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'Just getting started': Tech entrepreneur and keen mountain biker Roger Sharp

One of Queenstown’s biggest corporate hotshots says his biggest annoyance is people assuming he moved here to retire. Roger Sharp talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about why he moved to the resort, how Covid-19’s caused him to be very busy and why, at 59, retirement’s not in his lexicon

March was an unforgettable month for Queenstown-based investment banker Roger Sharp.

On March 6, as guest speaker at Queenstown Resort College’s graduation ceremony, he walked to the lectern wearing virtual reality goggles.

‘‘It was a way of getting a laugh but also kind of making a point — the future is here now, and technology’s a big part of it.’’

About a week later, Sharp — whose many roles include chairing global online travel business Webjet — was mountain biking from Bannockburn to Clyde when his phone rang.

His CEO told him, as a result of Covid-19, the company’s $4 billion-a-year business had dissolved overnight.

Sharp urgently flew to company HQ in Melbourne to begin a rollercoaster 7-day salvage mission.

Before concluding a deal to raise $350 million and slash costs by almost 50%, Sharp had scuttled back to Queenstown to beat New Zealand’s lockdown.

‘‘I got home, got tested for Covid-19, felt like shit, and thought I could just sleep for a month and get over it.’’

Instead, Queenstowner John Wikstrom, executive director of global attractions photo business Magic Memories, rang Sharp and asked if he could perform a similar rescue act on his beleaguered company.

‘‘I jumped straight in and advised Magic Memories on restructuring and raising money and we saved them — it took about three or four very hard
months.’’

Sharp’s rescue acts were a tribute to the acumen he’s garnered over almost 40 years in the business world.

Since founding his first tech start-up at 23, he’s built and sold six growth companies.

‘‘One just about got away but by and large it’s been pretty successful.’’

Asked how Queenstown came onto his horizon, he refers to his Central Otago roots.

His great-grandfather arrived in Port Chalmers, from Scotland, in 1874, and hitched a horse ride to Roxburgh.

There he opened an open-cast coalmine called Perserverance, ‘‘which I always thought was a great metaphor for how my dad taught me to work’’.

‘‘The truth is, which I kind of gloss over, I grew up in Auckland, but if someone asks me where I’m from I’ll say ‘Roxburgh’.’’

He and his wife, Christine Maiden Sharp, left NZ in ‘82 and pursued their careers in America, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne and London.

Settling down for their kids’ sake in Sydney about 20 years ago, they also bought at Queenstown’s rural subdivision, North Ridge, on the recommendation of his buddy, the late Howard Paterson.

Sharp, who’d been global head of technology for ABN AMRO Bank, subsequently started an investment banking firm called North Ridge Partners.

The couple built on their plot 13 years ago, then permanently shifted to Queenstown four years ago — ‘‘I’ve always considered it the most beautiful
place in the world’’.

Now 59, he says ‘‘probably the thing that annoys me the most is people say, ‘oh, so you’ve moved to Queenstown to retire?’

‘‘I’m just getting started — retirement is not even in my lexicon.

‘‘I think, at this stage, you have enough scars on the back from the mistakes you made to know not to make them again, and enough knowledge of what works, I think it’s really wasted if you don’t try and use it.

‘‘And for me, that means not just making money but helping others in the community.’’

Far from retiring, Sharp’s now also Tourism NZ’s deputy chairman and, since July, Lotto NZ chairman — ‘‘it makes a million dollars a day and gives it all to the community, which is quite cool’’.

He and Christine are also avid mountain bikers — a particularly steep trail between Arrowtown’s Millbrook Resort and Speargrass Flat Road’s even named for her.

As for this resort’s future, he says ‘‘it’s very, very tough, but once the borders reopen, particularly to Australia, I can tell you there is a huge volume of Australians that will want to come to Queenstown’’.

‘‘The problem we’re going to have is finding enough people to provide good customer service.’’

scoop@scene.co.nz