Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular feature on the lives and motivations of our top businesspeople, in their own words.
Greg Cross grew up in New Zealand but, as a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence and a serial entrepreneur, he went on to become one of the original technology nomads and lived in every major market in the world. Following his return home, he took on several chairman roles, including at The Icehouse (named by Forbes magazine as one of the top 10 technology incubators in the world), NZ Trade & Enterprise’s Global Beachhead programme, e-commerce accelerator SLI Systems and luxury fashion retailer Dadelszen. His business successes have included co-founding Auckland wireless charging firm PowerbyProxi, for which Apple reportedly paid more than $100 million. In 2016, he teamed up with Dr Mark Sagar, a two-time Oscar winner for scientific and engineering excellence in cinema, to create Soul Machines, which is focused on humanising the next generation of computer technologies and exploring the future of human/machine cooperation. Cross, who was inducted into the New Zealand Hi-Tech Hall of Fame as the 2019 Flying Kiwi, is the Sir John Logan Campbell Executive-in-Residence at the University of Auckland Business School.
I grew up in farming communities, initially in Taranaki and then in the Waikato, then went to Auckland Grammar School as a boarder. So, from rural New Zealand to the Big Smoke as a high-school kid — a dramatic change, I guess.
I've always been an early-morning person. That really works for me now because I'm doing business in the US from New Zealand, which means my day can start at 3am. There are not many days when I'm not up at 4am. That's a habit I've had since I was a young kid.
Auckland Grammar’s school motto is Per Angusta ad Augusta – through challenge to success. It has really become a life motto for me in terms of learning, growing, competing to win.
I didn't adjust well to university, so dropped out of Waikato after about six months and went to work for an incredible New Zealand entrepreneur called Bill Foreman at Trigon Packaging, an amazing high-tech engineering company.
Bill inspired me to become an entrepreneur, to want to build businesses that could compete on the international stage. I've never built an entrepreneurial business that has been targeted at the New Zealand market. That’s still what drives me – how can I build a business model to attract investors?
I've lived my life as a digital nomad. I've lived all around the world. I've spent a big chunk of years living in the US; I spent time in Europe and Asia.
This is the first time I've lived full-time in New Zealand in my whole career. It’s also the first time my wife Helen has had a full-time stay-at-home husband in 20 years of marriage. She’s adapted to it!
I always have to acknowledge my wife, who’s put up with my constant travel and living on different time cycles. You don't get to have an adventure like I've had in my career without the support of your wife and family.
I'm proud of so much of what I've learned, not just the achievements but also the mistakes I’ve made and learned from over the years. I don’t spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder, so I tend to live in the stuff I'm doing right here, right now.
Bill Gates is the most insanely competitive man I’ve ever met. He cared about every percentage point of market share in every category and every market in the world, even when you're literally only a half a percent of global worldwide revenue. He cared. It makes a difference when you approach something with that level of passion.
Always be prepared to learn and be persistent. For me, whether it’s from a personal point of view or a business point of view, the day you stop learning and being willing to learn and being prepared to make mistakes is the day you start dying.
I enjoy surfing and I’ve picked up two new hobbies. My two sons are both great guitar players, so last year, I learned to play the guitar. I’ve also got hooked on golf. I’d never played golf before in my life until this year. I’ve spent the past six months taking lessons and practising my swing.
My health is the most valuable thing I have. That’s a simple reality for everyone, and one thing we’ve been reminded of in the past 12 months. Good health is something nobody can ever afford to take for granted. If you don't put priority on looking after your health and your wellbeing, life can be very, very short or become very, very limited. So, yeah, that's the most valuable thing in the world for me.
I enjoy having a quiet lunch. I have a group of friends – they know where to find me at 12 o’clock on a Friday.
As told to Henry Burrell.
This interview has been edited for clarity.