To Inspire Success - Our Origin Story

“It’s a culture of assistance,” says Dr Grahame Craig, Founder of BMNZ, explaining that it’s a Kiwi characteristic that goes back to our country roots and smaller communities. “Farmers helped farmers. People helped each other to get support, to overcome isolation, to find solutions.”

Fast forward to the mid to late 1980s and the New Zealand landscape had changed dramatically. The vast majority of New Zealanders - 2.5 million – lived in the North Island, with nearly a quarter in Auckland. Economic reforms had freed up the market and removed many barriers to foreign investment. Kiwis from diverse backgrounds were taking up the opportunity to be in business.

In Hamilton, Dr Grahame Craig was then co-founder of Woolrest New Zealand with Bill Hall, which within four years from its inception, had reached a $45 million turnover, employed over 100 people and was exporting to five different countries around the world. Both founders had created considerable wealth and they wanted to give back.

In 1988 - 89, Bill Hall travelled and lived in the UK where he learned about various approaches to mentoring and was so enthused that he encouraged Grahame ‘to get on and start making this thing a reality.’

“Bill Hall had a strong sense of social responsibility,” explains Grahame. “He was keen to develop a way of supporting businesses – particularly new or struggling businesses – to make progress and shorten their learning curve.”

The pair set up a model for mentoring and with friend and colleague, Graeme Dingle began a year of testing the concept of mentoring by running business clinics in Turangi. Happy that they had refined their model for mentoring, they then began seeking out corporate funding.

“We drew up a hit list and went on a whistle-stop tour around many boardrooms,” says Grahame. “We were selling (the concept) to corporate executives. But we found out that we were talking to large institutions who were not attuned to small-medium business. Theirs was a ‘Think Big’ mentality and it was a lukewarm reception.”

There was also a problem with the word ‘mentoring’ which was not part of the jargon of the day.

Grahame and Bill had also listed Fletcher Challenge and at that time Sir James Fletcher was overseeing the Fletcher Trust. “We didn’t even finish the presentation,” reflected Grahame. “He was so enthusiastic and we walked out of there with a ready to run secretariat in Fletcher House, a seconded CEO, and the breakthrough we so desperately needed.”

Sir James Fletcher became a champion of the cause. He opened other doors with corporates to the point where BMNZ was completely corporate-funded for the first ten years.

Now celebrating 30 years, Business Mentors New Zealand is definitely looking to do some new, innovative things in the future, including solutions to making mentoring available to more people. “We’re not scalable given we’re a voluntary service … although we have had up to 2,000 mentors, we are limited by the time they can give,” notes Grahame. One thing that can and has been done to make mentoring more accessible is providing ‘Virtual Mentoring’ online, which brings Mentors together with Mentees for whom it would not be practical to meet in person.

“There is so much ahead of us. Bill Hall had the vision but died early while in the UK after our public launch. But his expertise and way of doing business has been kept alive, adds Grahame.”

Sir James Fletcher kept the torch alight. Business mentoring was his favourite project until he died at 91 years old. Both Bill and Sir James had two qualities in common – they had both amazing business acumen and humility. A common touch.

“That culture of assistance has stayed with us to today. And I hope we never lose it,” concludes Dr Grahame Craig.

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