to offer food for optimists who want to eat, not for pessimistic critics who operate in a context of institutionalised negativity. I’m going to talk about our global identity, the place we create for ourselves in the world.
We must re-energise our sense of self. Great companies, great sports teams and great nations are defined by inspiring belief systems. The All Blacks are totally motivated by a legend more intimidating than any opposition. At Saatchi & Saatchi our mantra has always been “nothing is impossible.” America has always had the American Dream. Britain had the Empire - For King and Country, which worked for 300 years. Japan had Catch Up and Exceed the West.
These aren’t just propaganda slogans. They are powerful and motivating dreams that are shared by huge groups of people. They inspire collective action and empower every individual with self-belief and purpose.
Countries articulate their ideas about themselves through art and architecture, through cuisine, through dress, through diplomacy, through economic policy, through sport, through literature, through design, through personal style, through revolution and, tragically, war. Through every public and private, code of behaviour, and across every wrinkle of that culture’s history.

Instinctively we know why the flamenco wasn’t invented in Germany. It doesn’t fit the narrative. We know why Sophia Loren isn’t a Pom and Franz Kafka wasn’t an Aussie. Wrong types. We know why Nashville is the home of country music and not Prague. We know why the Taj Mahal is in Agra, Northern India and Ceasar’s Palace is in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We haven’t yet fully articulated our own national story. Offered a set of cultural co-ordinates so we can be mapped. Kiwi Attitude. Point of view. Like a great brand that you instinctively know what it stands for.

Let me give you some background. Last year Saatchi & Saatchi won the New Zealand Tourism Board account. Before we were fired, our team did brilliant work. We were briefed to break the mould. To do something radical and force New Zealand into the consciousness of the world’s travellers. To create a new context for the world to view New Zealand in.

The approach we took was to start with simple questions: “who are we?” “what are we?” and “why we are?”
We were looking for simplicity. For a simple idea that gave context to New Zealand that was relevant to our visitors and ourselves. A compelling thread that binds together all of the extraordinary and the ordinary things that are New Zealand.

We kept coming back to one idea, one phrase, one image.

It was the Edge. With all of its unorthodox, creative, eccentric and uneasy connotations.
Believe it! We are the edge. The edge of the planet. Where the world starts, everyday. So edgy we often get left off the map.

The New Zealand Edge is our context. Our story. Our brand. Our source. Our motivator. And this is the symbol I have given it [reveal fern logo]. This is my new flag, my coat of arms, my passport stamp, my insignia, my identity, my own national brand. The dot com business is my own act of international activism. It is my expression of The New Zealand Edge and my commitment to telling the story.

This story is no warm blanket. It’s not designed to be a cuddly idea that makes us feel good about ourselves while we wait for some promised golden future. The edge is a perilous place.

We’re dealing with improbable physics here. We have less people than Sydney, we’re the same size as Japan, with the tastes and expectations of New Yorkers! New Zealand shouldn’t make sense!

We’re the most physically remote countries on the planet with few economies of scale, nothing except our land, our brains and our innate competitiveness.

The very idea of New Zealand is as improbable as it is attractive! Our history however is energised by a creative tension that produces remarkable endpoints. Mavericks who have profoundly affected the rest of the world.
Like Rutherford, the pioneer of the nuclear age. A truly inspirational story, he totally deserves to be on our $100 note. His nickname was “Old Croc” because like a crocodile that can’t see its tail, Rutherford could only look forward.

Everyday I see more things in this country that can only be understood in the context of our place on the edge.
We were the last place to be discovered, and the first to see the light. This makes us one of the great experimental cultures. We try things first. Whether it’s votes for women, the welfare state or the market economy, powered-flight, nuclear physics, anti-nuclearism, biculturalism. First-isms. The New in New Zealand is our reason to exist. As citizens of the last frontier we still want to be pioneers. Believe it. Embrace it.

Think of the real edge we’re on. We live in a place that’s the meeting point of two tectonic plates - the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate. Geologists call it the Tectonic Tango. I call it a bloody great place to put our country.
We have one of the longest coastlines of any country in the world, yet our art and film and literature are so often populated by interiors, brooding images and menacing landscapes. That’s edge.

We’re deep all right, gothic, and we have to break through to the light. We have to be at that place Maurice Shadbolt has located in his recent memoir, “The Edge of the Sky.”

The edge describes distance from the centre. But under this new reading, this re-branding, our remoteness signals great freedoms.

Freedom from conformity. Freedom from orthodoxy. Freedom to improvise, to invent, to imagine.
We know from history that the Chinese revolution came from the edges. The Long March was totally about a walk on the edge.

We know from biology that change in species occurs at the fringe, where the population is most sparse and the orthodox ways of the centre are weakest.

The most interesting and radical thinking on the new economy, on the future shape of business, taps into this biological metaphor. Our modern network economy is said to operate like a biological organism - guided by the same processes and influences that determine change in nature.

For a nation on the edge this is big news. We are passing from the information age into a new economic era. I call it the Age of the Idea, where creativity is the defining aspect of competitive advantage.

This creates urgency about pressing forward our edge narrative of New Zealand. The mainstream global economy is out looking for the edge. They find it in places like another Pacific Ocean fringe dweller, Silicon Valley. They’re starting to come to us.

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings production was confirmed this weekend as the second biggest in movie history. Period. A budget of $360m. Evidence of edge power. Here it’s Xenaville. The biggest show in the history of syndicated television.

The edge travels. We don’t lose our edge status when we’re away from its home. A New Zealander takes his or her edge with them. When we leave New Zealand we spread our values. This brand is a benevolent virus. The best conversation starter I have anywhere in the world – except possibly Australia – is “Hi, I’m Kevin Roberts, I’m from New Zealand.”

We call the overseas New Zealanders “ex-patriots”. It’s touted as a mark of some failure of theirs. So we’re not good enough for them! In truth, it’s we who do the expatriating, senselessly.

There are half a million Kiwis living overseas, and we need to tap their energy. To live our brand in their overseas homes. Emotionally reconnect with them. Endow them with our story. Be proud of them.
Link them together through a device that gives them a context that explains their New Zealandness. They want it. We need it.

Here’s the vision. Marry the energy of the people who live here who have the total export mentality, with our half million strong international network. And tell their stories loud and true.

Together, they form the Network of Overseas New Zealanders. These are what I call the NEONZ, the stars of the edge on the global stage.

I’ve been collecting NEONZ. Seriously. I have 500 of them. 500 mind-blowing stories of people who play out of our league. Who have climbed Mount Improbable.

Let me tell you some of their stories. These people are heroes, not media celebrities. Their stories validate the “new” in New Zealand.

Maurice Wilkins, now 80 years old and living in London, Nobel Prize winner for making possible the discovery of DNA. He was born here. He lived here for only the first six years of his life. When he was asked on a 60 Minutes interview whether it would mean anything to him to be recognised by his country, he wept. He put his face in his hands. Our greatest scientist since Rutherford. An extraordinarily moving moment. A reproach to us all.
Maurice Wilkins didn’t spend much time in New Zealand. But that doesn’t matter. What’s important is how he views himself. The context he places himself in. This man is pure New Zealand Edge, who says he’s lived in Paradise. A pioneer of biotechnology whose achievements are reverberating louder around the globe now more than ever, fifty years after they first emerged. Maurice Wilkins teaches us that the New Zealand Edge is an attitude. It’s not about where you live; it’s about how you regard yourself.

And how about this person, the late Beatrice Tinsley, who had bachelors and masters degrees in physics from the University of Canterbury. Her doctoral thesis “The Evolution of Galaxies and its Significance for Cosmology” was described as “one of the profound doctoral dissertations of the 20th Century.” Beatrice Tinsley made fundamental contributions to our understanding of how galaxies change and evolve in time.

The late Allan Wilson, one of the foremost molecular evolutionists of the century. New Zealander. Repeatedly he confronted biologists and anthropologists with data that challenged their cherished models. The only New Zealander to receive a US MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. Allan Wilson gave the world the “Eve Hypothesis” which carbon-dated the “mother of all us” to a woman in Africa as recently as 200,000 years ago.

Jason Wynyard, the best competitive axeman in the world. 25 years old, 6 foot four inches, 300 pounds. Maori Sportsman of the Year for the last two years, one of the few professional timbersports competitors in the world. He has won back-to-back STIHL world titles, shattering several records in the process.

He habitually wins by 5 seconds events that usually last only 20. He owns 40 axes, which he sharpens personally. Talk about an edge.

Dr Jilly Evans, grew up Napier, graduated Auckland University, director of genomics for Merck in Philadelphia, leader of the team that has developed a breakthrough for the prevention and treatment of asthma called Singulair.
Peter Nicholl. Governor of the Central Bank of Bosnia.

Neville Bain. Chairman of the British Post Office.

Sarah Billinghurst, deputy director of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Thornton Bayliss, Oscar-winner for Cablecam, his revolutionary camera-conveyance device that can travel up to speeds of up to 130 km/h.

Gordon Dryden, journalist, broadcaster, businessman, educator, publisher and author of The Learning Revolution, currently the world’s best-selling author with sales in China of over three million copies, second only to Mao’s Little Red Book.

Collette Dinnigan, fashion designer from Wellington, whose 1998 Paris fashion show was held under IM Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre.

The New Zealand National Youth Choir. Winners of the “Choir of the World” in Wales last weekend.
John Money, founder of the John Hopkins University’s Gender Identity Clinic in Baltimore and a pioneer of sexual assignment for hermaphroditic children. Very off-the-edge.

Kylie Bax, Manhattan-based celebrity, one of the top five supermodels in the world. The face of Escada. Her spirit is “happy happy happy.” Her mindset is “focus, willpower, re-invention. “

How’s this! WH Attack, a South Island sheep farmer who in 1884 invented the referee’s whistle. Tired by the effort of yelling above the din while referring rugby, he reached for his dog whistle and changed refereeing forever. Strange but true, definitely from the edge.

Michael Watt. Last month stood on a New York stage to be the only New Zealander to ever receive a Tony Award, as co-producer of Annie Get Your Gun. Multi-millionaire entrepreneur. World leader in televised sports. Christ’s College dropout.

Richard Curtis. Creator of Blackadder and Mr Bean. Writer of “Not the Nine O’Clock News.” Screenwriter of the smash hit movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. Screenwriter and co-producer of another smash hit movie called “Notting Hill” starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Born a New Zealander.

Colin McCahon, our most important symbolist. When the German curators unpacked the New Zealand art show Toi Toi Toi in Bonn at the beginning of this year, they stood back in awe. When they saw McCahon’s work they declared the history of 20th Century art would have to be re-written.

I’ve got hundreds more stories just as compelling and I’m going to be putting them on for the world to share. You’ll also find this speech on the site tomorrow morning.

If we are going to become a Peak Performing Country, our heroes, our NEONZ, are essential. Their sense of what it means to be New Zealanders plays a huge role in creating meaning for us in the minds of the rest of the world. And for ourselves in our journey from introverts to internationalists.

What has emerged from this whole process for me is a realisation that this embryonic idea, the New Zealand Edge, is potentially world changing.

We are a small nation, distant from global markets, that risks marginalisation. Dropping off the globe. There’s nothing new in this. It’s the precarious nature of the edge.

We have however got a history of improbable achievements, the brains and the creativity, to energise our effort, give us the spirit, make us sharper and quicker.

We need the goal that tells every one of us what we should be doing, and why.

The New Zealand Edge tells us that. It celebrates everything that’s unique and different and extreme about this country.

And imagine if we got it right. Imagine if we did develop genuine self-belief and self-confidence. If our entire society shared a strong sense of collective purpose and vision. Anything would be possible.

Here are three things you can do tomorrow to start, because as possibly the most capable and entrepreneurial group of New Zealanders who could be gathered in a room together, it’s got to start with you.

First: put some money on the table. Put up venture capital. If everyone of you put $10,000 - $50,000 - $500,000 - of your own money tomorrow into a high tech or agritech or biotech or medical or film or tourism or brand project, then the country would be better off tomorrow by several million dollars. That’s just the start. Even better, this seriously bright group of business people should start your own investment fund, call it MBA Edgeventures or whatever. The combined brainpower of this room could light up the national grid by itself. Go looking into the labs and studios and workshops and tin sheds of the country for the intellectual capital that will bring home the premium royalty cheques.

Second: provide funding for scholarships at schools, universities and polytechnics. I give five scholarships to first year business students at the Waikato Management School, and the people who get them have the best ideas with a business plan to match. Do this to create jobs and to stimulate the skills of improvisation, adaptability, mobility and strategy.

And third: look into your own companies and ask what stories your international activities and branding tell about New Zealand. Look at your corporate language and images and make sure they work a New Zealand Edge angle really hard.

I’ve done a bit of re-imaging myself, had a go at designing the plane I’d like to travel the world in. Paint might figure big in Jim McCrea’s 99 investment budget if I have my way. This is the luxury overnighter to the Edge from LAX and London. Imagine the All Blacks landing at Heathrow in this pirate ship for the World Cup!

Kia Kaha!


© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


More Large Birds: Giant Fossil Penguin Find In Waipara

The discovery of Crossvallia waiparensis, a monster penguin from the Paleocene Epoch (between 66 and 56 million years ago), adds to the list of gigantic, but extinct, New Zealand fauna. These include the world’s largest parrot, a giant eagle, giant burrowing bat, the moa and other giant penguins. More>>

Wellington: Little Blue Penguins Near Station Again

There have been more sightings of penguins near Wellington Railway Station on Sunday night, this time waddling into a parking building above a burger restaurant. More>>


Heracles inexpectatus: Giant Ex-Parrot Discovered

“New Zealand is well known for its giant birds. Not only moa dominated avifaunas, but giant geese and adzebills shared the forest floor, while a giant eagle ruled the skies. But until now, no-one has ever found an extinct giant parrot – anywhere.” More>>


Howard Davis: Sam Brooks' Burn Her Sets Circa Theatre Ablaze

Burn Her is engaging, witty, and exceptionally sharp, with every line of dialogue inserted for a reason and perfectly delivered by the two leads, who manage to command their space without competing against each other. More>>




  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland