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Lisa Owen interviews tech entrepreneur Derek Handley

Lisa Owen interviews tech entrepreneur Derek Handley


Lisa Owen: You said earlier this year that you think there isn’t an ounce of vision within a thousand miles of the Beehive. Why do you think that’s the case?

Derek Handley: Well, I mean, that’s possibly a hyperbole. But I think that what I meant was that we’re really living in an age at the moment of incrementalism. I think the things that are happening in New Zealand, the leadership that has been recent, is tinkering. But our generation is in the middle to two really major transitions in the world, and one is the environmental situation that we’ve got and the serious issues that we have. And the second is the increasing awareness that how we traditionally measured success and what works in the last century is not what will define this century. So if New Zealand wants to lead in the world, it needs to lead on those two issues, and I don’t think that we are and that’s what I was meaning.

And when you talked about incremental change, what do you think; do we need big radical ideas to forge ahead?

Well, I think as a person or as a company or as an organisation, how you lead is based on what your goal is and traditionally the world’s goal is growth, and the world’s goal is productivity, and the world’s measurement is GDP. And it’s very clear to an increasing number of people that that’s a flawed measure. So if we’re a country that wants to lead in the way that we have on nuclear and the way that we have on voting, we should be leading the world and redefining what success is. So if your north star is GDP and that’s all you design your policies around, then you’re going to come up with an outcome that’s not representative of what I think this generation wants success to be.

So then it’s not just politicians that are devoid of vision then. What you’re saying is perhaps all of us need to step it up a bit?

Well I think increasingly we are. But they do set the tone, right? So I think the tone is something that is set at that level, and my comment at the beginning of the year was largely around actually some of the goals that we aspire to achieve are probably not the right goals. So the last ten years a lot of people have talked about catching up with Australia’s growth and Australia’s GDP. Is that really a goal that we care to have? And I don’t think so, I think we want wellbeing, we want health and we want education, and that’s not necessarily the way we’re set up to achieve at the moment.

So this election cycle we have a new party on the scene, the Internet Party – has it changed the political landscape in your view?

Well I think it’s at least made people think twice about different things. When I had made those comments earlier I also was commenting on the fact that I don’t think New Zealand knows how to use the internet to advance the democratic process. And any party or anybody that helps accelerate that in my view is a good thing, and I think that it’s increasing that awareness that the internet’s an important tool and we’ve got a long way to go. So anyone that can help us towards using technology to accelerate democracy is to me a great thing.

Derek, I’m just curious, do you donate to political parties?

No.

You haven’t in New Zealand?

No.

Ok. I want to move on to your corporate world. You’re involved in a project with Richard Branson called the B Team, now it’s aimed at getting companies to tackle social problems, isn’t it, through business. But I’m wondering why should companies focus on doing good in the world as well as doing well financially? Why is that beneficial?

Well, first of all it’s not just social it’s also environmental. I think the overall vision is that business is a stakeholder in the whole of the community and the whole society, and if you just silo making money and not worry about how you make it and how it impacts society and how it impacts the environment, that’s a very last century view on the world. The view that we have with the B Team is that the way you make money, the way you create wealth, must have positive impacts for society and at the same time, given the challenges we have with the environment, help innovate and solve those issues. And that in fact will become the new way of competing, the new way of differentiating yourself. So we think that it’s not like an either/or, it’s like an and/and, and actually that that’s the way that people want to lead and the way that young people want to work.

But is it a problem convincing other people that that’s a good idea?

I think in the last 20 years it’s been building, right. But if you look at the last year we’ve already had an enormous amounts of traction. So if you look at Apple for example, Steve Jobs never really worried about these things, but Tim Cook has come out very strong, he came out a few months ago asking any investors, any hedge funds who didn’t believe in their environmental policies to sell their stock. That’s really bold leadership. We have more and more CEOs and global leaders who are doing that in business because they understand you can’t just leave your values at the door, go to work, screw up the planet, not worry about the impacts on society or the workers you have in China, make money and be happy. So I think the more Tim Cooks that come out of the woodwork, the more this movement will start to pick up.

In saying that, you have described capitalism as a teenager that’s just figuring itself out, so I’m wondering, how do you think that will look when it’s all grown up? How will it look and behave when capitalism’s grown up?

I think it looks like a merger of the things that we currently silo. So we currently silo politics, civil society, non-profits, business and we think of them as discrete things. And I think the future looks like a hybrid – if you’re going to be an entity in the world you need to do it sustainably, you need to create revenue that will keep you alive, you need to address social issues and make money. So what’s happening is these sectors are starting to merge and they’re starting to play together. So business will look more and more like different sectors that we traditionally think are not business. And that’s what I think, you know, is currently happening.

Interestingly you’ve been looking for a person to be your right hand and you had an interesting application process, people applied online, they made videos, etcetera. Have you found that person? How’s the search?

The search is going amazing. We had over a thousand people involved. And most encouraging for me, a lot of them were expatriate New Zealanders, you know, looking for a reason to come home. Very bright people, very inspired people. And we’re now down to the last five, and this weekend we’re going through a couple of things and very soon we’ll make some decisions.

Ok watch that space, thank you very much for joining me this morning.


ends

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