“It was never about the money. I love what I do, it’s exciting. I’m passionate about it and a lot of that enthusiasm comes from working with good people, it’s infectious.”
He comes from one of the smallest countries on the planet that has an amazing ability to pump out a huge number of successful people from Lord of the Rings Trilogy director, Sir Peter Jackson to the man who, alongside Tenzing Norgay, conquered Mt Everest. Recently Britain’s Sunday Times Rich List estimated that this global entrepreneur was worth a cool £240m ($468 million NZD) and his start in working life was about as simple as it gets - he was a butcher’s apprentice. His name is Eric Watson.
After his short-lived apprenticeship as a butcher Eric went into the office supplies business as a sales and branch manager for local stationery and book outlet, Whitcoulls, before heading into print company Xerox. He left Xerox back in 1992 and founded a company called the Blue Star Group.
Watson had already begun to diversify his holdings and in 1995 he had formed an international private investment company known as Cullen Investments. Through that investment vehicle Watson has ownership of some pretty famous brands such as Bendon with sales channels across Australia, the US and Europe. Diversifying further, he owns a large part of Cullen Agricultural Holdings. In addition to this he also farms 2,000 hectares of prime dairy farming land in the United States and has plans for significant expansion in the next couple of years.
In addition Cullen now has a broad international property portfolio and like many entrepreneurs that have made it, Watson has established a charitable foundation.
On New Zealand and its ability to pump out global leaders:
“New Zealand is a small country geographically and population-wise, but its economy is being watched by many economists, politicians and business leaders around the world. Why? It's currently an anomaly.”
Taking a look at Eric Watson’s journey in his own words and how entrepreneurs are anything but an anomaly from New Zealand. Like many successful entrepreneurs he recognises that success comes only when you surround yourself with talented people and an effective team that complements each-others skills sets.
So, what do you do when you want to hear directly from the man himself? You ask six simple, yet important questions about the how and why:
What were some of your initial barriers to success in the early days?
“Knowing the right people to make things happen was a barrier and I would say for people starting out today the same would be true. Access to capital was difficult but I believe now that isn’t so much an issue, especially in New Zealand where the options are numerous.”
What kind of support network were you able to tap into?
“I have great family support but also I make a point of surrounding myself with the best people I can. I am not threatened by other people’s abilities in fact I want people who are better than me involved in my business because success follows.”
What were your own personal clear drivers to success?
“It was never about the money. I love what I do, it’s exciting. I’m passionate about it and a lot of that enthusiasm comes from working with good people, it’s infectious. If you make it about the money you will become fixated on that, if you make it about what you believe in then achieving that becomes the focus and that keeps your efforts on always trying to make it a better product or service.”
Who were your own role models in terms of business?
Sir James Goldsmith
Sir Richard Branson
Le Ka Shing
What do you think the current state of entrepreneurship is and what might we do more of?
“I know in New Zealand it is very much encouraged. It’s definitely seen as a viable, credible career option. There’s even a high school that has a senior programme focused on entrepreneurship. This is hugely encouraging. Likewise I see universities and other tertiary institutions that are providing options in this area. In the States there is even someone giving selected individuals a scholarship not to study but to develop a business idea.”
If you could share two of the biggest lessons you learnt along the way – what would they be?
“Just because someone is a journalist doesn’t mean they will check the facts.”&“Mistakes provide learnings and while you want to minimise them, this is where the biggest learnings can come from about your business.”
Today Eric is recognised as being one of New Zealand and Australia’s leading entrepreneurs and, like so many, the traits he possesses come down to simple determination, hard work and perseverance. He has established the Watson Foundation (through Cullen Investments) that seeks to support children and young people when it comes to health, education and care.
You can’t go past a news paper, radio show or television news story these days without being flooded by all things Bitcoin or Crypto Currency. Some say it’s the new world of money while others suggest its all just a passing fad. Whatever your position or preference of...
This week I announced a suite of measures for the Government to consider when it comes to small and medium sized business and what we can all be doing as we start to look at emerging from the COVID19 lockdown. The reality is that a good number of small business owners,...
As someone who has been working in suicide prevention for some years now i know that often having a simple conversation can make all of the difference when a loved one is doing it tough. COVID 19 and the lock down tends to amplify how we feel when we are isolation or a...
We know that mob out there are uncertain as to what the COVID-19 / Corona Virus means for them – this can cause us all to panic and some in community more so that others. Panic attacks can compound the situation so we gather some information about what you can do now t...
Don’t forget our elders can suffer in silence too: suicide prevention
Many people think that mental health and suicide are not topics that impact our elders but they could not be more wrong. The data tells us there continues to be an emerging trend when it comes to peop...