Welcoming David Downs to The Icehouse…

Posted by Ben Whittacker-Cook on 10/08/2021 10:00:00 AM

David Downs, the new Chair, discusses his journey to The Icehouse and the current and future challenges facing New Zealand SMEs.

David Downs

Former stand-up comedian, successful author, experienced television and radio actor. At first glance, David’s an intriguing choice as the new Chair of The Icehouse.

However, he was also a semi-finalist for New Zealander of the year and, in a similarly star-studded business career in the public and private sector, held senior roles at Microsoft in Asia and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE). He’s had his own start-up businesses in the tech and hospitality sectors, and coupled with his passion for innovation, ingenuity and propelling Kiwi businesses onto the international stage, it’s clear David’s the perfect fit.

Twenty years in the making

‘I've been on the fringes of The Icehouse since its foundation in 2001; getting to know Andy Hamilton [former Icehouse CEO] and the team through the work they’ve done for NZ companies, and then obviously through my work with NZTE, where The Icehouse is a significant part of delivering the Regional Business Partner programme,’ says David.

‘I’ve seen the impact The Icehouse has had, both through the Venture Investment team, where Icehouse Ventures is now a key part of New Zealand’s capital landscape, and the Growth team, who have helped more than 3,600 businesses in the past 20 years [as at the end of 2020].

‘So I feel like I've been a friend of The Icehouse for a long time. I’ve always admired what the organisation does, because fundamentally growing New Zealand is something I'm incredibly passionate about.’

To achieve this, David believes that improving the outcomes for lifting capability development and ‘helping businesses be better at being businesses’ is at its core.

‘New Zealand businesses need a bit more help. We're a small domestic market, don't have high levels of competition or many organisations with complex corporate-like structures. So you end up with businesses that have highly-intelligent people but sometimes they lack all the relevant skills and experience.

Helping leaders and managers

‘As a result, there are plenty of middle-management people who are learning on the job. And that’s not necessarily the right way to go forward. An organisation like The Icehouse fulfils a big function by helping leaders and managers be better at understanding how to run their businesses. There are many successful businesses that wouldn't be around today if it wasn’t for The Icehouse.’

David believes the organisation is in a solid position in what’s been a “horrific” time for all businesses over the past 18 months. In 2020, David more than did his bit by co-founding sosbusiness.nz, a not-for-profit initiative to help cafes and other small businesses during Covid-19. To date it has sold more than $2 million in vouchers for over 2,500 small businesses.  

‘The Icehouse added value to a lot of businesses in that time, and now we find ourselves in a position to add even more. Part of my role will be working with Gavin [Lennox, Group CEO] to fully integrate The Icehouse into the wider business support ecosystem of New Zealand. 

‘How do we work with government more? How do we work with some of the other ecosystem players which support business? How does The Icehouse add value to Maori businesses? What does it mean for us to support modern businesses as they grow? These are big questions and I’m looking forward to working with the team to answer some of these challenges.’

To make a more significant impact on the world stage, David is calling on Kiwi businesses across the board to lift their level of ambition, believing the rewards will grow the country's wealth and benefit New Zealand as a whole, particularly in this post-Covid period.

‘Clearly we have some very real, near-term issues, such as the shortage of talented people in many sectors, and the disrupted global supply chains. Businesses will always have challenges – it’s not easy growing a company – but reaching out for help in advice is a great start to navigating these issues.

Addressing a state of disruption

’The global economy is in a state of disruption, clearly, but we are also about to enter a significant growth phase for New Zealand. The amount of investment opportunity, the predicted growth of demand, the all-time high New Zealand’s reputation enjoys – companies need to swing into action now, and an organisation like The Icehouse can set you up for success. If you're a New Zealand business that’s not investing in your people to be better at what they do, then you are missing your biggest growth lever.’ 

As well as holding various board positions, David is the CEO at New Zealand Story Group and a highly sought-after advisor and mentor. After 20 years in the making, David is now officially a member of The Icehouse team and the organisation is already benefitting from his drive to see New Zealand thrive and innovate, and make a greater impact on global business.

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Topics: Growth, The Icehouse, SMEs, Talent shortage, Skill Shortage, The Icehouse Board, David Downs, Icehouse Chair, New Zealand Story Group, Supply Chain