Sir Peter Maire on Valuable Boards

The New Zealand Boomer generation has produced many entrepreneurs. But very few have taken their enterprise to global scale. Only one has done it three times – with NavMan, Fusion Electronics and Invenco. He is of course Sir Peter Maire.

I wanted to discover from Sir Peter’s unique perspective how he values the contribution of a board in building start-ups into global businesses, so I put some questions to him:

WD: Peter, how do you start to build a value-adding board?

PM: It’s all about picking great people with relevant experience. You can find good financial governance people here. But the gap is directors with deep experience in product management, marketing, global distribution and scaling manufacturing.

WD: So the gap is operational experience at large scale?

PM: Yes. The rapidly scaling business needs to be world-class competent in customer focus, innovation, systems and process compliance, supply chain controls and HR. Both at Board and senior management level, these skills have to be present in depth.

WD: Why do we lack this expertise?

PM: Outside of Food and Beverage and perhaps Building Products, NZ hasn’t got any significant sized manufacturing operations. Most Kiwis with offshore experience seem to be law and finance focused. I am sure there are exceptions but I haven’t met them so far.

WD: I suppose you would go to the centre of global manufacturing for your sector to locate such people.

PM: Absolutely. I was in Hamburg last week for Invenco. Had dinner with a bunch of very successful people. “Oil industry” upstream retail systems people. I would have killed to have people like them on my board.

WD: Is there a temporary fix?

PM: A board that recognizes its experience gaps can connect the CEO and senior management to mentors who are often very happy to share their experience. I would go further and encourage CEOs to seek out great people to provide mentoring on a casual basis and not to worry if they can’t get them full time around a board table.

WD: Is this level of IP generosity common? PM: In my experience, yes. Seasoned and successful international manufacturers are generally “People people” and are happy to mentor the emerging entrepreneurs. Especially those from New Zealand where the innovation culture still amazes the big industry players. At Callaghan we must organize more of this mentoring – perhaps in smaller, really targeted sessions.

WD: And for those of us who find ourselves on a board which aspires to global manufacturing but lacks these insights or operational experience and does not recognize the gaps?

PM: Brutally, if it cannot be changed, it is better to walk. That company is going nowhere and you can’t add value.