A night to remember in a week that shocked the world: the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2001

Posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2009 at 3:02 pm in

Tim Manning remembers the evening of Wednesday 6 September 2001 as one of  the proudest moments in his life, a milestone for  his fellow-workers in the company he had seen flourish, and “for just about every other reason you could think of”.

Although he did not hear his name read out by Bill Day, the previous year’s winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, as the clock ticked past 11PM on a typical summer’s evening in Pinot, nestling on the little isthmus above Hobson Bay in Auckland, all the hard work, the tough deals and the mind-stretching decisions, the inevitable setbacks that come with property development, were all suddenly so worthwhile.

“Being nominated was just a part of it. My people were so thrilled at the recognition that it brought them too, that I just wanted to do well, so as to let them know I appreciated their loyalty and fantastic support. Being nominated was all the recognition I needed.

“Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t to be – the world, and especially the business world was so focused on the new technology businesses it was clear it wasn’t going to happen for a property company—no matter how innovative we felt we were.”

Manning was thrilled to be part of a global award scheme which has grown and grown in stature, as more and more countries put their business leaders forward. Michael Whitaker would be the name that everyone remembered that night and he would go on to represent New Zealand with other overall winners. New Zealand restricts its competition to five categories.

He was entitled to his moment of warm reflection. Earlier in the evening, the organiser of the event had spelt out the criteria for entrants – “The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards recognise the men and women who put everything on the line in order to translate an idea into a viable, sustainable enterprise. Entrepreneurs include both founders of companies and those who organise, manage, and assume the risks of a business or enterprise early in its life cycle or during its growth and are still active in the company.” It was him to a tee.

“ I remember reading the pamphlet promoting the competition saying something along the lines of: receiving recognition in this global award programme can give your company a big boost – your sales, professional reputation, investor and customer relations, employee morale, recruiting image, marketing, public relations and business development can all benefit from this high-profile recognition. And, in all modesty, we had done that….and I had got to be the standard-bearer for my colleagues.”

Tim recalls going for a run the next morning – he hadn’t yet got into marathon-running all over the world yet – and thinking how fortunate he was, and what a near-perfect place the world, New Zealand and the property development opportunities, his company and his hard-working staff were.

What could be better? The set-back that New Zealand’s freed-up economy had suffered in 1987 was long-forgot. The Nineties had certainly roared for the property sector and his roar was up there with the loudest of them all. TheNZSE-40 had exceeded 2000 points on 6 September.

“It wasn’t just us who were on a roll – the whole country seemed to be blooming. Sure Air New Zealand had collapsed, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the country was techno-mad and that was to pay dividends later. The Knowledge Wave Conference the month before had generated more than 100 recommendations on how New Zealand could lift its economic and social performance and create a knowledge society – later leading to the Knowledge Wave Trust — creating concepts like a strong vision and brand for New Zealand, promoting our lifestyle and values, while building national confidence and pride.

“That was certainly going to influence my own vision for ‘Whisper Cove’, ‘Stillwater’ and other developments which followed.
Manning noted that a fresh wave of immigration followed on top of the influx at the time, adding colour, variety and new skills to New Zealand society – and pressure on the housing market, which developers had to hurriedly respond to.

“We seemed to get over our paranoia about people leaving New Zealand and going to work offshore too. One of the organisers, Annika Streefland of the global recruitment giant, Korn/Ferry International, said that one fifth of New Zealand’s working population and maybe a third of its top talent was employed overseas, at the time. But she argued that those skills were not necessarily lost to the NZ economy, saying: ‘Don’t think of them as a “brain drain” … think of them as an overseas resource’.”

It was to be a theme that came back to Tim Manning years later when he again had the courage and insight to move into Fiji, ahead of the chasing pack.

He also recalls thinking that night that as much as the country had embraced the global world and the techno-revolution, there was still a strong commitment to what he had always felt was its real strength – building and preserving communities.

“Jim Bolger’s ‘decent society’ got clobbered on budget and superannuation cuts and in later years he had tried ‘social capital’, so that even when he got turned out of power and shortly thereafter his successor got rumbled by Labour, we had had the necessary dose of reality thrown over a society that could have run away with itself.

Five days later, without any warning, more than 3,000 people would die in a surprise attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And the world we had known up until then would be permanently scarred. Spring, with all its associations with rebirth and prosperity would suddenly seem as chilly and bleak as mid-winter.

Manning found it an affront to everything he held dear – democracy, non-violence, his religion and spirituality, a sense of fair-play and an abhorrence of  the random damage to the initial victims and millions of people that had nothing to do with the Al Qaeda desire for vengeance.
How would he lead his company and his people through the aftermath of this unexpected horror……just days after the shining moment of celebration with fellow Ernst and Young contenders, all still blissfully aware that night of how their individual worlds would slip into trauma?
“Like most others, we were forced to make dramatic changes, do things differently and look to new opportunities, skills and partners to prosper in a world that evolved from that horrible day. That week was the most extreme roller-coaster I have been on – and I hope never to repeat it.”

The competition for the Ernst & Young EOY 2001 was amongst the fiercest ever.

The winner, Michael Whittaker and two friends formed Atlantis (www.atlantis.co.nz), in 1996 and has grown to 200 staff specialising in data capture, response management and analysis, helping direct marketers get their message across using hard copy, smart cards and internet-based strategies. A separate division, Visible Results, has become a world leading customer relationship management (CRM) business, using smart card technology.

The company has customers in 15 countries and operates in five languages. Its key customers are in the banking, telecommunications, petroleum and service industries. It has offices in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore and a stand-alone unit focusing on the pharmaceutical industry.

Murray McNae a category finalist in 2001 is chairman and founder of SolNet Solutions, a leading open systems software and services company in New Zealand. A BSC (Hons) graduate from Victoria University, he held a number of senior sales and marketing positions at Unisys, Data General and Sun Microsystems. Past directorships include Silicon Blue, an internet tools company. He was appointed Chairman of the Government-initiated ICT Taskforce which was charged with formulating a 10-year growth plan for the sector. He later became Chairman of the Hi-Growth project which was formed as a result of the Taskforce initiative. In 2005 Murray was made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for services to industry development.