Things are looking rosy for the New Zealand economy—rosy enough that Paul Bloxham, Chief Economist at HSBC, reckons "New Zealand will be the rock star economy of 2014". An important driver appears to be continued strong demand for New Zealand's dairy and meat products, particularly from Asia where the move to protein-based consumption continues unabated—which reminded me of a speech that I heard eight to ten years ago, delivered by the then Chief Economist of Westpac Bank. The suggestion was that Chinese demand for coal and steel would wane, as massive infrastructure projects were completed. Demand would then shift to food, to feed the growing middle class. The corollary was that New Zealand could look forward to long-term demand for its primary exports, and the resultant economic growth from a steady stream of export receipts. The chickens seem to be coming home to roost.
This seems to be good news, so what should corporate boards do with it, if anything? Should boards move quickly to capture "their share" of what is obviously a growing international pie? Should more capital be applied to drive expansion into new areas, or should companies stick to their knitting? These are important questions. In the last seven days, I have been party to discussions with two successful companies that are seriously considering international expansion, to become exporters of services to Asia on the back on high primary sector demand. My initial response was to suggest several questions that their boards should ask and answer before any decisions are made:
The pursuit of opportunistic growth is often exciting. However, it is rarely sustainable. Boards need to stand back and look at the big picture—to understand the context within which they operate, check their strategy and understand how the so-called opportunity fits—before making any significant decisions. The pathway of history is littered with stories of companies—including some large, well-resourced ones—that have tried and failed to become exporters on the coattails of growth in another sector. However, if boards are adequately informed before they make important decisions about strategy and the application of capital, they stand a much greater chance of success. Growth opportunities abound, but context is crucial.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.