Edge of the World

Monday, 3 November 2003 - Hamilton, New Zealand

Edge World Sunset

Presentation Summary

A careers presentation to the Waikato Management School in Hamilton, NZ. What we do in life echoes through eternity. Business is a gladiatorial career choice. It is the engine of human progress. For power to touch and transform lives, no career track comes close. Kevin Roberts takes school-leavers and families on a journey through and beyond Waikato Management School. From Dream to Reality. From Edge to Centre.

I’m going to talk about success. About turning dreams into reality. For yourself. Your family. Your country. Your world.

This is not a pep talk. Nor some bullshit theory. It’s about what happened to me. It can happen to you. If you open your heart to its promise. And focus your mind on its power.

The idea I’m talking about is called business. I hope business is why you are here today. It’s why I’m here.

You will have heard of Richard Branson. Virgin Blue, Virgin Records, Virgin Brides!

Branson told me one thing: follow what you have a passion for. Don’t get sucked into following the herd or following your peers. Follow your passion, your dream, and then spend all your time figuring out how to make tons of money out of doing that!!

If business is in your dreams, strap yourself in. You’re in the launch zone Saatchi & Saatchi calls nothing is impossible. Where challenge and opportunity are boundless.

There is a line in Gladiator: “What we do in life, echoes through eternity.” I’m here tonight to help you with your echo. Some people call this echo your career. A shocking devaluation. Frankly, a crime.

Bill Shankly, the ex-Manager of Liverpool Football Club summed it up when he said: “football’s not a matter of life and death; it’s much more important than that” – so I’m not talking about your career ok? It’s much more important than that.

Business is about accelerated emotion; not rationale, regimes or ring holding. Business gets you into the engine room of human progress. Off the bench and onto the field of enterprise. Where you are positioned to influence the big picture – to shape it – and through dreams, to reconfigure it.

Think Bill Gates. He dreamed of putting a PC on every desk. Or Apple Mac’s Steve Jobs who said he wanted to put a ding in the universe – and did. Women like Oprah. And Mary Quant, my first boss and inspiration. Mary who single-handedly invented the mini-skirt. Who operationalised the concept less-is-more!!

It is enterprise-driven people – all those who plan, decide and dream the global flow of goods, ideas and experiences – who drive the innovation and create the opportunities that transform lives. In business we lead. Others follow.

Wealth is a Paradox

Here is a line from Springfield’s richest and poorest man: Montgomery Burns:

“At times I contemplate all of the wealth, power and status I have acquired. And you know, I would give it all up in a moment, for just a little bit more.”

Classic example of unsustainable enterprise. Montgomery would have done well at Enron – if it was still around…

Some people think the role of business is to make money – to maximise return to shareholders. Yes making money is part and product of sustainable enterprise. Necessary. But not function.

Business is about two things: ideas and people. Its role in the human future is to do what no other institution can. Not government. Not even Governor Schwarzenegger on his Harley. The role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone.

  • First by focusing the power of ideas on innovating for the greater good. Ideas are a dime a dozen – we all have them. But ideas in action change the world. Arno Penzias, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, is a smart cookie. Invention, he reminded me, is the product of a creative or curious mind. Innovation he says is something that changes the life of the customer. It changes the customer’s life in some way or the world in which the customer experiences things. That’s an innovation!
  • Second – and in my heart even more importantly – business can make the world better by creating self-esteem through jobs, choices, opportunities and challenges. Economic and environmental returns are important. Social progress is fundamental. Without emotional health and wealth society and shareholders will lose. And ultimately we’re all screwed. I know this because I’ve felt it.

I grew up poor in a small working class town in the North of England, living in a council house sharing a bedroom with my brother, no money, no options, surrounded by petty violence and poverty. Business lifted me above that.

Employment Builds Self-Esteem

With that comes challenge and ambition. An open road lets you be the best you can be. The coolest thing.

It means you don’t get frustrated, you don’t get bitter, you don’t get cynical and you don’t get jealous. You feel upbeat, positive, optimistic and seriously happy. Self-esteem dismantles problems- everywhere. Crime, drugs, war, you name it. Build self-esteem through the power of business and we can unleash the power of one by a factor of 6.5 billion.

To social add ethical profit. Enronic ethics and double dealers are out in the open. They can run. They can’t hide. From here in, corporate pigs in the trough will end up on a spit. Greed and dishonesty are like taking P. Fabulous today. Fatal tomorrow.

Great ethics are increasingly critical. Why? They attract the best people. I ask people everywhere whether they want to work for a company that is liked or loved. One hundred percent go for love. In business, having the best people delivers competitive advantage for companies. And by retaining the best of the best in business, our power can light up the global house. Make a difference.

Knowing what field you want to pursue is the first step – and business is the inside track. Deciding where to pursue it is the second. It’s an important decision.

My academic heritage and future commitment to Waikato Management School starts with one word – EDGE.

I’m now Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at this University and at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

I didn’t choose these places because they were big or rich. I chose them because they are fast. They take on the world from the same place New Zealand needs to – the edge. Through the ideas they champion and the people they attract.

The edge is premium territory. Its origins are biological. New forms of life emerge on the margins, away from the deadening effects of the centre. Biology explains the Internet, exponential growth and increasing returns to scale. It explains why it was Waikato University that connected New Zealand to the Internet. And why 25% of New Zealand’s scientific research happens in this region.

The action is on the wing, not in the scrum. Ask Joe Rokocoko or Doug Howlett. Even John Mitchell might agree. Edge is Jane Campion’s “In the Cut” stirring up the Toronto International Film Festival. Speedster Scott Dixon taking the Indy.

It’s Local and global. It’s Unleash and inspire. Leading Edge. Cutting Edge. Edge of your Seats. Edge of the World. Edge of your Dreams.

I’ve helped create a website around the New Zealand edge concept. Check us out at nzedge.com. It’s about our program to make the New Zealand Edge a global competitive reality.

Edge vision earned the Waikato Management School the title:
Harvard of the Southern Hemisphere in the British Daily Telegraph.

Waikato Management School launched off the edge over quarter of a century ago when it offered the first four-year Bachelor of Management degree in the country.

The degree’s fourth year practical investigation – the 499 – and its Harvard-style case studies have won the Management school an international reputation. Wherever you meet people in the world who’ve done the 499 you sit up and take notice.

The BMS is enormously respected. It unleashed people like Theresa Gattung. Like Tourism Rotorua chief Oscar Nathan. And rower Rob Waddell who graduated with a BMS in 1998. Rob got first class honours with a double major in marketing and Japanese. And he got his priorities straight.

I’m devoting the next five years of my life to sustainable enterprise. Starting with a personal love affair with my home New Zealand.
This is the most creative place on earth. I’ve depended on New Zealanders to help make Saatchi & Saatchi the most creative organization in a US$500 billion dollar industry. Why? Because they’ve got attitude.

But New Zealand’s potential as innovator and exporter has been parked. Big business in New Zealand has destroyed over 50 billion dollars of economic value over the last 20 years. Our greatest imaginable challenge is to grow New Zealand’s GDP from $110 billion a year to $150 billion by 2010. To drive off our agricultural production base with innovative export-dedicated ideas. Export or bust. It’s that simple. It feels great saying that here in the heartland of the New Zealand export economy.

Big corporates are not the answer for us. You are. Young enterprising entrepreneurs will be the difference for Aotearoa. People who come to the edge, learn, and soar off it. Small companies. Family firms. Regional entities. Remember that our quarter-of-a-million small to medium kiwi businesses make up 97% of our firms and nearly half our working population. To inspire, you gotta be in the zone.

Waikato Management School’s leadership is at a watershed. I’m proud to be championing a sustainable enterprise alliance between Waikato Management School and Ireland’s University of Limerick. Two river cities on the opposite edges of the planet are crossing research streams. And unleashing them.

We launched in New York last month. Waikato’s sustainable business learnings and Limerick’s enterprise development in Ireland are local / global partners.

Our search is for the Tipping Point. The moment of critical mass. The moment of transformation. It’s about making the world a better place with the Is and Es:

  • Ideas, imagination, intuition, insight, inspiration.
  • Empathy, enchantment, excitement, emotion and edge.

Our global alliance is for educators, researchers and students with passion. People inspired to make a difference. Through business education we’re seeking to transform communities from the ground up. With attitude. With relentless focus.

I’d like to give you five ideas to take out into the world.
Five ideas sharpened by the Waikato Management School edge.

Idea #1

Figure out your inspirational dream and get on with it. Dreams take you higher. They make stuff happen. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said “I have a mission statement”.

I’m a relentless optimist. So I dream of a world without depression. At Saatchi & Saatchi, our inspirational dream is to be revered as the hothouse for world-changing creative ideas. The inspirational dream of NZ Edge is to win the world from the edge.

The Waikato Management School has been true to its dream of offering an extensive, integrated range of courses and formats. Management, economics, tourism, number crunching, law, communications, electronic commerce – you pick your combination. If you want, you can expand your horizons with languages or other disciplines

Waikato Management School graduates range from teachers, economists and CEOs to web, risk, financing and marketing managers. The school literally puts the world at your feet. Your dream could be anything from being the head of a biotech company to a world-class management consultant. From an inspirational teacher to an academic wrestler.

Idea #2

Pursue failure. Nothing succeeds like excess.

Avoid moderation. Be hot, or cold, but not lukewarm. I’ve always ignored warnings against enthusiasm. Fear and caution strangle ideas. As Ice Hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky said “you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take”!! I tell people the world-over to pursue and risk failure. Be in over your head. Don’t be afraid to lose because then – and only then – will you know what you’re made of.

This university pursued failure like no other in New Zealand. It was set up on a liberal American arts model that was radical and controversial for its time. Giving students opportunities to combine diverse interests. Like German with accountancy. Marketing with political science.

You discover your limits when you crash up against them. When you experience failure you bounce back harder and smarter.

Don’t look back on your failures. Life is too short to spend it gazing into the rear-view mirror. If you obsess over your mistakes, you’ll keep making them. Just remember one thing, a genius is a person who makes the same mistake. Once!

Idea #3

Recruit a mentor. People are heart-driven. We need heroes to inspire us – successful people we can model ourselves on. I was lucky to be guided early on by some exceptional people. People who understood that passion and freedom kick the ass of reason and control.

Identify a mentor you think is awesome, one whose values you love, one who inspires you – then use all your ideas, your imagination and your unique personality to persuade theme to mentor you!

New Zealand has heroes from all walks of life – ordinary people who’ve changed the world doing extraordinary things. Past people like Rocket Man William Pickering, atom man Ernest Rutherford and Suffragette Kate Sheppard. Present inspirations like Niki Caro and Peter Jackson. You’ll find a host of New Zealand heroes on the NZEDGE website – www.nzedge.com.

Waikato Management School has a ream of graduate inspirations. Lion Nathan Treasurer Alison Gerry. Wall Street banker Ben Kelleher. If you’re a sports nut anyone from Tall Black Pero Cameron to Silver Fern Leana du Plooy.

Your mentor must inspire you. Given the number of students and bars in Hamilton, they should probably drink beer.

Idea #4

Make the small decisions with your head; the big ones with your heart. Your heart is the compass that points to your happiness.

The best decisions I’ve made have come from my heart. My best career move was joining Saatchi & Saatchi as CEO. I had never worked in advertising before. I loved the company, though – its creativity, its commitment to ideas, its irreverent humor.

When my head has bullied my heart, I’ve made mistakes. Above all, take responsibility for your own happiness. In your hearts, you know – or you will know – what it will take to make you happy. You are responsible for getting there.

In all things you do, stay open to love. Once you accept the power of Love a whole heap of stuff drops neatly into place – or right out of the picture altogether.

Idea #5

Be an inspirational player. Forget management – doing things right, forget leadership – doing the right things – the future will be won on inspiration. Being inspired and inspiring those around you to be the best they can be!

Why inspiration?

  • Inspiration unlocks human potential
  • Inspiration is non-coercive
  • Inspiration is non-hierarchical
  • Inspiration is viral
  • Inspiration transforms leaders
  • Inspiration builds to a tipping point

Beyond inspiration, there is magic.

Inspiration is the secret of Peak Performance – a cultural framework for sustained success in organisations.

I helped develop the theory of Peak Performance with my colleagues Mike Pratt, Clive Gilson and Ed Weymes right here at the Waikato Management School. It informs a series of blue-chip partnerships the school has around the world.

I teach Peak Performance at Cambridge and Limerick. We teach Peak Performance at the very highest levels of some of the great global companies:

  • The Procter & Gamble Company – the world’s biggest consumer goods company
  • Toyota – the company that revolutionised auto production in the global age
  • General Mills – a multi national food company

Peak Performance outstrips the legions of military management models and metaphors that bore students to tears. And that have been done to death around the world. Reengineering, rightsizing, upsizing, downsizing, atomizing, restructuring and on it goes. Today efficiency and effectiveness are table stakes.

To go from incremental to quantum improvements you have to remove command and control from the mainframe. Then you type in unleash and inspire. And hit return.

Inspiration is relevant to you because the core of peak performance is the commitment to surpass past achievements – even when you’ve reached the top. If you want to build your business to Peak Performance, you’re going to have to be an inspirational player.

It doesn’t matter what your field of dreams is. When others give up and go home, you’re going to have to give a damn. That’s what I did. It’s why I’m standing here today.

So be open to inspiration. It mainlines into your human potential.

Sustainable enterprise is about inspiration.

To be inspired we need to be together. At Waikato Management School you can be the best you can be.

How to Win in the Age of Now


Spanning creativity, leadership and execution, Kevin Roberts’ presentation to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Wellington Chapter is an inspirational primer in: Wanting to Win, Ways to Win Now and Ways to Keep Winning – the secrets of Peak Performance so that winning becomes a habit.

Up, Up and Away – Rotary Newmarket


Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, talks to the Newmarket Rotary Club about Winning in the Age of Now, and how to turn a brand into an irresistible Lovemark for the next generation.

Start Me Up


Kevin Roberts gives keynote speech at the 6th Annual Global Competitiveness Forum “The Entrepreneurship Imperative” held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sharing three ways to win in the region.

Set Fire To The Rain


In this presentation to Spotlight On Lancaster at Lancaster University, Kevin Roberts talks about enabling, energizing and activating creative partnerships and achieving Vibrant, Crazy, Unreal and Astounding impact.

Brighter Than Sunshine


Presenting to AAC Saatchi & Saatchi in Bermuda, Kevin Roberts shares three key ideas on connecting people around ideas that create Loyalty Beyond Reason.

Magic Time


In this presentation to EmoDay in Amsterdam, Kevin Roberts shares five key ideas on emotional innovations and creating Lovemarks.

Just Can’t Get Enough


Presenting to the Institute of Development Professionals in Education in Oxfordshire, Kevin Roberts presents three ideas on creating Loyalty Beyond Reason and creating frameworks for development discussions.