CHANNEL FEATURE: Interview
30 minutes with... Sir Stephen Tindall
They don't come much more successful than Sir Stephen Tindall, the North Shore born and bred founder of The Warehouse. I was recently at a function and his name came up in conversation with a fellow attendee. I said that I had never met him and asked if he was a good bloke. The answer was an emphatic yes and the person I was talking to said I should meet him. So he set it up for me – 30 minutes, one-on-one with Sir Stephen Tindall in his Takapuna office.
So in early April, a little nervously, I took the short stroll from my home up to Sir Stephen's office at the Tindall Foundation in Takapuna. I had actually spoken to Stephen Tindall several times around 30 years ago when I was a pimply-faced advertising cadet on the display counter at the NZ Herald in Queen Street. He used to come in very regularly to organise the full page adverts that were a key tool in his aggressive advertising and marketing programme in the early days of The Warehouse.
The Tindall Foundation is a philanthropic family foundation established in 1994 by Stephen and and his wife, Margaret. The ground floor office of the The Tindall Foundation in the two-storey building on the corner of Lake Road and Blomfield Spa is a hive of activity. The upper floor is Stephen's office. A quieter space with a lovely north-east view out over the Takapuna homes, with sea views towards Rangitoto.
What I quickly discovered is Stephen is indeed a good bloke. I had no need to be nervous as he was very easy to talk to. You understand very quickly why he has managed to build a massive business from scratch and then go on to use his success in many other unselfish areas. As well as The Tindall Foundation, he was also a co-founder of KEA New Zealand, another not-for-profit organisation motivating expat Kiwis to increase their contribution to their homeland. He was also recently named to the new board of Team New Zealand as they prepare for another challenge for the America's Cup. And through an entity called K1W1 he is investing seed and venture capital into a large number of start-up and early stage businesses – around 120 at present. Since he departed from the day-to-day running of The Warehouse in 2002, he certainly hasn't stood still.
During the course of our 30 minute chat I put these questions to Sir Stephen Tindall.
Aidan Bennett: What does the Tindall Foundation do?
Sir Stephen Tindall: Essentially we provide funding and capacity building for the not-for-profit sector. We work with various funding managers, who give donations on our behalf, to reach communities all across the country. The foundation distributes tax-paid dividends from The Warehouse Group. We have helped in such areas as youth employment, family violence, etc. We often work helping to build capacity inside existing organisations, partnering with them. Plunket is one example. We work a lot in the early childhood area. We want to see children have the very best chance in life.
(Note: The Tindall Foundation gives approximately 700 donations to different organisations annually, totalling around $8-$9 million. These range from small charitable donations of $1000 to local community initiatives, to over $1m for large-scale partnership projects. The foundation supports causes that are most important to the Tindall family. Often this is as a seed funder, or providing a boost to continue the good work. This is generally not ongoing funding, but more of a ‘hand up’ – acting as a catalyst for change, giving the support and tools needed to find solutions to their own problems.)
AB: What is the achievement of the Tindall Foundation you are most proud of?
ST: Assisting in helping to find and create jobs for New Zealand youth.
AB: Through K1W1 you are also investing in start-up and early stage businesses. What particular investment excites you the most at the moment?
ST: Lanzatech. It takes carbon-bearing waste gases and converts them into useful fuels and chemical precursors by a fermentation process. The potential in China is huge. The first commercial plant at Baosteel in China will have a capacity of 10 million gallons of fuel-grade ethanol annually.
AB: Was retailing in your DNA?
ST: My great grandfather was George Court. My dad had a hardware shop in Northcote that I worked in after school, starting while at intermediate. I loved serving customers even though I was deemed too young at first. I did it anyway when he wasn't looking. The aim was to go into commerce when I left school but I went to work at George Courts and loved it. So yes, it probably is in my DNA.
AB: In your opinion how will retail change over the next 10 years?
ST: There will be a continuing convergence between bricks and mortar and online. With The Warehouse Group we have obviously moved into the online space with the purchase of such businesses as Torpedo7, Shop HQ, 1-day, Red Alert, shotgun.co.nz and pet.co.nz. We have also purchased bricks and mortar businesses such as Noel Leeming and R&R Sport to add to The Warehouse and Warehouse Stationery. Overseas, Amazon is now buying bricks and mortar businesses.There is no doubt that traditional bricks and mortar businesses are shrinking with new business models required for the future. Technology is now a real focus with very strong growth coming from that sector.
AB: What led to you co-founding KEA New Zealand?
ST: I do a lot of travelling, and was constantly bumping into expats doing great things abroad. We realised (co-founder Prof David Teece and I) that there are lots of Kiwis in big jobs around the world. But there was not a lot of connection to home. So that was where the concept of KEA New Zealand came from.
It was launched at The Knowledge Wave Conference in 2001. The aim was to create a global talent network of world class New Zealanders. The purpose is to reach and motivate expatriate Kiwis to increase their contribution to New Zealand – thereby turning them into a strategic national asset. Kea New Zealand aims to contribute to the economic growth of New Zealand by helping New Zealand become the most globally connected nation in the world.
(NOTE: Kea now connects to more than 300,000 talented Kiwis and 'Friends of New Zealand' around the world.)
AB: Can we win the America's Cup next time round?
ST: Yes, but we will have to do it differently. If you look at how far we were ahead last time, only for Oracle to catch up and overtake us, it is obvious that we are going to have to keep our powder dry for longer.
AB: Favourite country to visit overseas?
ST: I've always enjoyed the UK. It is where a great deal of our heritage is from so it is interesting to watch how New Zealand has evolved from the mother ship. Trips there have mostly been for holidays when our kids have been over there. I have also recently returned from France which I always enjoy, and I also find the United States very interesting. I loved the three months we had in San Francisco for the America's Cup last year. Asia is also an exciting place that's going nuts.
AB: Happy with the way Takapuna is developing?
ST: There is no doubt it has enormous potential, but it is frustrating that it has not been developed faster – particularly to face the beach and sea. But that's now changing which is great. It is also good that it is attracting businesses in the tech sector and becoming a bit of a 'Silicon Valley'. Being a keen supporter of yachting, I would love to see it become the home for high performance sailing as is proposed with the new National Ocean Water Sports Centre. I actually lived on the campground for 18 months as a youngster while my parents were building a new home. But I believe the plan for a combination of the water sports facility with mostly public space on the site is a good one.
AB: In 10 years' time I want to be....
ST: ... Still doing a lot of what I'm doing now but a bit more leisurely. I enjoy spending time mustering on our sheep station in the South Island; swimming Takapuna Beach, which I do most days; sailing on our trimaran. I will still be involved in the foundation and business but the kids will be more involved if the family succession plan takes its intended course.