2011 NZ’s Entrepreneur Of The Year category winners announced

2011 Entrepreneur Of The Year category winners announced

Category winners in the 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® Awards were announced today. 

The winners are: 

  • Products; Dr Doug Cleverly, Argenta
  • Services; Simon Gault, The Nourish Group and Sous Chef
  • Technology; Sean Simpson, LanzaTech
  • Young; Victoria Ransom, Wildfire
  • Master Entrepreneur; Joint win:  
    •     Bill Buckley, BSL Buckley Systems Ltd
    •     Linda Jenkinson, LesConcierges Inc
  • Commendation: Anthony Leighs, Leighs Construction Ltd

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards Director Jon Hooper said the calibre of this year’s winners was exceptionally high. 

“I am inspired by the unfailing passion, drive and perseverance of Kiwi entrepreneurs” says Hooper. “And in these tough economic times it is more important than ever to recognise and reward their achievements. We are delighted to be able to do that through the Ernst & Young awards programme in more than 50 countries around the world.”

“Successful entrepreneurship is a mix of many factors,” says Hooper. “Financial performance is one. But in the current environment, great entrepreneurs really stand out in how they manage the downturn and in the opportunities they pursue.”

Chairman of the judging panel, Greg Cross of Cross Ventures said “we had an outstanding group of finalists this year which really made the judges job extremely difficult as they are all building business that are important to New Zealand’s future. Each category winner has already demonstrated their creativity, their passion and determination in getting to this stage of the awards programme.

“The intensity turns up a notch now as we look at choosing one winner to represent New Zealand at the world awards in Monte Carlo,” said Cross.

New Zealand’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year will be announced at an awards banquet on Thursday 22 September 2011. 

The overall winner will represent New Zealand, competing against entrepreneurs from more than 135 cities in 50 countries at the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards in Monte Carlo in June 2012.

The 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards judging panel is:

Greg Cross, Cross Ventures
Bill Day, Seaworks Ltd
Diane Foreman, Emerald Group
David Johnson, Trends International
John Hynds, Hynds Pipes

About Entrepreneur Of The Year®

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The unique award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. As the first and only truly global award of its kind, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognizing them through regional, national and global awards programs in more than 140 cities in more than 50 countries.

WINNER:  Products:   Dr Doug Cleverly, Argenta

In the early 1990s, and as an employee, Doug Cleverly walked through the manufacturing plant of Nufarm Health & Sciences and wondered at just how big the opportunity for this business was, and allowed himself the impossible thought ‘what would he do if he owned it?’

Doug’s career in animal health started as an employee with Nufarm in 1992, then as an entrepreneur with the creation of Chemlabs in 2003—a contract research organisation with less than impressive year one revenue of $12,000.  To bolster income the fledgling business created a new revenue stream by conducting product development and manufacturing of top-end personal products for Ecostore while continuing to market its pharmaceutical development capabilities.

It all changed when he took an overseas phone call asking if Chemlabs could develop a globally important product for the largest animal health company in the world. This was the first of a cascade of pharmaceutical development contracts from the likes of Pfizer, Schering Plough and Merial. With research revenues now well over $3M the business reasserted its focus and became dedicated to animal health meaning divestment of non-core business interests.

In 2006 the impossible thought became a reality through the formation of Argenta, the combination of Chemlabs research capabilities with the contract manufacturing plant and operations owned by Nufarm Health & Sciences. Argenta—the world’s first contract research and manufacturing organisation dedicated to animal health, was born.

Currently the company exports products and services to over 59 countries and has an estimated global market share of nearly 10%, and increasing.  The target markets in order of size of activity are the United States, the European Union, New Zealand and Australia.

Doug maintains that his success is based on a number of factors.  Having talented people with global experience in the business is a vital contributor to growth.  Similarly the company’s research driven strategies to turn ideas into revenues and job opportunities have now been proven. Growth comes from research incomes but more significantly from the manufacture of products that are approved in global markets. A growing IP portfolio increases the company’s potential for accelerated growth as an important provider of leading technologies and products to the indiustry.  The use of R&D to drive change has been pivotal to diversification of products and services that has lead to success and even survival through the GFC.

In the end, however, being blessed with the right blend of scientist brain with commercial nous creates a unique ability to spot and assess opportunities in science. .  “I’m quite fortunate that when someone puts a technology in front of me I can quickly see what the opportunities could be both here and abroad.  That puts us in a very powerful position.” 

WINNER: Services:  Simon Gault, The Nourish Group and Sous Chef

As well as being a star of cooking stage, screen and skillet Simon Gault is also a precision flier.  Like his knife work this involves total accuracy with a touch of dare devil—one mistake and you can get hurt.

In both worlds Simon is a cut above the rest.  As part of a New Zealand team competing against Australia in a RNZAC regatta—the equivalent of an aviation ‘test match’—he won two gold medals.

On the ground, and in his diversified world of cooking and culinary related activities, he has clearly ‘steaked’ his territory as an achiever.  He has won the 2008 Restaurant Association Innovator of the Year Award, the Lewisham Awards Chef of the Year, Outstanding Hospitality Personality of the Year and just recently was inducted into the New Zealand Restaurant Association Hall of

Fame 2011.  His restaurant Euro, less than two years after opening for business, was the first New Zealand restaurant to feature in the highly prestigious Conde Nast Traveller magazine’s top 50 restaurants in the world list.

Away from his television and writing commitments, Simon has two separate but related hospitality businesses. His Nourish group owns and operates a range of restaurants—aimed at urban diners and sociable foodies as well as business people—including Euro Restaurant and Bar, Jervois Steak House, Bistro Lago, Pravda and Shed 5.  He has also developed a relationship with the global Hilton Hotels group to run and manage the restaurants in both their Auckland and Taupo properties.

All of this started in 1986 when, at age 22, Simon bought his first restaurant—Bell House—using divested Brierley shares for funding.  When finances tended to be tight he would collect all the unused egg whites from each evening’s service and make meringue roulades that he’d sell to boost cash flow.

His diversified portfolio and approach to all aspects of life revolves around a concept he refers to as 5% magic.

“It’s never enough to deliver the expected if you want to be truly great and successful.  This is not a cute saying but something that for me pervades everything.  I’m an absolute perfectionist and hate coming second.  The 5% magic demands that I take risks, innovate and lead because that enchantment only happens when you genuinely break conventions and challenge the status quo.”

WINNER: Technology and emerging industries: Sean Simpson, LanzaTech

In a world where ETS, global warming, the hunt for more bio-friendly and sustainable fuels, and the desire to have zero impact on food and water availability in the provision of energy sources are all ‘hot’ topics, Sean Simpson’s company LanzaTech has the good oil.

The business has evolved from specialising in gas-to-ethanol technology to becoming a highly sophisticated, and fully sustainable, integrative gas to fuels and chemical platform—most especially one that has no negative influence on food or water security.

In the fuels arena, products include ‘drop in’ components to aviation gasoline as well as ethanol.  The eco-friendlier chemicals are ones that can be used in the production of solvents and plastics.  LanzaTech’s formula has clearly had the right key ingredients evidenced in 2007 by Series A Funding received from Khosla Ventures (the first money invested outside the US) of $US 10 million.  The investment came just two years after the business launched.

Still partially in research and development mode, when full commercialisation takes hold revenue will come flowing in from the sale of both products and technology.  Many of the world’s fuel companies are obvious targets.  As with other New Zealand exporting companies, China is on Sean’s radar.

“China produces 50% of the world’s steel and already has ethanol mandates in many of its provinces.  We already have a JV agreement with Baosteel, China’s largest steel producer, with the facility due to be operational by 2013.  Since 2010 we have seen the development of multiple partnerships across Asia to include a variety of feedstock suppliers across numerous industries.”

As a power house of research and innovation, the development and protection of IP is a critical part of the business.  LanzaTech currently has 63 patent filings related to Sean’s work.  When confronted with entering the Chinese market—something he was persistently warned about in terms of being burned by IP ‘theft’—he sought what he calls ‘best in class’ partnerships to garner a sense of security.  As well as Baosteel, he also connected with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  He similarly has created a business model which makes it in the financial interests of customers/partners to keep the intellectual property pure and safe.

WINNER: Young: Victoria Ransom, Wildfire

Despite her surname, and given that the leaders of technology companies tend to be of the opposite sex, Victoria Ransom is not likely someone who would take many prisoners.   Having said that she’s not hung up on competing on a gender basis.

“I can practically count on one hand the number of women CEOs that have founded and led tech companies that have achieved significant scale.  Therefore, I’m proud that I’ve built a reputation for not only being a top women CEO in Silicon Valley but also a top CEO full stop.”

Wildfire is not her first foray into developing successful businesses. Coming from a small community in Manawatu and attending a primary school with only 30 students, she broke the family tradition by attending university and soon after left New Zealand to work on Wall Street, attend Harvard Business School, grow a global adventure company, launch a software business for the travel company and fight a year-long illness that almost cost her life.  She is now frolicking in the fields of opportunity known as social media.  Victoria and her co-founder, Alain Chuard, began cooking plans for the venture in 2007 while still in business school.  Two years later the business officially launched in August 2009 and by the following month had reached profitability.

Her social marketing software is helping brands to capitalize on the social media revolution created by social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Wildfire’s Social Marketing Suite provides a turn-key solution for businesses and agencies to launch social campaigns, create brand pages, monitor and message consumers and track how they’re being received and perceived.

Says Victoria:  “We’ve tens of thousands of paying customers ranging from small businesses to some of the largest brands in the world including Pepsi, Audi, Nestle, Virgin Atlantic, Unilever, American Express and Air New Zealand.”

One of the greatest IT ‘compliments’ is the fact that Facebook uses Wildfire to manage its own consumer marketing.  In total, companies from over 100 countries—particularly the ‘sweet spot’ mid-tier businesses—use her services to fire up their operations and balance sheets.

With 155 employees and offices in Palo Alto, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London and Singapore—and more to come—Wildfire is proving just that.

JOINT WINNERS: Master Entrepreneur: Bill Buckley, BSL – Buckley Systems Ltd & Linda Jenkinson, LesConcierges Inc

Bill Buckley

There are widgets…and then there are SERIOUS widgets.  Bill Buckley’s version is most definitely in category 2.  His company BSL – Buckley Systems Ltd is the undisputed global leader in the manufacture and supply of precision electromagnets to 90% of the world’s ion implant industry.

Rather than rushing to the nearest physics or IT primer, here’s a brief summation of what the business is all about.  In the hierarchy of those involved in producing silicon chips—an essential component to any high technology undertaking or applications in fields ranging from medical to security—there are a number of tiers and players.  There are only around 10 companies in the world producing silicon chip ‘capital’.  Most are brands that operate under the radar—such as Varian, Nissin or Axcelis.  In contrast their clients—IBM, Intel, Sony and NEC—are household names.

Without Buckley Systems there would be no magnetism to the mix. Between 80 to 90 percent of all electromagnets and ion beam hardware supplied by the middle tier providers to the big name brands come from Bill Buckley’s Auckland-based company.  Everything produced is exported to clients in the United States, Britain, Europe, Japan and other Asian destinations.

Those market share figures are unlikely to deviate dramatically for two reasons.  One being the high quality and reputation of the company’s products; the other is IP and related knowledge accumulated that would make it a super sized challenge for anyone else trying to replicate the offering.

Says Bill:  “For anyone to be serious opposition to me would cost them a lot of money.  What I can do for $1 million would cost them $10 million.”

Despite the current positive nature of the enterprise, business hasn’t always been rosy for Bill.  The 1978-launched Buckley Engineering encountered some serious glitches Bill had to divest majority shareholding to stay afloat.  In 1986 he launched Buckley Systems and, in the same year, capitalised on the IT boom in Silicon Valley becoming a major supplier to American factories.  From there it was upwards.  His approach to success is put this way:  “It’s no good doing what anyone can do.  You have to go after the stuff that’s too complicated for the average engineer so you can be ‘Johnny on the spot’ when the demand hits.”

Linda Jenkinson

Palmerston North-born Linda Jenkinson was tagged at a relatively early age as a ‘serial entrepreneur.’  Not by her, but by a variety of people who spotted talent and drive.  Their observations were also likely shaped by the sorts of comments she made:  “I want to build a billion-dollar company and conquer the world.”

After graduating from Massey University and achieving an MBA from world renowned University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, Linda joined a number of high flying organisations—including being founding member of a team at AT Kearney that built global financial services and insurance practice to a $230 million level.  She was chairman, founder and CEO of a NASDAQ-listed logistics company called DMS Corp.  In the process of building up a $266 million company, Linda became the first New Zealand woman to lead an IPO and take a company public in the Big Apple.

In time, other fruits of opportunity caught her attention.  Servicing the needs and desires of the Baby Boomer generation seemed a fertile area to focus on.  Linda reasoned that a well conceived concierge-service company would be the order for this demographic given their combination of affluence and desire for unparalleled service.  Similarly, living near the prosperous Silicon Valley region, she calculated that technology companies that faced increasing competition to attract and keep key personnel would have a need for a ‘state of the art’ pampering concierge service.  In that way, her new venture could operate as both a customer and employee loyalty service.

Rather than starting from scratch, she spotted an existing company, LesConcierges, that had been operating for over 14 years but was starting to suffer from a lack of technological know-how. Using her business and VC fundraising skills, Linda procured $US 8 million that allowed her to buy the company and begin the process of making it both service and ‘state of the art’ savvy. Innovations such as a leading edge proprietary concierge technology platform, web portal and mobile applications—backed up by more than 200 concierges in 89 cities worldwide—have seen

LesConcierges handle in excess of 1 million annual requests and grow to become the largest concierge service in the world with an enviable blue-chip client list.

Affiliations with groups such as AXA Assistance—a global player offering assistance and related services to corporate and individual clients that is consistently ranked in the top 20 Fortune’s

Global 500—means the world-conquering part of Linda’s early promise is in play.

Commendation: Anthony Leighs, Leighs Construction Ltd

When you achieve a ‘clean sweep’ in the New Zealand Institute of Building Awards you can have some degree of confidence your venture is built on strong foundations.
The year was 2005 and in one night Anthony Leighs visited the stage a number of times to pick up their category award, the innovation award and finally the supreme award against competition from the best construction companies in the land.

Building things with style has always been something that attracted Anthony’s attention.  When he was made redundant in 1992 he set off overseas and in 1995 at age 24, he decided it was time to put his ideas into practice and satisfy what had become a ‘burning desire’ to create what he calls ‘a new generation construction company’.

“I have a healthy level of fear of failure but I don’t let that get in the way.”

Anthony’s standing and reputation is such that he has already been ‘shoulder tapped’ to become a director of the NZ Master Builders Federation.  Having built hundreds of buildings, both in New Zealand and such far-away places as East Timor and the Antarctic, has helped create strong foundations to his capabilities and reputation.

Though he admits to having a healthy level of fear for failure it is more his determination, combined with facing adversity front on, that drives his enterprise and enthusiasm.  Given that his business is Christchurch based, these characteristics have proven to be the right materials to help in the rebuilding of his city.

His was the first construction company to commence stabilisation work in the Christchurch CBD following the September 2010 earthquake.  He also took a leading role in ReStart—the program to re-establish retail operations in the central city.  His was the first new rebuild to commence in the CBD following the February major shake and he has recently established a JV with leading United States demolition company Grant Mackay with the aim of specialising in deconstructing damaged multi-story structures.

While Christchurch will provide plenty of construction opportunities in years to come, Anthony is committed to expanding his business nationally and internationally.  His hunt for talent—both in leadership and construction capabilities necessary to ensure the venture can grow and remain sustainable—is equally wide spread.



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