Scared of letting go?

By Aaron Small 19/10/2009 6


There was an interesting article on Stuff.co.nz last week about Crown Research Institute AgResearch having to find work overseas in order to meet the NZ Government’s demands for a 9% dividend – which has come under criticism from some.


I agree with CEO, Andrew West – business is business, and I think this highlights what, in my opinion, is one of NZ’s big problems – the inability to let ideas (and businesses) go. Jim Donovan talked about this with respect to businesses and manufacturing on his blog ‘En Avant’ last week.

The world will see increasing food shortages due to its burgeoning population, and with the growth of developing nations, that means the potential market is getting increasingly bigger. If the Chileans mentioned in the article succeed in developing a pastoral export business based on our expertise and IP, and we perhaps had a stake in that business, surely that would be more beneficial than keeping quiet and fending for our tiny selves, wouldn’t it? What’s more, competition and networks are conducive to innovation, and that is how we really want to be viewed – as an exporter of ideas. Perhaps some of my economist friends could shed some light on this…

If we are to succeed in an increasingly flat world, surely it is better to have our ideas out there being used – a small piece of a HUGE pie is a lot better than a large piece of not much. Don’t you think?


6 Responses to “Scared of letting go?”

  • I totally agree, Aaron. I was a bit perplexed reading that article. What’s the problem with going overseas for work? Chances are there will be even greater commercial spin-offs and opportunities to (co)-create IP as well, whether it be with the Chileans, Americans or Europeans. The Royal Society of New Zealand is currently generating revenue and developing new expertise advising Saudi Arabia on its science system. Not exactly core business for the RSNZ but already resulting in valuable spin-offs…

  • Thanks for your comments, Peter. Yeah, I agree…totally perplexing. That is interesting about the RSNZ too – I was unaware of that.

  • Yeah I think Neville encouraged them to get more entrepreneurial during his tenure as president. They’ve a way to go to reduce their reliance on Government funding, but the point is that if there is demand overseas, may as well exploit it…

  • I have to admit I was (am?) a bit confused what you mean by “let ideas (and businesses) go”! My first reading of this was something along the lines “letting ideas go out free and/or businesses be spun off”. To me letting go of something is when you cut ties with it.

    Andy West (to my reading of the article) is saying that it’s fine that the business services they offer be offered to overseas clients, including countries who might nominally be competitors on another level. It does mean that some people who insist that the CRIs only serve NZ need to re-think, but it’s not what “letting things go” means to me! Jim Donovan seems to be saying something similar.

    My own instincts are that offering services from which “competitors” benefit is best when there are on-going benefits, such that you win regardless. One catch here perhaps is “and we perhaps had a stake in that business”: do we? (And does it really matter?)

    Being seen as exporting advisory services and innovation in itself; fine, not sure why that should bother anyone.

    • I’m not at all suggesting we “cut ties” – I use “letting go” like a young adult leaving home, going into the big wide world. Maybe “holding on” is a better term. Anyway, I feel in NZ we are often precious about things like “kiwi people in kiwi jobs” etc, and to me people getting miffed about AgResearch “helping the enemy” is another example of this and is rather short sighted.

  • There is a problem if this off-shore work starts to displace research that might otherwise be done for New Zealand firms. It is often not very profitable doing research for small businesses (of which New Zealand has a large number), which is why the taxpayer asks CRIs to do this job rather than private enterprise. If the taxpayer’s priority becomes return on equity then it should be expected that work unprofitable to the CRIs will be neglected in favour of more lucrative off-shore work, even if it is valuable to NZ. The science sector should certainly look for off-shore work, but not at the expense of less profitable public good domestic research.