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NZ’s Covid success wins interest from world's entrepreneurs

17 June 2021

University of Canterbury Business Professor Jamie Collins says entrepreneurs around the world are interested in the way New Zealand has handled the Covid-19 crisis.


UC Business Professor Jamie Collins, originally from Texas, has pinpointed several key lessons entrepreneurs can glean from Kiwi crisis management over the past year.

They include; relying on relevant data to drive decisions, communicating frequently, being as transparent as possible and, above all, acknowledging the human impact of decisions.

Professor Collins, who is UC's Chair of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, explains how New Zealand has become an example of these practices in a top-rating article published in North American online magazine Entrepreneur & Innovation Exchange (EIX).

The short article, What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Kiwi Crisis Management, was published last May when New Zealand was emerging from its first lockdown, and since then has had close to 14,000 views. Its popularity has won Professor Collins a 2020 Schulze Publication Award - success which surprised him.

He has donated his US$1500 Schulze Award scholarship to UC Business PhD student Daniel Gameti who is studying in Christchurch while his wife and children are at home in Ghana.

Professor Collins says he was invited to write something from a New Zealand perspective during last year's lockdown when he was going "stir-crazy at home with the kids". "I jotted down some thoughts and never really thought it would go that far.”

However, the article has been very popular, with the mainly North American and European readership of the magazine interested to learn how Kiwis have steered their way through the pandemic.

Professor Collins says New Zealand’s geographic isolation from the rest of the world has been helpful, but much of the country’s relative success has been because of its leadership.

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has presented an alternative model of dealing with a crisis that’s based on humanity and empathy.”

He says aspiring executives would do well to follow her example, and always consider the human aspect of their decisions. “When you’re potentially changing how someone goes about their life, those human impacts have to be considered along with the financial considerations.”

Ardern’s leadership is an excellent example of using personal authority to lead during a crisis and putting compassion at the heart of decisions, he says.

“Unlike other world leaders, she did not default to relying on the authority vested in her government position to inspire compliance. Instead, Ardern leaned on the public's trust in her, based on her personal authority, to lead in the midst of the crisis.”

Her strong focus on the human impact of difficult choices and her ability to articulate a clear, well-reasoned vision have helped her become an exemplar of how to lead, he says.  

Businesses become more desirable to potential employees if they can develop a reputation for treating their staff with respect, Professor Collins says.

“If people know they’re not going to be insignificant in the decision-making process when there are changes or restructures under way then they’ll be more enthusiastic about working for those organisations.

“I think if business leaders make decisions purely based on financial outcomes, that’s a very short-sighted perspective.”

But, he says priorities can change depending on circumstances and sometimes individual needs have to be balanced against economic concerns.

“I would advocate that small business owners and entrepreneurs take a human-based, data-driven approach to dealing with change or crisis. That will have the best possible long-term outcome for them.” 

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