This week, Small Business editor Caitlyn Sykes talks to business owners about German connections.Masako Morita, director; Steven Newland, chief pilot; Michael Lee, office/bookings; and Chris Sattler, CEO of Auckland Seaplanes. In the front row are Maya and Lea Sattler.
Can you tell me about your background?
I was born in Germany and went to university in the UK. After that I spent some time in Singapore, lived for about 10 years in Japan - where I met my wife - then returned to the UK to live.
Travelling is one of my passions and I've been to more than 100 different countries, mainly as a tourist but also through my work in the finance industry, where I specialised in airline finance. I was in the German Air Force before going to university, and aviation has always been another passion, so it was great to combine that with working in the finance industry. Ultimately though we chose New Zealand as the place we wanted to be and we're citizens here now.
When and why did you settle in New Zealand?
I'd visited New Zealand in the early 1990s, and in 2004 my wife and I were looking for a new place to live; we'd lived in London for about seven years at that point and were planning to have our first child so we looked for a nice place to move to that was neutral ground. We looked at Canada and Australia as options as well, but settled on New Zealand, moving here as skilled migrants with our first daughter in 2007.
Auckland Seaplanes started flying towards the end of 2013, so what were you doing beforehand?
This is our first company in New Zealand, and we started working on it 2011. When I left the UK I decided I wanted to have some more time with my daughter, so for the first four years in New Zealand I didn't have a full time job. During that time I worked with a lot of small startup companies - investing in them and also advising them on growing internationally, funding and governance as a board member. Some of the companies I'm involved with are Mobile Mentor, StretchSense and Kayasand.
Do you think more migrants should be investing in smaller New Zealand companies?
I'd prefer to see more migrants investing in productive industries in New Zealand, rather than in things like property. When we came here we wanted to help create jobs and opportunities and that's how we invested our funds, and that also led us to set up Auckland Seaplanes, which now takes up about 90 percent of my work time.
What was the opportunity you saw with that business?
I'd flown all around New Zealand myself and with overseas visitors, and the comments were always about how stunning the country was and how many interesting things there were to see. It got me thinking about aviation opportunities in Auckland, and I thought a key advantage would be to have something accessible from downtown. We then looked at the history of seaplanes in Auckland as well as in other cities, and ended up working very closely in the set-up phase with Sydney Seaplanes because they operate in a similar environment to Auckland.
My wife and I started this project in 2011 and it took us about two years to really get it up and running. We had to find the right location and there were lots of approvals involved. There was probably a bit more involved in that than we had bargained for, but in the end it turned out very well.
What other challenges have you encountered starting up the business, particularly related to being from another country?
I have to say New Zealand is a great place for doing business; because it's smaller it's much easier to get access to decision makers and I've found people are much more willing to talk about or to listen to ideas. We've had huge support from the boating community, the councils and Auckland and New Zealand Tourism.
On the other hand it's a relatively small market where in a lot of industries you have only one or two players, so I think international investors need to look carefully at the competitive situation that exists in their sector.
What advice would you have for other migrant entrepreneurs wanting to get involved with business in New Zealand?
It's important for any person coming here to build networks, whether it's with angel investment communities, chambers of commerce or the Institute of Directors for example.
Also, think about an experience or niche that you've seen somewhere else around the world that isn't yet available in New Zealand and see how you can adapt it for the local market. The logic is to utilise your skills and networks to look for international opportunities that you can introduce here, because that's the competitive advantage you have.