A familiar story told in Hawke’s Bay is of the prodigal son or daughter who, after high school or attending university, leave the region to sow their wild oats elsewhere, often following the great Kiwi OE tradition.

BayBuzz is heartened to see many Hawke’s Bay ex-pats returning to the fold with rich experiences and enhanced skills. We ask the ‘returnees’ where did they go, what did they do and what prompted their return. If you’ve come back or know someone else who has, and is making a difference in the Bay, let us know editors@baybuzz.co.nz

First stop in the morning – Tom Ormond, Hawthorne Coffee

TOM ORMOND – Owner, Hawthorne Coffee

It was the aroma of coffee, the business opportunity that went with that and the prospect of raising a family in his old stomping ground that drew Tom Ormond back to Hawke’s Bay. After Havelock High he’d enrolled for a computer science degree at Otago University but changed to design and psychology. He saw those choices as complementary and leaning more to the creative side, which held greater fascination for him than number crunching.

Post-graduation he became a freelancer for film and television production houses in Wellington, doing everything from set building to unit manager and production. It wasn’t consistent enough to be a career path, so he headed straight for London where he became a white van errand boy for an architect and a structural engineer engaged in high-end building renovations. “I was really interested in architecture and I got to know London well. We worked on 20 million pound houses including a Getty family mansion behind Knightsbridge which had five levels and its own art galleries and panic rooms.”

When Tom’s girlfriend (now wife) Benita, also from Hawke’s Bay, arrived the travelling continued. The couple ended up on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland, where they managed six holiday cottages on a 2000 hectare estate. The now married couple returned to Wellington, intending to transition to Hawke’s Bay “in a couple of years” to raise a family, but there was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“My father-in-law knew we wanted to be in the hospitality business and on learning that Hawthorne Coffee was coming up for sale, he thought it would be a good fit for us.” It was everything they were looking for. “I loved coffee and machinery and there were technical aspects as well so it was a pretty varied job and really appealed.”

Tom and Benita’s initial concern was that they might miss the city life, but five years later, there are no regrets. “We love the slightly laid back rural lifestyle and there’s a cosmopolitan feel about it if you want to find it,” says Tom. “People tend to think everyone knows everyone else in Hawke’s Bay but that’s not the case, there are artists and technology guys and pockets of everything.”

Having a family and the pressure in the cities has made a lot of people think about the simpler things in life. In fact Tom, now 33, says a number of friends are now moving back and starting families. “A lot of our Auckland friends are blown away by the fact that we live in a cottage on the farm, the peacefulness, and the ease of getting around. We can go out to Craggy Range or Black Barn and have an amazing lunch then head to a great little bar in Havelock North. It ticks all those boxes.”

Tom says technology has broken down a lot of the barriers of distance. People keep in touch through their social networks and a number are now running successful Auckland or Wellington-based businesses from Hawke’s Bay. Because the pace is slower and new businesses are getting established he says there’s a sense of being part of growth in the region. Keith Newman.

Home care pioneer manages world service from Te Awanga – Miranda Smith, Founder and Director, MSHomecare

MIRANDA SMITH – Founder and Director, MSHomecare

Miranda Smith left Woodford House at the end of sixth form, working in a variety of Hawke’s Bay jobs before heading overseas at 21, for her OE adventure. She wound up working in London as administrator for Patricia White Personal Homecare, living in Patricia White’s household where the business was run. As she was about to return to New Zealand, Patricia’s advice to the then 24-year-old was, “This is the way elderly care is going [in-home]; you should start one up when you get back.” Having acquired a thorough understanding of how the agency worked, on her return Miranda launched MSHomecare in Auckland, now the longest established in-home care agency in New Zealand. Within months she met Hawke’s Bay ex-pat, Campbell Thornton.

Miranda Smith built up the private in-home care service and today MSHomecare, with centres in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hawke’s Bay, is administered by a team of 14 women and employs 250 carers nationwide. The time and cost of daily travel to work from their home in Piha on Auckland’s west coast was considerable; life was intense but exciting, although with two small boys it soon became unsustainable. The couple moved back to Hawke’s Bay three years ago, primarily because of strong family links and the easier lifestyle being so accessible.

Fortunately the homecare agency is a family-friendly kind of business and can be run from her Te Awanga home and from the office of Thornton’s Realty (her husband Campbell Thornton’s family business). Her managers in the other centres are trusted friends, who also bring their babies into the office when necessary – all that’s required is a boardroom or quiet office for the bassinet. The Thornton’s now have three boys, aged five and three years and nine weeks. Besides the homecare business, Miranda runs Puku Baby Clothing and the Karitane Nurses and Nannies Bureau, employing 120 specialist baby nurses with placements in several overseas countries, including the Bahrain royal family.

First and foremost in the minds of the many business entrepreneurs seeking a return home, is the need for a family life. This holds true for Campbell Thornton and Miranda Smith. They really miss their Auckland friends who will sometimes travel down for a break in the Bay, and in August she and some girlfriends are off to Samoa for a few days catch-up without their spouses and children. After being away from home for almost two decades it can be hard to establish new friendships. This requires some effort, but happily, a number of new friendships have been formed with other parents through their children’s activities.

The transition of the MSHomecare head office from Auckland to the Bay was challenging and involved a lot of travel and rethinking of how information needed to be transferred from Miranda’s head to the other managers. This has now settled down and day trips away are now less frequent. Kay Bazzard

Marketing pro re-calibrates – Kim Wicksteed, Principal and Founder, ADVICE

KIM WICKSTEED – Principal and Founder, ADVICE

‘Finding balance’ is the theme of advertising man Kim Wicksteed’s riff on returning to Hawke’s Bay. In his ‘youth’, “chasing a lovely woman to Hawke’s Bay in the early ‘70s”, Kim began his career doing community relations work for the Hastings Public Relations Office before establishing an advertising agency in 1976. After seven years his talents took him to Wellington, where he practiced the advertising craft for a series of agencies, culminating in 13 years with Saatchi & Saatchi, ultimately serving as CEO for New Zealand.

During that phase of his career, Kim played a key role in the implementation of Absolutely Positively Wellington. He also served as a trustee of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts and as a director of the Wellington Regional Tourism Agency. That was life in the fast lane. “After 25 years in the advertising sprint, I was ready to re-calibrate.” In 2002, Kim established his own consultancy, ADVICE, offering strategic counsel on marketing and communications.

In 2006, he and his wife Margaret (the woman he chased) moved to the edge of Havelock North. “We returned here for great memories, great people and very good weather.” Kim and Margaret originally figured they would buy a place to relax in Waimarama, while continuing to live in Wellington. After numerous trips back looking at properties, “we decided we had it all wrong … we should live in Hawke’s Bay and visit Wellington …and we’ve had no disappointments whatsoever with Hawke’s Bay”.

They keep an apartment in Wellington and so “enjoy the ying and yang of tranquility in the Bay with the hustle and bustle of Courtney Place”. That said, they bought their first house in Havelock North back in the late ‘70s and now say it’s incredible how cosmopolitan ‘the Village’ has become. “Universally, people say to me … how lucky are you to live in Hawke’s Bay.”

Kim, now aged 57, says his great ambition was to spend three days working with clients outside Hawke’s Bay, commuting to Wellington or Auckland, and four days in the Bay. “I’m not there yet … more like four days outside and three days in. I find you do need the face-to-face to create business. You need to be there and work through the issues as opposed to trying to do it remotely.”

Next Issue: Sophie Sowman and Chris O’Reilly

As Kim sees it, with company downsizing and more responsibility put on people, many are working harder than ever, and the attraction of an easier lifestyle to balance that stress is enormous. “They’re saying, I don’t know if this is worth it anymore. But they’re highly talented, skilled folk, many looking to raise families, and if you offer a work/lifestyle balance, you’re really beginning to hit a rich vein … Hawke’s Bay offers people a chance to get balance back into their lives.” He adds: “These people are young, vibrant, up-to-date … they are Hawke’s Bay’s future.” Tom Belford.

Bring ‘can do’ attitude with you – Georgina Miller, Co-founder and Director, Mogul

GEORGINA (GEORGE) MILLER – Co-founder and Director, Mogul Ltd

George reckons there’s something about Hawke’s Bay that gets in your blood and draws you back, even if it means having to create your own destiny. She says people returning to the Bay need to have get up and go and ignore the ‘nothing to do here’ myth. “Ask what you can do to have a career, grow your business or help Hawke’s Bay grow, not the other way ‘round.”

While George moved around a bit as “a pub kid” with parents in hospitality management roles, she spent much of her youth in Hawke’s Bay. After Woodford House it was Massey University to study for a BA in social anthropology. “I was going to save the world in those days.” She continued her studies at Otago University where she met Matt and headed to Dublin and on to London where they were married. George worked in accounts and Matt was hired by the local council and did research for a New York stockbroker.

Many of their friends were making good money in IT and the couple realised the world was on the brink of another dotcom boom. After three and a half years in the UK, George and Matt returned to Christchurch where Matt’s parents lived. He did a post-graduate diploma in e-commerce and she completed a chef’s course and a small business course in hospitality at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine. To pay her way George took on technical support for email software which made her aware of the language gap between the average person and the technical world.

During their five years in Christchurch their two girls were born and family became a priority, prompting a return to Hawke’s Bay where Matt began building websites for local businesses. The common ground between working in pubs and doing technical support was customer service, and helping people get beyond techtalk into business realities seemed logical. The web development business grew and she and Matt founded Mogul, initially operating from their kitchen bench and then from offices in Havelock North. Solid networking within the Hawke’s Bay business community and delivering on “where the money is” for clients, was key to their success.

George describes herself as “a general dog’s body” but in real terms that means business development, sales, project management, account management and “anything else that needs to be done”. And the social life? “What, you mean when we’re not at work in the weekends? We love going to the beach in the summer or getting the scooters and bikes out. We love the wineries and the food but mostly the weekends are family time.”

George says the local market is now being stimulated by what she describes as a real “brains trust” of technology and computing people. “Rod Drury is helping by pushing that message. We need to attract more people like him so we can build businesses that don’t rely on the land and weather and can help Hawke’s Bay grow.” Keith Newman.

From the oil fields to solar power – Campbell Simmonds, Electrical Contractor

CAMPBELL SIMMONDS – Electrical Contractor

Life started out routine enough for Campbell Simmonds on his parents’ pear orchard in Twyford, 40 years ago. He went to Twyford School and Hastings Boys’, then completed an apprenticeship as an electrician and worked with Talbot Electrical. His path seemed set. Then in 1995 he followed some friends to London, and in the classic Kiwi roundabout way, started in Rome.

Campbell’s path led to Nectar Shipping in London, a firm that provided operating services to oil drilling companies, where he specialised in keeping the oil rigs and pumps powered and running. London became a mere ‘rest and relaxation’ base, between assignments abroad to locations including Mozambique, Vietnam and the North Sea. After a while, he jumped to Halliburton, the oil services company made famous by former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Halliburton sent Campbell to some tough locations – Algeria, Gabon, the (then) Congo and Angola. High pay. High performance. And not a little risk.

He settled into a ‘routine’ lifestyle; 28 days working on location, 28 days ‘off’ (but paid) in a location of his choosing. Most of that off-time was spent in London or South Africa. But love caught up with Campbell. He met Adele, a nurse, now his wife, in London. Their first daughter Eleanor followed, and the family started looking toward New Zealand. “London is great when you’re young, but who would want to raise young kids there?” asks Campbell.
Plus his adventures as an oilman were “hard on the liver” and there was the opportunity to own real land.

With excellent oil biz pay, he had saved money and bought properties in Hawke’s Bay over the Internet; a house in Napier and a sizable lifestyle block out along the Tukituki. “I always planned to come back … I knew the area because my father used to take me fly-fishing out there.” So, in 2002 the family returned to Napier, where second daughter Olivia was born. The only risk in returning was “how my spouse would like it”. From a business perspective, he didn’t see any risk at all. He had solid skills and experience, and as he views it, “things are always going to go ahead in Hawke’s Bay”.

After a brief stint again at Talbot’s, Campbell struck out on his own as an electrical contractor and now has two employees. Much of his work comes through up-market builder Andy Coltart, and the rest from word-of-mouth referrals. Working almost exclusively on upper-end projects gives Campbell the opportunity to do things first-class, and occasionally to indulge his strong interest in solar power. The family now lives in a completely off-the-grid home Campbell built from the ground up on their Tukituki property. It’s powered totally by solar panels, with a bit of support from a windmill. However, he hasn’t ruled out running a power line to the closest grid connection. “I might want to sell them a bit of electricity some day.” A true entrepreneur. Tom Belford.

Lifestyle and family win the day – Fiona Conroy, General Manager, Conroy Removals

FIONA CONROY – General Manager, Conroy Removals

Coming back to Hawke’s Bay after 12 years away was an easy decision for Fiona Conroy. She and her husband, Joe Koenigsberger, were planning to move to Melbourne when her father, David Conroy the CEO of Conroy Removals, made her an offer too good to refuse. They had been in Wellington for some years and were looking for a lifestyle and career move. They could see the benefits in being involved with family, affordable housing, and working in a secure job in their preferred region, Hawke’s Bay.

The confidence to make the move back into the family business was grounded in the smooth relationships within the Conroy family –after all not everyone can work successfully with family members. Fiona finds satisfaction in her role as general manager at Conroys, describing it as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ job, responsible for recruitment, employment agreements, and sales and marketing. She says it’s rather like ‘an apprenticeship’ as she works her way through the challenges, with her dad as mentor.

The company was established 40 years ago by David Conroy, who as a young man had a great love of trucks, but now, reckons Fiona, is a workaholic who loves his business and will never retire. They employ 170 staff in New Zealand and Australia, with the international removals side of the business being managed by her uncle, Gary Conroy.

Joe Koenigsberger successfully runs his own business, Pacific Powder Coatings in Napier and they have two small girls, Ava aged three and Millie 18 months. Her duties at work haven’t changed with the arrival of children thanks to Marie, the children’s devoted and trusted grandmother and caregiver. On Marie’s one day a week off, Fiona is able to handle work issues on a home-linked computer.

They don’t really miss their life in Wellington, having become fully established in Napier, but do enjoy visiting Joe’s family and friends who live there. What they appreciate in Hawke’s Bay is being so being closely involved with family, the ease of getting around and of course, the climate, all of which motivated them to return. Fiona recognises that in her case, returning to the Bay was a happy and natural thing to do and acknowledges that enticing other bright Hawke’s Bay ex-pats home is dependant on work being available.

She points out however, that Joe’s experience demonstrates that entrepreneurial opportunities do exist for those prepared to take the risk. For those who yearn to return to their home territory to live and work, digital technology allows many business owners the freedom to operate at a distance from their customers, even where they are elsewhere in the world. Living in Hawke’s Bay and working in or commuting to Auckland or Wellington is quite common for many people. Being in Onekawa and close to the airport, Fiona finds that travel for work reasons is easy and pleasant. Kay Bazzard.

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