• News
  • 8 February, 2018

Mentoring Pacific Entrepreneurs

As a corporate finance manager in London, home to one of the world’s largest financial markets, intensity and stress was all part of the job for Scottish-born Kirsty Campbell and her husband Neil Millar. But a trip to New Zealand for what was meant to be a two-year working holiday changed their lives forever.

“We fell in love with the place straight away,” recalls Kirsty, who is a mentor for the Pacific Business Trust Hatch Youth programme, helping Pasifika youth aged 16-26 to transform innovative ideas into commercial reality.

“London’s an exciting place, but the tempo of New Zealand seemed to suit us more, as does the amazing active outdoor lifestyle this country offers.”

New Zealand has been their home for the past 15 years. Initially it was difficult to replicate the type of work she did in the UK, so she joined the commercial banking sector, which predominantly involved middle-market New Zealand and family-operated businesses.

“The bank provided plenty of money to bricks and mortar businesses who had lots of assets and stable growth plans,” she recalls.

“But I saw how hard it was in New Zealand for starters to access capital and get the right support to turn potentially great products and services into sustainable businesses.”

The challenge influenced Kirsty to join the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) four years ago. The FMA plays a critical role in monitoring and regulating New Zealand’s capital markets and financial services. It monitors financial service providers, fund managers, forex brokers, banks and insurance companies to ensure they’re following the rules.

“It taught me about what good governance looks like,” she says.

After a career in the commercial world, Kirsty now works for herself.

She is a partner at Catalyst Advisory Partners providing commercial advice to businesses, while also maintaining a variety of portfolios which include governance roles and directorships, including one with a company called Simplicity, which runs an online low-cost not-for-profit Kiwisaver scheme.

“The only reason Simplicity exists is to give more Kiwis some dignity in their retirement,” she says.

“Everyone on the board is working for free. We have employees and we have systems to do things right. It’s not about spending money on ourselves. It’s about building products we can scale. It’s a perfect fit for my technical skills, where I help.”

When Kirsty was approached by her business partner at Catalyst Advisory to become a mentor for Pacific Business Trust’s Hatch Youth programme, she was intrigued.

“What appealed to me was the fact I’d be working in a community, the Pacific, which I’d never had much contact with,” she says.

“I am looking forward to working with young Pacific people and hope that together we can generate lots of ideas and energy. That is coupled with a lot of the boring stuff that’s needed, which I can offer in terms of finance, compliance, managing risk, imposing good disciplines around decision-making and strategies that go with their immediate and long-term goals.”

From discussing her role in assisting young Pacific entrepreneurs, Kirsty has heard from various sources more than once that Pacific people don’t value money in the same sense, and that their faith in God holds greater sway.

For Kirsty, there’s no reason why the two can’t co-exist.

“I’ve heard a philosophical belief that making money is a dirty thing and that the number one objective should be making money for the broader community,” she says.

“Businesses have to survive and grow to make money. From my perspective, it’s about growing your business in a successful and sustainable way that’s not at the expense of others in the community, your family or employees.

“Having a mentor that’s an ex-banker will be good for them. If these businesses want to go and attract third-party investment, they’ve got to able to show they’ve got a business case which stacks up. It’s got to either make them some money or fix a social problem, but in a sustainable way so it can wash its own face.”

Voyaging is a strong part of the narrative in how Pacific people navigated their way in the world’s greatest ocean. Kirsty and Neil came from the other side of the earth, taking full advantage of the country’s outdoor lifestyle and bringing their Kiwi-born children Jude and Robin into the world.

For Kirsty, becoming a Hatch mentor allows her to the opportunity to influence more aspiring young entrepreneurs beyond their own networks and communities.

“Whatever their direction and goals, I want to see some drive, ambition and hunger,” she says.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a more powerful Pacific business presence, particularly given the projected growth of the population?”

Kirsty Campbell