As a Kiwi who lived offshore for almost eight years, I relished the opportunity to build on my New Zealand-based skills and perspectives.
Operating a digital business in a highly competitive market sharpened my ability to understand audience behaviour. It taught me how to use data to drive strategy, ways to develop alternate revenue streams and importantly, how to lead teams through change.
I was beyond excited at the prospect of bringing these, often hard-learned skills home to Aotearoa to see how I might be able to help grow a company on the soil where I grew up.
Arriving home four years ago, however, proved to be a rude awakening.
I was told by more than one recruiter that my skills were irrelevant in NZ, that I should be ready to halve my salary and hope to work my way back into a leadership position over the coming years.
This is my story, but it is also the story of so many Kiwi returning home.
We are a passionate nation, proud of what we achieve collectively.
We love to see companies like Xero and RocketLab on the world stage.
Yet we are also more than a little unwelcoming of tall poppies, particularly if they come in the form of Kiwi returning home.
For some reason we feel a sense of abandonment that they left us, and more than a dash of incredulity that in a reality-shifting moment like a global pandemic, they would want to be home amongst family, familiar faces and places.
As a small island nation on the edge of the globe we have learnt to be self-reliant and to build things our way.
Our response to the covid-19 pandemic was also purpose-built to make the most of our natural maritime border.
Risk of closed minds
But I sense that in the current moment we are at risk of closing our minds, as well as our borders.
As a country we need more high-value innovative companies like Soul Machines and Seequent, we need to increase our frontier firms and our productivity.
Part of this could be achieved through driving diversity of thought and including not only cultural differences from amongst our resident population, but also the different perspectives gleaned from our whānau offshore and recently returned.
In my work with Kea, I have seen the breadth and depth of passionate thought leadership and experience within our offshore network.
These unique global Kiwi deliver innovation in a wide range of industries, for other nations. What might it take for NZ to open our minds to what they have to offer us?
With the country riding high in global brand perception, we have more global Kiwi than ever wanting to support the country they are so proud of - through the talent or investment of those who choose to return, or the ideas and perspectives of those who remain offshore.
It is up to us as a community to navigate the solution, grabbing on to the amazing opportunity that exists.
On my return to Aotearoa, I had some soul searching to do.
I needed to rethink my skill set and find the right terms of reference to appeal to a New Zealand-based company.
Importantly, I had to find the right way to integrate myself into its team and culture.
Returning Kiwi would do well to do the same.
But an enormous opportunity also exists for NZ to be open to new ideas and to find ways to amplify returning Kiwi skills that might not sit in a job description.
We need to lose the fear of being told there's another way of doing things and be ready to embrace healthy challenges to the status quo - the impact could be far-reaching.
While it may take a few years to improve cost of living, housing and traffic issues, the one thing every one of us can do right now, is to open our minds.
We are the employers, the policymakers, the community and the whānau who can welcome these valuable Kiwi back home.
And for a group who largely made the call to give up their lives to return to the familiar, this emotional support could go an awfully long way to securing their ongoing loyalty and value.
This Thursday, Kea will celebrate a stunning line up of New Zealand global achievers at The Kea World Class Awards 2021. Six new World Class New Zealanders and one Friend of New Zealand will be inducted into an inspiring community, which includes Rocket Labs’, Peter Beck; Choreographer Parris Goebel; All Birds founder, Tim Brown; Former Prime Minister; Helen Clark; and Actor, Cliff Curtis.
Created to recognise the diverse range of Kiwi who through the impact of their work, leadership and philanthropy raise New Zealand’s mana globally, the World Class New Zealand network includes 534 members located across 31 countries.
Kea and BusinessDesk have entered into a mutually beneficial non-monetary media partnership.