It may be helpful for prospective clients and others who work with me to understand something about what I know and can contribute, and how I have developed my knowledge and skills. I began work as a social science researcher, transitioned to consulting and business and broadened scope to include environment, governance, strategies for policies, and futures.
Social science researcher
When starting university in Wellington, I switched from a high-school emphasis on maths, applied maths and physics to complete a double major in sociology and the softer side of psychology – learning, social, developmental, cognitive, clinical.
Graduating aged 19 with majors in psychology and sociology, I joined the research unit within what was then called the Department of Social Welfare, focusing on the welfare of mothers and their children, and youth crime. I learned how to combine theory, research methodology, multi-variate statistics, and computing to conduct policy-relevant social research.
In parallel, I completed an honours degree in Psychology (1st class) returning to an emphasis on science. I completed psychology honours papers in mathematical psychology, neo-Bayesian statistics, and perception, along with criminology from the sociology honours programme. Following the honours degree, I did an MA (with distinction) in mathematical psychology in psychophysics. The thesis topic was “The use of multiple observers in signal detection theory” and the project demonstrated the use of a statistical analysis technique to improve the sensitivity of hearing research.
Moving to Australia, I worked first at the University of Queensland and then the University of NSW doing research in medical sociology and education, and teaching research methods. I also contracted to academic researchers and others who needed advice on research methods and analysis using multivariate statistics. During that time, I was a co-author of publications in medical and educational sociology. I led the research methods programme in social work at UNSW, teaching the 2nd and 4th year students.
Transitioning to business
In Sydney, while continuing my teaching and research consulting, I co-founded and led a business that developed management software for clothing manufacturers and then sold and installed turnkey computer systems. In that role I began to learn about business management and accounting.
I was well-established in what is now known as the gig economy. I added part-time work with an engineering and marketing consultancy that developed mathematical models to predict how individuals and groups would make choices among product and service options that did not yet exist. Our clients were Australia’s largest organisations in banking, mining, telecommunications, and government. That role combined cognitive psychology, experimental design, mathematical modelling, and choice theory, applying some of the mathematical psychology learned during my post-graduate study.
Increased exposure to applied market research and desire to become a better entrepreneur motivated me to enrol for a full-time MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). I continued work as a market research consultant in parallel.
My intention then was to become a full-time entrepreneur, but I attracted the attention of a strategic management consultancy by tying as top student at AGSM in both years. Early in 1983 I started as a consultant with Pappas Carter Evans and Koop (PCEK), then a recently established strategy boutique spun off from McKinsey and BCG. My reasoning was that I would learn for a year there and then return to entrepreneurship. Thirteen years after starting my social science studies, my transition from social scientist to novice business strategy consultant was complete.
Strategic management consultant
Strategy consulting was very interesting and there was a lot more to learn than I had expected. During the first two years much of the work was turnarounds for market leaders who were faltering because of recession. Once recovery arrived and the firm grew, our work became much more diverse, including local and international business expansions, projects for government agencies and projects on organisation design and development. My clients were CEOs of market-leaders in industries including agribusiness, manufacturing, industrial distribution, public transport, development finance, mining, diamonds, cosmetics, and others. After a few years I was managing teams executing two or three strategy projects at a time under the supervision of a partner, starting a family and was ready for a change, so I advised that I intended to resign and return to New Zealand. The partners responded that PCEK wanted to open an office in New Zealand and offered me the opportunity to be the founding office-leader.
In early 1988 we opened the Auckland office, in 1989 I joined the partnership, and in 1990 we merged with the Boston Consulting Group. I had become a partner in the world’s leading strategy specialist consulting firm. Alongside serving clients, leading the Auckland office and being a member of the Australasian governing board, I headed consultant development in Australasia, and was a member of the global consultant development lead team.
At the end of 1992, the most senior member of my New Zealand team was promoted to partner, I handed over leadership of the New Zealand office to him, and resigned as a BCG partner for the first time.
Back in the gig economy
I was looking for a new challenge and had become interested in understanding how the paradigms we were using to manage the economy might be preventing effective responses to growing environmental risks. I knew a lot then about how businesses succeeded, industries evolved, and economies worked, about paradigms and the psychology of ideas, about history and the environment. The knowledge I lacked was about the contribution of economic theories and ideas to the emerging environmental challenges.
I enrolled for a PhD in economics to fill that gap. I had no economics degree, so I completed four relevant master’s papers in economics before commencing the PhD work: microeconomics, macroeconomics, environmental economics, and history of economic thought.
The topic, and title of the thesis, was “The Role of Ideas in Managing Trade-offs Between Economic and Environmental Objectives”. During the ten years it took to complete the thesis part-time, I spent most of the time in Economics, then transitioned through Management Science and Information Systems and finished in Environmental Science. The content evolved beyond diagnosis of the paradigm issue to include strategic responses to increasing environment risks.
In parallel, I continued strategy consulting as a sole trader with increasing emphasis on environmental issues and organisations.
I joined the Board of ASB Bank in 1994, remaining on the Board of ASB, and of Sovereign Insurance after the acquisition, until 2010. I served on the Credit, Audit, and Risk Committees, chairing the Risk Committees of ASB and Sovereign for several years. My connection with Boston Consulting Group resumed in the mid-90s after the NZ managing partner was promoted to lead the Australasian offices of BCG and moved to Sydney. I became a contracting partner-equivalent and then a part-time partner for a few years to strengthen the local leadership and to support and mentor the newly promoted partner who led the NZ office.
During the late 90s I taught the strategy course for MBAs and the University of Auckland while the professor was on sabbatical. I also taught the strategy and managing change courses for MBA students at Victoria University for two years.
In 1999 I was elected a BCG partner for the third time and moved to Dallas for almost two years to contribute to strengthening the BCG office covering the South-West of the USA. Most of my work was for very large energy and telecommunications businesses.
Leading a workshop to train tech CEOs in strategy in 1998 and providing guidance to tech founders at Auckland’s leading incubator started me on a path to increased involvement with internationally expanding tech firms. I had numerous roles as consultant, investor, and director, including chairing a listed international technology firm. Much of my later BCG work was also in technology strategy, being the initial leader of the eCommerce practice in Australasia and being part of the global leadership of both telecommunications and energy practice groups.
Experience and expertise in governance led to becoming a Chartered Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Directors.
Strategist contributing to NZ’s success
In 2009 I was appointed to lead The New Zealand Institute, a small but influential think tank funded by leading corporates and focused on developing strategy for public policy to “improve economic, social, and environmental outcomes for New Zealand and New Zealanders”. In that role I led projects on measuring New Zealand’s performance as a country, innovation ecosystem performance, internationalisation of technology firms, the competitiveness and performance of the New Zealand economy, addressing youth social issues, and managing future environment risks. The publications from these projects are downloadable from here. When the Trustees merged the New Zealand Institute with the Business Roundtable to form The New Zealand Initiative, I did not apply for the CEO role there.
What began as a return to the gig economy evolved quickly into founding a strategy boutique. One of my team at the New Zealand Institute came with me. My wife Danielle had been consulting as a sole-trader using our Stakeholder Strategies brand, so we joined up and found an office. Over the next few years, we grew to a team of about 12 people providing strategic advice to private and public organisations. Our work spanned infrastructure, investment, local and central government, strategy for public policy, media, energy, manufacturing, agribusiness, fitness, professional services, and many other industries. Clients were usually market leaders who knew us already or had strong references from others who had engaged us or seen our work.
In the early years of Stakeholder Strategies much of the work was helping leaders to understand and respond to disruptive technologies. More recently the emphasis shifted to helping clients manage increasing uncertainty as commercial, economic, technology, environment, social, and regulatory forces combine to influence the long-term future potential of organisations.
Sole trader again, based at the farm
When COVID arrived, client focus on short term operations combined with a mutual desire among the partners to move in different directions to motivate a decision to shut down the boutique. I continued strategy consulting in partnership with our son Anton, relocated to our small farm in the King Country to ride out the lockdowns, and consulted remotely. Recently Anton joined PWC as an M&A strategist. I continue to consult part-time, while also working on the farm, spending time with family and friends, running, cycling, and travelling.
My interest in contributing to changes in ideas that could reduce environment risks persisted beyond the PhD and broadened to an appetite for strategy work that contributed beyond profit and shareholder value. I gave many talks on environmental risks and how they could be addressed, and provided advice to most of New Zealand’s environment activist organisations at one time or another.
My thesis was focussed on global environment issues and how ideas change could contribute to reducing risks. It was necessarily scholarly and occasionally technical. The publication developed while I was leading the New Zealand Institute “Navigating an Uncertain Future” was focused on managing New Zealand’s environment risks with practical recommendations. Most recently I have written “The Soft-Landing – Re-visioning Civilisation’s Future”. That book is a short and accessible explanation of how the world has got into the mess we are in, along with a strategy to get out of it. My intent is to spend some time getting Soft-Landing read by those who have the power to make the changes we need.
In conclusion, I have delivered hundreds of strategies, personally trained dozens of professional strategists, provided strategy training to thousands of managers and taught strategy to MBA students. Several of the strategy projects I have led had teams of 30 – 50 people. I have worked closely with many CEOs, Chairs and Boards on strategy, organisation design and development, and other high-stakes issues. I have worked across all organisation functions and in a large majority of major industries.
That experience has prepared me very well for my current focus on providing strategy advice, reviewing strategies, leading strategy workshops, and training strategists.