Kevin Ackhurst admits to succumbing to the same error expatriate executives often fall into – assuming New Zealand would have a similar culture to Australia.
“Having lived in Australia for a long time, I came to New Zealand [and] I thought it would be the same,” says Ackhurst, who had spent seven years in Microsoft’s operations across the Tasman. “But the people in New Zealand are completely different to Australia,” says Ackhurst, who is winding up his role as managing director of Microsoft New Zealand after nearly three years.
“One of the first things I did was actually focus on learning about the culture, learning the things that are important, and I use those as motivators for the people that we have inside the organisation and that is exactly what I will focus on when I move to my next role.”
Kevin Ackhurst says having a great team is critical to the success of Microsoft New Zealand in the past two years.
“All I really wanted to do is to make sure I had a group of motivated people that came to work passionate about working for the company and wanted to work as hard as they possibly could and do the best they possibly could for the customers and partners,” he says.
“I think I have a group of people working at Microsoft that love the things that they do, that love the customers and partners they get to interact with and as a result of that the passion has been played to the customers and partners. And we have had some fantastic business.”
He underscores Microsoft’s shift to services in the cloud. “We are really serious about the stuff we are doing around the cloud. Whether that means partnering with organisations locally to actually deliver that to their datacentres or the delivery we are providing through our data centres, I think, will substantially change business models for them and allow them to save money.”
He is keen to see improvements in Microsoft’s engagements with the heads of ICT departments. “I still find CIOs in New Zealand sometimes hold vendors at arm’s length and probably that is because we have not always been the people that do the things they actually want.
“To ultimately achieve that, we need to develop a closer relationship so I encourage [them] to look at what they can do to move towards a partnership model as opposed towards a supplier provider relationship.”
One area where he would have also wanted to have done more work on this year, and this, he says, is “the local software economy, the businesses that build software for export”.
So what insights will he pass on to his successor? First, he says, he wants to do a “really great handover, of making sure that the knowledge that I have accumulated in the course of the last two years and nine months can be transferred to the new person.”
As well, he will advise his successor not to take things too seriously. “That sort of helped me,” he says. “I don’t take things too seriously and I listen to feedback, and I would encourage anyone that had my job to make sure they listen a lot more than they talk.”
He is looking forward to the new regional role, saying the move is a plus for Microsoft’s business contacts in New Zealand. They will now have an ally in Singapore, because Ackhurst encourages them to knock on his door if they are in that part of the world.
Ackhurst began his career at Microsoft as managing consultant in South Africa, before moving to its Australian offices. Before moving to New Zealand, Ackhurst was Microsoft’s worldwide general manager of Operations and Business Strategy, in Redmond, Washington.