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The ICEHOUSE launch - Q and A with founder David Irving

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Kate de Lautour

David Irving is the retired CEO of Heinz Watties Australasia and founder of The ICEHOUSE, part owner and chairman of Cable Bay Vineyards, chairman of Prolife Foods, AS Wilcox and AuCom Technologies and a long term advisor to Hubbard Foods and Marstel Holdings. David is also an Honorary Professor at The University of Auckland Business School.


 Kate de Lautour asked the questions.

As a founder of The ICEHOUSE, to what extent is the organisation achieving the goals you, and the team, set back in 2001?

The goals we set have been well and truly exceeded. Never in a million years did I envisage we would have reached over 2000 owner managers and many more entrepreneurs in the first 11 years of The ICEHOUSE. What is most pleasing is that the original idea has come to pass - that owner managers of SME firms would respond to a learning experience with fellow owner managers and that would translate to growth of their business. In short they gained knowledge and confidence.

 Did you ever envisage the ICEHOUSE would set up hubs outside Auckland?

No, yet it makes perfect sense. There are hundreds of thousands SME's so it makes perfect sense that their owner managers would be inclined to join a local programme with fellow owner managers. Additionally, the relationships begun on the programme will more easily continue afterwards.

 In the book you co-authored “Changing Gears – how to take your kiwi business from the kitchen table to the boardroom” you refer to the importance of managers changing their habits in order to grow their business. Is there any evidence that kiwi business owners are starting to listen to this advice?

One of the key learnings is owner managers "don't know what they don't know". There have been several unfortunate stories of owner managers suffering badly because they were not conscious of what they were getting themselves into or where they were faced with problems they just did not know how to handle. One example is the two entrepreneurs who came into my office claiming that a multinational who had bought Australasian territorial rights to their invention were instead beginning to use those rights globally. I checked their licensing agreement out with a top commercial lawyer only to find they were wrong. They had sold global rights- global rights for an Australasian price!!! Why did it happen? Well they used their local provincial lawyer who of course they trusted. Had he ever done work like this? Why no. Who did the multinational use? Corporate counsel no less, who this was bread and butter to. Game set and match! And so after 10 years of slog they are commercially raped. The lesson “Don’t use a monkey to do a lions work”. After all you don’t expect your GP to fix your cancer, there are specialists for that. So it is with business.

 At Business Hawke’s Bay we are working with agri-food companies who want to grow productivity and profitability. What specific advice would you have for exporters in the food industry, given your top level experience in this sector?


There are a few key lessons. First, export what you are good at. Second, make money from the business. Thirdly, be ever mindful of the culture of the people in the country you are exporting to. Fourthly, be aware of the distraction the export business may well cause. Finally have access to a wise mentor who has "been there done that”.


5. What will Warren Buffett bring to Heinz Watties? How could HB as a region leverage this connection?


It should not take Warren Buffet for Hawke’s Bay to benefit. I doubt that many in Hawke’s Bay realize what the Heinz ownership has brought to the Bay. And those benefits are due to the capability of the Watties site in Hastings. Firstly costs were compared between the Watties Hastings and Heinz Melbourne sites. Hastings won and the production in the Melbourne factory transferred to Hastings. But there’s more. The same exercise was done between the Hastings and Heinz Japanese sites and Watties in Hastings was the winner again. More recently about 20 thousand tonnes of beetroot production was transferred from Queensland to Hawke’s Bay. Just for a moment stop and ask yourself “How would Hawke’s Bay be if, on comparison with the Heinz factories, the Hastings site was seen to be the less productive site. Imagine Hawke’s Bay without Watties.”

These successes for Heinz and the Hawke’s Bay community can be put down to the continuous improvement culture first Watties itself had and, under the Heinz ownership what they have required from their businesses around the world.

As to what Warren Buffet might have in mind is certainly not for me to anticipate. I have been long gone from that world.

6. You lived in Hawke’s Bay for a significant period of time ……is there anything that you particularly miss about the region?

It is wonderful how the wineries and other value add land based industries have grown up to change the lifestyle of the region. And nothing will beat the Hawke’s Bay weather!


The ICEHOUSE launch in Hawkes Bay will be held at Mission Estate on April 18th at 5pm. Registration at www.hawkesbaychamber.co.nz/events