OPINION: Far too many obstacles in the way of risk-takers


In 1967 Skyline had been running VWvans up to Bob’s Peak for four years.

The tourists were having a fun, albeit bumpy, ride but the repairs and maintenance costs on the vans were taking a serious toll on the fledgling business.

That’s when the great pioneer of Queenstown, Hylton Hensman, came across a magazine with a picture of a gondola.

He knew he’d found his answer.







Almost every day in Queenstown someone takes a leap of faith and tries to make their idea a reality.

They sign a bank loan to buy assets using their family home as security.

They enter into a lease with a personal guarantee.

They leave their secure job.

All in pursuit of a dream of bringing their idea to life.

I am inspired by small business owners.

Their resilience and willingness to take risks gives me want to better myself.

Many fail.

The road to success is rough and full of pitfalls.

But out of courage, and sometimes foolhardiness, many march on.

Without our risk-takers our economy and the culture that depends on it will wither.

Growth demands innovation, and innovation is very often a matter of giving something a go and seeing if it works.

If it works, then a successful business will emerge.

If it doesn’t work then it fails.

Failure, too, is essential to growth.

It tells us what doesn’t work.

And we need economic growth.

People in this country need to feel like they are getting ahead.

We didn’t come here to seek the status quo.

We sought a better life for ourselves and our families.

Kupe didn’t sail his waka hourua to New Zealand just to take a look.

He sought a future of growth and prosperity.

Our culture is now taking risk-takers for granted.

The headwinds on small businesses are constantly mounting up.

I fear the appetite for risk is slipping away and people who might be willing to start a business or to develop some land are being pushed away.

I know several who already have been.

One example of a headwind is the biased employment dispute process.

Small businesses’ owners often live in fear of a personal grievance claim.

The law is far too weighted to the employee, making it virtually impossible to get rid of a dud.

This, plainly, has a chilling effect on businesses who would consider taking on employees but are scared of putting a foot wrong and finding themselves on the wrong end of a costly dispute.

Likewise, the relentless compliance costs, minimum wage increases, greater sick leave requirements, incompetent immigration department and health and safety requirements all make the challenges greater.

This country is being boiled alive in regulations.

All of which make for a nice headline but end up making us all worse off.

Most business owners are just good people trying to get ahead.

They care about the wellbeing of their employees and love to create opportunities for them.

Too often the rules of the game are set by bureaucrats who have no understanding of what is involved in running a small business.

The biggest risk in their lives is often crossing Lambton Quay.

People who want to build and develop land have even greater challenges.

The insufferable red tape is too often pointless, costly and time-consuming.

Recently, some clients of mine had to wait two months to start their new business while they got consent to put in some new plumbing.

The registered plumber who did the work has probably forgotten more about plumbing than the council officer who processed the consent will ever know.

If they were up and running earlier they would be employing people, paying tax and offering an exciting new product in Queenstown.

If they had really known what they were in for they might not have set up in the first place.

We can’t take our risk-takers for granted.

The simple fact is that they will hesitate if the challenges look too great.

The hole that Covid-19 has dug into our economy is deep.

Deeper than most of us realise.

Risk-takers are the ones who can build the ladder out.

We need to learn to recognise the false prophets that will tell us we need government and economic development agencies to get us moving.

What we need is for the government to get out of the way.

Take a look around Queenstown, think about some of the almighty risks that have been taken to get this town off the ground.

I shudder to think about the hoops Hylton Hensman and his cohorts would have to go through to get a gondola built today.

Even Hylton might have thought better of it.

And all the prosperity that followed him would not be here for us to enjoy.

Scott Donaldson’s a senior associate at AWS Legal, on the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce and ACT Party boards, president of Queenstown Toastmasters, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt and dog walker to Winston