Mon, Jun 28, 2021 11:41 AM

The multimillion-dollar companies living local and going global

Andrew Pullen says his staff are happier in Nelson and that leads to good business. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Charles Anderson

Nelson is home to an increasing number of big businesses that have decided to locate their operations in the region despite selling their products across the world. Charles Anderson meets the companies turning over tens of millions while being based in a place typically associated with sunshine wages.


SPA WORLD

It started with a phone call to Andrew Pullen. While the Spa World chief executive had managed to be based in Nelson for some time, the rest of the HQ was in Newcastle, Australia.

But now another key executive wanted to move to this part of New Zealand. Andrew was skeptical, but if he could run a global company from the top of the South Island, why couldn’t the main offices be based there too?

“I thought ‘if I can move the small part, what does it look like to move the whole thing here?’”

So, Andrew pitched to the company’s board that moving Spa World from Australia to New Zealand could actually save it money. They had wanted to set up their own in-house customer care team for some time. This just might be the excuse to do it.

The board said that it would be tricky as he would have to set up and train a whole new team. But they gave their blessing. However, they said he would have to do it in three months.

Andrew set about finding that team and found a space to house them all. They set up behind the Caltex petrol station on Waimea Rd and enlisted Intepeople to find a bunch of staff to fill the new roles. About a third of their staff moved with them and they have also brought on many from around the country and overseas.

“We never had a problem attracting talent,” Andrew says.

Now, four years on, Spa World is the largest spa retailer in the world. They own and operate 13 stores across Australia. They sell their own spas, but they also distribute other brands. So, they have business in Canada, China and are also the largest Jacuzzi distributor in the world.

In the four years they have been in Nelson, Spa World has grown four-fold, Andrew says. Now they are eyeing $100m turnover in the next few years. Andrew puts that down to the culture that the company has been able to build in Nelson.

“One of the great things about establishing here is that people are just happier. A big commute here is 20-30 minutes. The average commute is seven minutes.”

In Sydney or Auckland that could be an hour or an hour and a half, Andrew says.

“By the time they get here what motivation would they have to get cracking? There is better weather and better outdoor activities. All of which creates a dynamic environment that leads to better business outcomes. It’s easier to balance work and life when you are not sitting in a car for two hours.”

So, if Spa World can turn Nelson into a global hub, can and should others?

“You have to sell the idea to the business owner or CEO. If he or she is going to have a better lifestyle here, then they will be motivated.”

But Andrew says that space is a key factor in the equation – both commercial space and finding enough accommodation for staff. The first was just luck. The timing worked out for the space they are in now, but Andrew says there are not many good, large office spaces in the city.

“The lack of accommodation is also an impediment to very big businesses. If I wanted to hire 300 staff, they are going to struggle to find somewhere to live.”

Andrew also says that maybe we do not want lots of large companies moving here because it would then change the nature of what makes Nelson special in the first place.

“The equation is Nelson is a great place to live, and that attracts great people, and great people lead to great business.”

Shuttlerock CEO and founder, Jonny Hendriksen, says if his global social media ad company can offer good wages then why wouldn't anyone want to move to Nelson for the lifestyle? Photo: Charles Anderson.
Shuttlerock CEO and founder, Jonny Hendriksen, says if his global social media ad company can offer good wages then why wouldn't anyone want to move to Nelson for the lifestyle? Photo: Charles Anderson.

SHUTTLEROCK

Jonny Hendriksen used to have a holiday house in Mapua. He used to love coming up from Christchurch with his family - enjoying the weather and the lifestyle. Then he thought: “What’s stopping us running the company from Nelson?”

Jonny found his success pioneering internet marketing in Japan in the late 1990s and early 2000s with longtime business partner Tim Williams. However, his focus for the past decade has been building his video ad company Shuttlerock, which he founded in 2011.

The company creates social media advertisements for some of the largest brands in the world. And they do it around the world. Shuttlerock has 11 offices globally: Berlin, Tokyo, Singapore, three in the US, Auckland, Christchurch, and Nelson, which is its global HQ, though 99 per cent of revenue is generated outside of New Zealand.

Globally, Shuttlerock employs 180 people, about 45 in New Zealand, mostly in Nelson.

Jonny’s ambition is for Shuttlerock to become one of New Zealand’s largest companies. It is currently aiming for $100m turnover in the next couple of years but he wants it to be worth $1 billion.

However, Jonny says trying to do that from Nelson was a bit of a “leap of faith”.

“People do get so used to working in a big city, there was a thought that if they move to Nelson that their career might be moving backward.”

But, he says, once they got there, they realised that Nelson is a pretty ideal place to live and bring up a family. That leap of faith in moving a global digital business to a far-flung corner of the world proved prescient when Covid hit.

“That changed how a lot of companies do business.” Jonny says digital tools are enabling work from anywhere and now that has had to happen.

“The way Shuttlerock is set up, we could actually be based from anywhere.”

The company is also now in expansion mode. It has recently raised $7.5 million with help from fellow Nelson convert, Trade Me founder Sam Morgan, who lives in Mapua and is now a director of the company.

That is helping Shuttlerock level up its technology to create vast numbers of ads for brands at scale. Jonny says the company wants to be seen and doing its bit for the city.

“It’s about what we can do here and what we can do for Nelson. We are employing a younger demographic of people which from our point of view is making a positive contribution.”

It also wants to lead by example.

“We are one of the first big IT companies to be based here. There might be people saying ‘you can’t do that’, or ‘you can’t get the talent to make it work.’ The reality is we are making it work, we are getting the talent. If there is a good job with good pay going then people will come here.”

Jonny says Shuttlerock is almost at an unfair advantage in getting good people to work for it.

“If you can create a company that can pay Auckland wages or better then there are plenty of people who are waking up and smelling the coffee and realising that you don’t need to live in Auckland or even Wellington.”

He says if they can do it then there is no reason why others can’t.

“I’m always the first to be the flag bearer to get more entrepreneurs here.”

QX Global Ltd executive chairman Chris Robinson says the question many businesses will be asking is what the point of an office is. Photo: Supplied.
QX Global Ltd executive chairman Chris Robinson says the question many businesses will be asking is what the point of an office is. Photo: Supplied.

QX GLOBAL GROUP LTD

Chris Robinson’s workday starts at 9pm. From his home near Rabbit Island, he manages a global workforce of 1600 people, mainly accountants, mainly based in Ahmedabad in India.

QX Global Group was founded 18 years ago on a simple premise. There is and was a global shortage of accountants - and there are a lot of good accountants in India.

“I knew that all people wanted was a good service,” Chris, the company’s executive chairman, says.

“The way to give that good quality service was to get them connected on good quality communications.”

It was just good timing that Chris’ idea was born right at the time when telecommunications technology was expanding, and the internet boom had arrived.

“All the pieces came together.”

But it took some work to allow those pieces to fit so that Chris could relocate his young family to Nelson.

“I always ask ‘why are their accountancy offices on the High St? Why not have a little shop on the High St and then all the back-office workers somewhere else in a big space’? I just took that to the next level.”

Almost 20 years ago Chris Robinson was working in the United Kingdom running a recruitment business. But they needed a new office because they didn’t have enough space for their staff. One night he saw a programme on television showcasing call centres in India.

“I thought ‘that’s amazing’. You have really intelligent people doing all sorts of work there.”

Chris had an idea. He spoke to his business partner and said they should open an office in India. The business partner said ‘OK’. So, Chris went out to India to hire 20 people and they got thousands of applicants.

Then Chris, an accountant by background, soon pivoted into a different area. He knew that there was a worldwide shortage of people who could do what he did - people who could do the numbers for businesses at scale. It was 2003, on the back of the dotcom boom and bust.

“I understood about telephony and that it didn’t matter where you were. Physical locations were becoming less important.”

Chris spoke to his wife Cath about relocating the family from the UK to India. He told her that he probably needed to be out there for two years to set it up.

“Three months later she started talking to me again,” he half-jokes. “Finally, she agreed to come out and have a look. The whole time the plan was to build a team up so I could manage it remotely.”

The assumption was that they would go back to the UK after they left India. But then (after three years, not two) they went on a three-month holiday which included a trip to New Zealand.

“We finished the holiday and got back to the UK and the weather was crap. It was a grey day. I turned to Cath and said, ‘I’m not sure I can do this’.”

Cath replied: “I know what you mean.”

Chris said: “New Zealand was nice.” Cath replied: “Yes.”

Chris said: “Nelson was nice.” Cath replied: “Yes.”

Chris said: “Shall we move to New Zealand?”

It took them 18 months to do it, but finally, they arrived and for a long time Chris was travelling back and forth to India to visit the team. But gradually he weaned himself off it. He gets on the phone at 9pm and works for a few hours managing his staff in India before going to sleep.

The company is now on track to hit $60 million turnover within the next three years.

Then, when Covid-19 hit, he found himself with five offices in India and almost 2000 employees that needed to start working from home. They closed down two offices permanently and the pandemic has had a big effect on its workforce. But once again, technology allowed them the resilience to push on.

“The secret is teamwork. We have a brilliant team on the ground.”

QX has 1600 employees mainly based in Ahmedabad, India. Photo: Supplied.
QX has 1600 employees mainly based in Ahmedabad, India. Photo: Supplied.

Looking back on the move, with his boys out of school and into the world, Chris says moving to Nelson was the best thing they ever did for the kids.

“I think the place made the boys the men they are.”

The New Zealand education system was broader and allowed each of them to find their passions. But Chris doesn’t think he is unique in wanting to relocate here, though admits doing it at the scale he has might be a bit “mad”.

“It’s the trend. The biggest question boardrooms are asking themselves now is ‘what is the purpose of our office?’ I see that as a positive. People are making a lot of unnecessary journeys and without the need of those you get time and freedom.”

Written for Nelson Magazine