Six themes for success from Morgo – the conference for high growth exporters

24 September 2014 / Published in Business

Every year, around 150 of New Zealand’s most influential and successful business owners come together for a conference few have heard of: Morgo.

Morgo is held either in Waitangi or Queenstown, and is a little like a TED Talk for business. Many of the attendees speak publicly about their organisation, the roads they’ve travelled to international success, and the lessons learned along the way. Many of these businesses are far from being household names, but the men and women at Morgo are generating literally billions of dollars in export earnings every year.

This year, the speakers included Rod Drury of online accounting firm Xero, Adrian Currie of online travel company Priceline (and its subsidiary booking.com), Hamish Kennedy of horticultural sorting machinery manufacturer Compac, Vaughan Rowsell of cloud-based POS system Vend, Dame Wendy Pye the children’s book publisher, Oxford University and serial entrepreneur Professor Sir Michael BradyAnand Deshpande of Persistent Systems in India, and Brian Russell of Zephyr Technologies (recently bought by Convidia) who manufacture wearable physiological monitoring devices.

Their stories were a life lesson in the power of ambition and hard work.

The Compac story is a fascinating example. Hamish Kennedy started out by building a kiwifruit processing machine for his mother while still at university. He went from there to more and more success, and now the biggest processing plant his company has built is for a US mandarin processor. The machinery fills a warehouse the size of Eden Park’s football ground, and it processes enough mandarins in 90 seconds to put one on every seat in Eden Park stadium.

Everyone’s insights and stories were different, but there were some common themes.

1.       The biggest challenge of high growth is preserving your culture

Many companies started out with a core team working on a dream, often for several years. When it finally started to take hold, they needed to take on more and more people – and this was the first hurdle for growth. The sudden influx of people put that powerful entrepreneurial spirit at risk, and most companies talked about the extensive on-boarding programme for new employees, designed to inculcate the company’s values and approaches.

2.       Hiring to values

Even more important than ensuring new people took on the values of the company, was hiring to those values in the first place. This use of human resources as a source of competitive advantage moves beyond hiring the perfect person, and hiring the person that’s perfect for the company, instead.

3.       Attracting the right staff through your people’s existing networks

It’s hard to find those like-minded people, of course – unless you start with the people you already have. Birds of a feather flock together, and many successful organisations still use their own people as the richest source of referrals for finding more talented recruits with “the right stuff”.

4.       We export New Zealand values when we export New Zealand products

A common theme of the New Zealand business owners was to send a cadre of existing New Zealand employees to set up new offices overseas. They felt that was the best way to ensure that those offices adhered to the company culture, and usually that culture was built on New Zealand values of good humour, a willingness to try new things and the “everyone does everything” approach. This approach often becomes part of the organisation’s competitive advantage.

5.       Understand the importance of change to create growth

“The approaches that took you to $2m will hold you back from reaching $10m”, said Anand Deshpande, of India’s Persistent Systems. Changing processes, standards and even people – from the board on down – is critical to unlocking growth. Anand’s single most important realisation on the road to growth (he’s now just shy of $500m annual revenue) was the need to change his thinking from “My company” to “Our company”.

6.       Manage your foreign exchange risk

The final theme was the importance for New Zealand customers to get the right advice on managing their foreign currency transactions. In a small nation with a relatively volatile currency and a strong reliance on overseas trade, it’s very easy for profits to be wiped out by unfavourable currency moves. Professor Sir Michael Brady (who is both inspirational and modest) told a workshop on innovation to ensure you get your bank’s advice on the best ways to manage FX risk, to avoid those pitfalls.

There was a staggering amount of insight and inspiration at Morgo. If your ambition is to grow your business, especially through export, seriously consider coming to the conference next year.

For a taste of the main conference, comment on this blog and we’ll invite you to the next Morgo Mini, an evening event for the Morgo community held at ASB’s offices at North Wharf. We’d love to see you there, and to help you make your business ambitions real. 


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