If there was ever a New Zealand version of the CSI television series, Connect NZ CEO Karl Rosnell could be a candidate for the starring role.
With a passion for biology, he studied forensic science for three years at Auckland University, but when his mounting student loan became daunting it was a technology role that came to the rescue.
Joining Connect NZ in 1997 as a cadet, he has stayed with the company since, turning his back on the idea of scientific detective work.
“I was planning on coming [to Connect NZ] for a couple of years, making some money and getting back into the study. Once you get in here and start making money in sales it is hard to go back to living on $100 a week as a student.”
If he had continued with forensics study, he says he would have ended up working at ESR locally or in the same field overseas. “New Zealand is not a place with a lot of unsolved murders, so there is an oversupply of people doing [forensics] right now.”
Former CEO Brent Page was Rosnell’s first boss at Connect NZ, and he credits Page with teaching him the art of selling before he progressed to more senior roles with the firm.
One of these senior roles was general manager of the Hamilton office, which Rosnell left Auckland to do. Although it was a challenge, the job taught him a variety of new skills.
“Once you get out from under the wings of your mentor and start to stand on your own feet, you realise some of the things that you didn’t know around operational and people management. That was the best rounding out of my skill set, because I learnt about engineering and human resources. When the buck stops with you, you learn to come up with your way of doing things.”
Rosnell subsequently managed Connect NZ’s Wellington branch, before returning to Auckland to take up the CEO role earlier this year.
Since moving into senior management with the company, Rosnell’s schedule can be hectic, so he finds it relaxing out of work hours to play electric and acoustic guitar.
“When you’re teaching yourself how to do something you can’t get bogged down with a complex work problem. It’s a good way to relax.
“I’ve never been musical apart from listening to it so it’s a good thing to pick up. I’m not sticking to one style so it’s all challenging at this stage.”
Rosnell also counts motor racing among his leisure time interests, and he raced go-karts for five years when he was a teenager, adding some of his friends still race them.
Wherever possible, he likes to watch live motorsport, including the Hamilton 400 V8 race. “I love going to watch New Zealand motorsport because a lot of the people [I know] have grown up in the industry.”
He also enjoys travelling and has attended many trade shows, including CeBIT in Germany.
“We’ve learnt about the technology and brought back products that we thought would work in New Zealand.”
But when he travels with his family rather than going on business trips, Fiji is a favourite during the local winter.
“That’s something high on the agenda - to go somewhere warm, have a few drinks and lounge by the pool.”
Among his favourite trips was a four-week tour around Chinese cities last year, including Beijing.
He is also a keen wine connoisseur and has spent holidays in wine growing areas such as Nelson/Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, sampling the best drops these areas offer.
Rosnell’s key aims for Connect NZ, now that he is in the CEO role, is to create a sustainable business that has an enjoyable culture.
“I want the company to be fun for our people to work at, one our customers love buying from and to have a brand partners love doing business with. Whatever we can do to create that environment and produce a healthy bottom line means we’re winning.”
Rather than becoming a large company, Rosnell would prefer to create an admired company.
“We pick that word admired because it is something you can’t buy. You have to earn it. If our customers admire us than they will continue to spend money with us. If we can create a company that is sustainable and centred around admiration at every level, we are going to be a cool place to work at.”
He is looking to do this by replicating the success of appliance manufacturer Fisher and Paykel.
“The most admired brand that we know in the New Zealand market is Fisher and Paykel.”
The admiration comes from the fact that no matter where you buy that product from, if something goes wrong you get a certain degree of customer service and support that is consistent.”
Fisher and Paykel chairperson Gary Paykel was on Connect NZ’s board when it set up in Auckland in 1997 as the Fisher and Paykel business centre. Until 2000, Fisher and Paykel was the importer/distributor of Panasonic and Lucent.
“He lent us his support and name. If we can become admired like them, I would be very proud.”