MINISTERIAL sea-change

MINISTERIAL sea-change
NZ Business, New Zealand 01 Apr 2018

The new Minister for Small Business, Stuart Nash, wants i to address the pain points “affecting New Zealand’s business owners. He’s keen to hear ideas and welcomes feedback. It’s still early days, but already Nash might be ticking some boxes for the SME community.

The things you do when you’re a Minister. One minute you’re enveloped in thick smoke demonstrating the latest crime deterrent for dairy owners; the next you’re hunched over a tape-recorder in a noisy Auckland cafe, explaining in 60 minutes what you want to achieve over the next two-and-three-quarter years.

The honourable Stuart Nash is a busy man, and he’s revelling in it. His four Crown portfolios (in addition to Small Business he’s also responsible for Revenue, Fisheries and Police) ensure there are no blank spaces in his diary.

The week prior to our cafe interview, Nash had spelt out his intentions to an audience of business owners at the SME LEAP Summit (LEAP stands for Leading Enterprise Acceleration and Productivity) – organised by Tenby Powell to encourage a conversation on the future of New Zealand’s small business economy and “encourage government to provide greater strategic resources to the small business ecosystem”.

Powell, who chaired the government-appointed Small Business Development Group for five years, is calling for the establishment of an Institute for Small Business as a means to better support the small business community.

The Summit was a gathering that from all accounts, including Nash’s and Powell’s, was a major success. It got everybody talking, and more importantly, the Minister is listening.

“The best outcome is that he’s open to the issue that we need significantly greater resourcing to develop our small business economy,” Powell told NZBusiness. “He is willing to explore the establishment of a crown entity to act strategically to deliver on a plan out to 2040.”

The one big impression I came away with after an hour with Nash, was that there is real intent to engage “innovatively” and improve the conversations with New Zealand’s roughly 456,000-strong SME community. His goal is to utilise the tax system to enable people to drive productivity right across the sector.

He is literally “all ears’ and eager for feedback on how he can better communicate the government’s services and initiatives to the small business sector.

“Since taking on this portfolio one thing I’ve learned is that far too many business owners don’t know about the services and assistance available to them to help grow their businesses,” he told the LEAP gathering.

I can hear the sceptic within you asking what difference one politician can have on a sector that is already, to a large extent, self-driven. Let’s face it – entrepreneurs and business owners (who don’t consider themselves entrepreneurs) aren’t exactly known for sitting on their backsides!

Perhaps, to better understand where Nash is coming from, you need to factor in his background.

POLITICAL PEDIGREE Born and bred in Napier, the oldest of four children, his father a lawyer and his mother a dental nurse, Nash learnt from an early age that it takes hard work to get the desired results.

He embraced education and holds Masters degrees in Management, Forestry Science and Law, (Today he’s still of the opinion that education provides options, and financial literacy should be encouraged in schools to help secure the country’s future.)

He has worked for both large corporations and private companies, generally as a consultant.

However, it was almost inevitable that Nash would one day head down the political pathway – considering politics played a big part in his family lineage. His great grandfather, Sir Walter Nash, was one of New Zealand’s longest-serving politicians and the 27th Prime Minister of New Zealand in the Second Labour Government (from 1957 to 1960).

“I was well aware of my great grandfather’s achievements, but being a Nash certainly doesn’t give me any genetic right to be in Parliament.

“But it did mean that I grew up in a household grounded in the principles of social democracy.”

Nash is full of admiration for his father too, whom he describes as having a strong social conscience – often providing legal services to the disadvantaged for little reward.

“He believed the law was there to serve people, as opposed to making lawyers wealthy.”

Entering politics as a list-MP in 2008 and later becoming an electorate MP in 2014, Nash believes his forte is business strategy – a skill and passion honed during his years as a consultant, He’s “immensely respectful” of business owners, and acutely aware of the pain points they experience. His wife Sarah, who owns a public relations business in Hawke’s Bay, also provides regular reminders of the difficulties faced by small businesses, and is a useful ‘coalface’ sounding board for her politician husband.

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