Opportunities for Otago Businesses | Otago Daily Times News Online

When United Machinists chief executive Sarah Ramsay hopped on a New Zealand Defense Force Boeing 757 to join a trade mission to Australia last week, it was a little daunting, she admits.

In fact, when the Dunedin businesswoman discovered she was sitting next to Xero Managing Director Craig Hudson, she thought a mistake had been made.

“I asked him for forgiveness for being stuck next to me,” she recalls.

Ms Ramsay and fellow Otago-ite Alex Burke, chief executive of education technology firm Education Perfect, were among 32 business leaders chosen for the trade mission to Melbourne and Sydney.

Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it was part of the government’s reconnection strategy to support export growth and the return of tourists after Covid-19, and the couple said members of the delegation were “openly welcomed” by their Australian counterparts and encouraged to do business with them.

Business leaders ranged from some of the country’s largest exporters to small, innovative companies relatively early in their export journey.

For Mr Burke, it was “quite an experience” and he was proud to have been involved.

“Dunedin doesn’t get a huge profile globally. We’re a couple of big companies that are doing some really amazing things…it was great to be a part of that,” he said.

“It’s really nice to be propelled into this kind of environment.”

The relationships made “on so many levels” were also enjoyable, allowing “to go out and meet the world again” and talk to other business leaders in similar situations, he said.

Ms Ramsay said some CEOs or companies had spoken of feeling isolated and that it was motivating to “go out and see that there is a world of opportunity out there”.

Traveling to Australia was particularly relevant for the couple; for Education Perfect, the country was its largest market, providing nearly 80-85% of revenue.

United Machinists had been looking at the Australian market for some time and part of Ms Ramsay’s objective was to determine where the company was best placed to focus its efforts there, given that it was a such a huge market compared to New Zealand.

He had been a very proactive member of the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise International Growth Fund and had worked closely with NZTE on its Australian strategy, for which he had a market validation grant of $100,000.

The days were busy on the trade mission; the delegation went from cramming onto the bus at 7 a.m., to being bussed from place to place, and ending with dinners every night.

What quickly became apparent is that Ms Ardern is “going 200 kilometers an hour”, Mr Burke said.

“His stamina was incredible,” Ms Ramsay added.

The strength of the New Zealand brand and the “real opportunity” that existed for the country today was also evident.

It was very reliable, from the head down, and Dunedin-based businesses and New Zealand businesses in general should get the most out of this brand, Mr Burke said.

Ms Ardern’s brand was very strong – “internationally she’s a bit of a rock star” – and people were climbing to have their picture taken with her for the duration of the trip.

In particular, Ms Ramsay believed fashion and food brands needed to take advantage of this.

While there, Ms Ardern launched the New Zealand collaboration ‘Discover New’ with David Jones, which was overwhelmingly acclaimed.

Ms Ramsay said Australia’s relationship with China had received a lot of media coverage.

With these heightened tensions, Australia was looking to get closer to allies like New Zealand, and New Zealand’s reputation and interest in working with it had “skyrocketed”.

Something particularly special for Ms. Ramsay was the ability to promote not just the family business, but the industry as well.

While CNC machining isn’t particularly sexy, she acknowledged, she was the only engineering manufacturer representative on the trip and it was great to see so much fascination with what the company was doing.

It was great to champion both the industry and as an ambassador for advanced manufacturing in New Zealand.

Mr Burke said education technology has not received much promotion in terms of use.

He met many people in the education sector in Australia who raised many of the same issues as in New Zealand.

“It was a great opportunity to say, ‘we have a technology that doesn’t solve everything [but] it can solve problems in the classroom”. Just having this conversation and using this kind of forum to create more voices for us.”

When asked if the trip had any tangible positive results for their respective businesses, both agreed that there had been.

Education Perfect recently launched a senior product in Australia and having time to explain the value proposition – that it could save teachers time, save schools money and help with learning outcomes – has been valuable,” Mr. Burke said.

One of the meetings was about a new technology hub in Sydney; Education Perfect, which moved in this week, was one of the first tenants.

Staff in Australia numbered around 80 and its products were used in around 2,500 classrooms, so there were plenty of opportunities for the company to make an impact there, he said.

The energy from the trip was “just inspiring”, and the next steps were to accelerate the company’s plans and ensure that representatives visited Australia regularly to make the most of the opportunities and continue to develop its place. on the market.

United Machinists was particularly interested in pursuing the medical technology industry, as well as aerospace, which was largely driven by the Australian defense industry.

There were the same problems as in New Zealand; productivity was a major concern in all industries and there were massive shortages of skilled labour.

Industries would look for advanced manufacturing opportunities to address this, Ms Ramsay said.

The company was talking to several partners in Australia, and while there was “nothing yet”, there was a lot more heat in some of these negotiations due to the publicity of the trip.

There were huge opportunities in Australia for United Machinists.

Eventually there would be some expansion in Dunedin following this, and it was “very likely” that a base would also be established in Australia.

The trade trip had given him the confidence to come up with the plan on how to establish that Australian market.

When it came to Australia-New Zealand relations, it seemed that New Zealand was respected for its ability to invent and approach issues from a different angle.

From a New Zealand perspective, Australia was very good at capturing these ideas and scaling them.

New Zealand could be seen as “an incubator of ideas and technologies” that could be scaled up and spread around the world, she said.


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