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From Homespun Degree to Nano-fibre Career

From homespun degree to nano-fibre career

The 34-year-old Revolution Fibres general manager cut his teeth in the family business, Douglas Creek, but says while both companies create fibre from unlikely resources, that’s incidental.

School was easy for the bag-piping McGhee – he cruised through, was a high achiever, a winner. Fresh into the real world, he set out to gain a bachelor of arts. But he didn’t get far.

“I had my eye on commerce. But I was also trying to find my way in the world.”

He dropped out and went to work at Douglas Creek. It was developing a unique fibre, Cervelt, made from the down of red deer. Its global launch eventually became McGhee’s job. But while he became internationally business-savvy on the European circuit, selling Cervelt, he wasn’t content.

“There was something nagging in the back of my mind. Growing up in the business, I knew I had more to experience, there was a lot I was missing out on.”

McGhee dropped in to the University of Auckland, and was encouraged to look at the MBA programme. So began what he describes, often lyrically, as a ‘personal journey’.

Revolution Fibres is young, fun and full of potential – turning over around a million dollars now and probably $100 million in 10 years. McGhee’s goal is more like $100 billion. He joined the company last year near the end of his MBA. He doesn’t like to lose.

But you might let McGhee win a few – he knows kung fu. And he went into the course ready to battle.

“I was extremely pumped, had extremely high expectations. I expected it to be really challenging, extraordinarily hard and for me to be, essentially, bottom of the class - and have to work really, really hard to pass.”

The MBA was a good opportunity to work with people who had the same, or more experience, as McGhee.

“It was good for me,” he says. But struggles to articulate just how good. It has “tremendously affected” his life and he says it would be difficult to underestimate the changes as a result.

“It’s completely changed my view of business, and I also deal with my business relationships very differently. I have a much better ability to look at myself.”

He wanted the MBA to help him break out of the family business (tick), to help him do something different (tick), not textiles (tick).

Revolution Fibres is a gutsy science and technology start-up. And while it could potentially make a super almost-invisible cloak with nano-fibre technology, it is not in the business of textiles. Or gadgets.

Materials reduced down to nano-scale take on new properties, add a dash of plant extract and it changes things again. They are into air filtration, medical and cosmetic products and structural materials, and are in the news for a fibre using the skin of hoki fish.

The young, fun, and incredibly intelligent guys at Revolution Fibres have so many ideas, but just how long is a piece of nano-string?

The less-than-useful fact that 1kg of it will make a tightrope to the sun doesn’t come into it for McGhee’s problem-solving challenges, which are strictly business. His is seeking partnerships to turn that fibre into something even more noteworthy.

Thankfully, the MBA has helped him to think about things in a more global way, and given him tangible skills he applies regularly.

“It’s a much more collaborative world, in the future, than it’s ever been.”

For McGhee the future is about the world he will help create for his two-year-old daughter.

“It’s for her future as much as it is my own. I think about what kind of person I want to be.”

It’s clear McGhee has found his spark, and the MBA is just a starting point - he would now like to study innovation management.

The University of Auckland Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) has intakes in January and June each year. Find out more at


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