New Zealand CEO Survey 2017

Interview with Michael Boggs

CEO NZME

"What we’re now doing is we’re looking to partner with people who can bring technology, talent and intellectual property into our business and bring them in in a way where we are helping them and not suffocating them with processes and procedures."

Michael Boggs was appointed CEO of NZME in March 2016. In his previous role as CFO of NZME Boggs was integral in developing the strategy to grow NZME’s presence in New Zealand particularly in the areas of digital, video and events whilst upholding the company’s traditional brands including The New Zealand Herald and Newstalk ZB. Michael joined NZME from TOWER Limited where he successfully managed TOWER’s multibillion dollar assets, TOWER’s Pacific Islands operations, TOWER’s earthquake recovery programme and the sale of TOWER’s life insurance, health insurance and investment management businesses.

So how is the CEO of one of New Zealand’s largest media companies responding to one of the fastest-changing industry landscapes? Here’s our extended conversation with Michael on the changes he is seeing.

PwC: We’re now 20 years into the CEO Survey. What has been the biggest change you’ve seen over the last 20 years in business?

Michael: I’d have to say it’s technology, the change in technology and how it impacts all of us, both from a personal and a business perspective. In this business, we tackle that every day – whether technology is an enabler, an inhibitor or a competitor for us. Before, most of this business was about newspapers and broadcasting radio stations, today the proliferation of digital technology has lowered the barrier to entry considerably giving consumers more choice than ever before.

However, print is still the single biggest part of our business. What we’re finding in areas like real estate and automotive is that print has never been as important as it is now. People who are sitting down with a paper on a Saturday morning are making a huge difference to these industries. Print is 60 per cent of our total revenue and, while people will tell you that it’s going to disappear, it keeps continuing on – and long may it continue!

PwC: So the way people are consuming content is changing?

Michael: Definitely and, thanks to digital, it’s always in our lives. I was in the cinema the other day with my wife and kids and there were about 25 people sitting in front of us. Of those, about 20 were on their phones and 18 of them were on Facebook.

That means the way we share content as a company is changing. We still do print, digital, radio and events but we also have to go out to other platforms – Facebook and Google specifically – to help share our content. That’s the first time we’re having to use other people’s platforms to share content rather than our own and it’s something we’ve had to grapple with as a business. We’re now looking at how we can cohabitate with these new players in our industry to ensure that our content is available to our audiences when and where they are.

PwC: And what do you think will be the next big disruption we see?

Michael: I think it will come from a company like Facebook, one that can operate a platform that is ubiquitous across the world and requires so little investment with everyone producing the content – there have to be more models like that coming through that will cause further disruption.

PwC: Do you think the speed of change has increased significantly in the last 20 years? Specifically in areas like automation?

Michael: The amount of back-office automation we’ve seen – where there is now no one actually touching it – is just amazing. If you go out to our print plant, we have automated robots that will take stacks of paper to the printing machine because they know when it’s out of paper. We have journalists out in the field filming videos on iPhones and publishing directly to our websites and social media without it being touched by others on the way through.

I still look around the business and think there’s more to be automated. However we are a content business and for us it is all about storytelling and engaging with people. They want to have a conversation on the radio, they want to be reading something that is enlightening. So we are going to have more and more content production resources and fewer back-end resources – that’s all about having the right investment mix.

PwC: It sounds like your organisation is quite unique in that there will be less room for automation around your key product offerings?

Michael: It’s interesting, we recently had conversations around technology and automation and where we want to go as a business, but that’s a means to an outcome, rather than an outcome we want. I found myself asking “why are we spending so much time thinking about this piece of technology” because that should be the smallest part of the conversation, but it was turning into the biggest.

PwC: We’ve talked a lot about the last 20 years, but what do you think will be the things that change, or stay the same, over the next 20 years?

Michael: I think we’ll still be talking about automation and how technology is changing us. We’ll also have a lot of people doing jobs we don’t see yet. But we’re still going to need bright people and great talent. We all talk about the jobs that are going to disappear, but we have to be focused on where the new jobs are going to come from.

I have a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son and they are complete opposites. My daughter’s very arty and doesn’t enjoy the school stuff, while my son does. It’s a real challenge for me to think where should I be telling them to focus their efforts and I don’t know that I have the answer.

Both now and in the future, I do believe that people will want to be both informed and entertained. Our role as storytellers will continue to be relevant but the format of that delivery will likely be very different in 20 years to what it is today.

PwC: So how easy are you finding it to get the right talent to support this shift to be more technology focused?

Michael: Talent is an interesting word for us because it has many facets. People immediately think it’s about our radio and broadcasting personalities who are our ‘talent’. At NZME our talent is everyone in the business who contributes to our strategic imperatives and business priorities. So it’s an interesting conversation I’ve been having around how this business actually defines talent.

There are key areas around technology where we find it hard to attract the right people. Part of the solution is bringing in younger people and get them to show us what we should be doing and develop them within the business.

What we’re now doing is we’re looking to partner with people who can bring technology, talent and intellectual property into our business and bring them in in a way where we are helping them and not suffocating them with processes and procedures.

PwC: One of the big trends we’ve seen emerge is the threat of a cyber attack, especially for organisations that have a large amount of customer data. So how do you ensure people trust you?

Michael: It’s certainly one of my biggest concerns that I wake up one day to find someone has taken over our homepage. There aren’t many organisations where someone could get their message out to such a wide audience by hacking their website. So that was one of the first things I focused on as CEO.

We also have a large e-commerce platform in GrabOne where we have both personal and financial data. Just recently we had a breach and we were straight on to those people who lost their data to explain what happened and how we were fixing the problem. As an organisation, we are constantly reviewing our security efforts to ensure our data and our content is secure.

PwC: In the last two decades we’ve seen huge flurries of free-trade agreements, open borders and international mobility. In the last few years, that feels like it’s gone backwards – how do you think that’s impacting NZ businesses?

Michael: When I look at our business, we’re entirely focused on the local market, so we’re less sensitive to changes overseas although we now compete against international players. However, I think it’s going to create a whole lot of uncertainty that will affect investment decisions here in New Zealand.

Locally, I think we’ve reached a turning point in terms of growth. We’ll either be able to keep growing at our current rate or even stronger, or that uncertainty from overseas could slow us down and be a problem for us.

We had news recently, for example, that tourism is the country’s biggest export earner – now tourism and dairy are both very real risks for us as a country. I look at tourism and I think we have issues from an infrastructure perspective. There’s a risk we’re going to give people a bad experience when they come here because so many are coming and Auckland can’t handle it. That’s a worry for me. It’s a similar story in dairy as well.

PwC: There seems to be a renewed push from customers to see companies become more accountable – you mentioned infrastructure as an example where companies can contribute. How do you see that playing out?

Michael: I actually heard a speech recently from Phil Goff around infrastructure in Auckland and how we aren’t investing enough in this area. Our content teams are now having discussions around how we could get involved in this community issue – not for political gain or business gain or to influence where money is spent – but just to see where there is room for us to create content and communications around how we commute to work every day. We’re also asking how we as a business could change the way people work or commute. It’s a real opportunity for us as a business to work out how we can help on New Zealand issues by starting conversations and debate in the community.

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