Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people, in their own words.
Chris Claridge has been chief executive of Potatoes New Zealand since 2015. First, he studied horticulture at Lincoln University, before transferring to Canterbury to complete a master's degree in biotechnology. While still a student, he began his first business, Claridges Organic, which sourced, manufactured, packed and exported organic and natural food products. He sold it in the 1990s. Among other business ventures, he founded Carrickmore, an infant formula marketer, and launched the company's product range in China and New Zealand in 2012. He also helped set up the NZ Infant Formula Exporters Association, which maintains and protects the reputation of this country's infant formula. In his private time, he plays the guitar and enjoys yoga.
When I was a child, I moved around a lot. My father was a medical doctor, and we would move from job to job. He did a lot of work around training internationally, so I went to 22 primary schools and was exposed to a lot of different schooling systems.
My parents taught me that you can be and do whatever you want to do. Just be passionate about it, and enjoy the process as much as the outcome.
My biggest regret in life is not seeing the Sex Pistols live. I was a third-former in England and my friends and I really wanted to go. But we chickened out because we were small and didn’t think we’d be able to get in. It’s my abiding memory of England. That and the seventh-formers putting the Sex Pistols on every lunchtime. That's what they played over and over in the common room at full volume.
I did horticulture and plant science and management at Lincoln University in Canterbury. I’ve worked across the value chain, all the way to the shelf and export. I understand the value chain and where you can affect value, how you grow value across the value chain and the rate limits to building industries.
There are so many ways to eat potatoes. A person who doesn't love potatoes is lost. I've only met one person in the past seven years who didn't like potatoes. I think they needed counselling. They're very sad. Potatoes are perfect for any situation. If it's in the morning, then hash browns. Some nights it's mashed potatoes.
In business, you fail all the time. Business is about failure, but success is about getting up. If you ask someone about their career in business, they'll talk about their successes, but they don't matter. Life is a series of mistakes. If someone says they haven't made mistakes in business, then that limits your learning.
Failures are not bad – they’re merely an exercise in learning. But in NZ, we tend to punish that. The failures that you have to take you much further than the successes. It's actually good to have failures.
Part of running a business is understanding what's happening around you because it's about the boundary of rationality. If you don't inquire, your boundary of rationality is quite limited, and the options that are open to you to make optimal choices are limited. That's why education gives you the ability to expand your boundary of rationality. Unfortunately, in NZ, I think our boundaries of rationality have shrunk.
Professionally, what I’m most proud of is building businesses. Seeing something occur that you have initiated or helped to initiate without being actively involved in it and achieving things through other people is what I’m most proud of.
I’ve spent a lot of time in China and living internationally. But would I live internationally permanently? Probably not now. But I would recommend that young graduates get away from NZ. Go as fast as you can. Get out of the country. Don't stay while you've got that freedom.
Communication in NZ is quite challenging because people often see questions as confronting. So, it's an art to inquire as to how to get disclosure so you understand what's going on.
People are always pleased to meet me because I’m "Mr Potatoes". People love to tell me about their favourite potato dish and how they like to eat potatoes. At Potatoes NZ, no one's ever unhappy to meet us; as we say, even vegans like us. No one dislikes potatoes. And it's nice to be in an industry where you bring joy to people because you feed them.
My favourite potato recipe is quite simple. I boil the potatoes, put them in the fridge overnight and then slice them up and fry them in duck fat for breakfast or morning tea. That's my idea of a perfect meal. I'm also gluten intolerant so I can't eat bread, I can't eat wheat, and I'm not a big fan of rice.
As told to Ella Somers.
Interviews may be edited for clarity.