They’re off … to their big-smoke jobs or their big OE or to O-week. And we’re left at the departure gates mourning their loss. Perhaps instead we should be cheering as our bright young things fly off into the big wide world, taking their talents and enthusiasm with them. Are they our best export? And aren’t they simply following in their parents’ footsteps?
Louis, Bruno & Mason Chambers
One of our brightest sparks is a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Louis Chambers at 24 is already accomplished, but eagerly awaits his next step. He’s been snapped up by McKinsey and Company and is waiting to hear if he’ll be based in London, Dallas or Toronto.
He was 2007 dux and head boy of Havelock North High School. He holds a BA/LLB (Hons) from Otago and a masters from Balliol College. He speaks French, plays the piano and is the captain of Balliol’s rowing team. He’s a sixth generation Hawke’s Bay boy.
Louis was here last summer, recharging after a challenging year at Oxford. It may be some time before he comes back again, certainly to live, but he says Hawke’s Bay will always be home.
“Hawke’s Bay still has a role to play in my life when I’m over here. It’s not like I’ve discarded it. I have an ongoing relationship with the place and the people. Even when I’m not physically in Hawke’s Bay the emotional ties run incredibly deep,” he says.
Perhaps leaving, learning, growing then coming back is part of the way we raise our children in the Bay. Speaking with Louis’ father Bruno and his grandfather Mason a family theme emerges.
Mason Chambers thinks it’s natural for young people to travel.
“It broadens their mind, it lets them see other people’s points of view. They come back better than they went,” he says.
For Bruno travel sits alongside education as a vital factor in raising children to be contributing adults. “It continues to enhance the investment we’ve made in our young people. The jobs that offer experiences to develop oneself and one’s career aren’t available in New Zealand. It’s a good thing, especially if that investment returns,” he says.
Louis is stepping into his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps in his journeying. The lessons learnt may be similar but the circumstance is very different. Where Louis is already joining the professional world, Bruno was exploring as a bohemian gadabout, and 30 years earlier Mason was travelling as a 19-year-old soldier at the tail end of World War II.
In the 1970s Bruno travelled through Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Asia in his early twenties.
“I took the less travelled routes and sometimes went several weeks without seeing another whitey. I would have liked to keep travelling but the money ran out and there was an expectation hovering above me to come home and run the farm.”
Louis knows the pressure to ‘come home’ was more intense for his father than it is for him, but he still entertains the thought of making Hawke’s Bay his forever-home.
“I’ll always be a Hawke’s Bay child where ever I am,” Louis says. “ I would in a heart-beat want to raise my family in a place like Hawke’s Bay. In a rather frantic and crazy world we are able to look after the simple things in life.”
“Turangawaewae,” says Bruno. “A sense of home, that’s what I’ve always tried to give the kids … Being here was a good grounding experience and Louis had a well balanced upbringing. He experienced the outdoors, the farm, the river.”
Louis shares his father’s belief that Hawke’s Bay’s environment adds much to young people’s lives, but he knows it’s important to offset that with experiences elsewhere. Rather than being a good choice for young people, leaving town may be the very best choice.
“Some people are quite happy to be in Hawke’s Bay, but a lot of people in their 20s who are still there don’t see it as an entirely good thing. It’s a great place to be until 18, it’s not great to be there in your 20s,” says Louis.
While young Hawke’s Bay people get a lot from their overseas experience, the world benefits from what they bring as well.
“There’s something quite useful that people from the smaller, more humble backgrounds can bring,” Louis explains. “We have a different way of thinking about problems, we simplify things and see ways through the challenges we encounter.”
Anna & Jane Pierard
Anna Pierard is on the other end of the overseas experience. She left New Zealand in her late teens to work and travel as a professional opera singer, made her mark overseas, then, with her Spanish husband and children, returned here to live. She now works with young people, training them in opera but also giving them a stepping stone into a career and life outside of the Bay.
“What I learnt from being away is there’s not a lot out there that I need to be scared of,” says Anna. “Actually the world is very small. There’s nothing to be afraid of. If we’re not afraid then we’re secure.”
Anna’s mother Jane has watched all five of her children leave Hawke’s Bay, grow their experiences, their careers, their families, then come home.
“Let them go!” she says “They’ll think of this place, they’ll come back. I never think of it as a brain drain. I don’t think of it as a great loss. So many of them end up back here.”
Jane has taught for nearly twenty years at Taradale High School and in the job has watched multitudes of young people leave the Bay. Part of her role as a teacher is preparing them for the big wide world.
“I demand a high standard of manners from them, and I’m not very much into praise,” she says. “For me fear is the big barrier, once you’re scared the mind scrambles. I want kids to be free, happy, busy, working hard.”
Anna works with small groups of talented singers to grow them into professional opera singers.
“To see these kids taking selfies with the leads, recognising that it’s totally acceptable to be by their side, that contact with the outside world and with role models, that’s how we influence them,” she says.
Anna’s own experience of being in the Bay then working overseas has, like Louis Chambers, been supported by strong foundations and a sense of place. Coming home to the Bay was a choice, not an expectation.
“I liken my appreciation of Hawke’s Bay to the way I love my husband. You can find other people, other cultures, other ideas attractive, but you’ll always need that comfort of home.”
Sophie & Craig Foss
At the beginning of their journey out into the world are young people finishing school this year, looking forward to their next steps to bigger cities, university, or overseas. One is Woodford House Head Girl Sophie Foss. When she finishes school at the end of this year she plans to study at Victoria University in Wellington.
“It’s not that I want to get out,” she says. “It’s not that I want to run far away. Going to varsity is about experiencing another place, living somewhere else. I definitely want to travel, but I definitely want to come back too.”
There is a common theme among her friends that leaving is inevitable, but so too is coming home. “We all talk about that, most of my friends say they’ll come back.”
Sophie’s father is local MP Craig Foss, who is both personally invested and professionally interested in the perceived Hawke’s Bay brain drain.
His observation is that the world gets as much from our young people, as our young people get from experiencing the world.
“It is true: You never appreciate what you’ve got until you leave. To understand the true value of New Zealand it’s helpful to go afar!” he says.
“Kiwis are doing well all over the world, in really competitive areas. We’re lateral thinkers, problem solvers, we quit the drama and get on with it,” says Craig, who left at 30 and lived in London, Tokyo and Sydney before deciding not to return to his home town, choosing instead Hawke’s Bay in which to settle and raise his family.
“By leaving you discover who you are, you have to rely on your own tool kit, not the safety net of where you live,” he says.
Even at 17 Sophie knows her years growing up in Hawke’s Bay have given her a strong bedrock on which to build her life, no matter how far away from home it takes her.
“It’s nurturing here. You can have strong foundations and strong relationships from really young,” she says. “I want to be independent and broaden my horizons, but we’re lucky to have grown up here.”
Craig has mixed emotions about his own children leaving the Bay, but his view on the brain drain is pragmatic. “Should we thrash ourselves because most year 13s are leaving? How would we change that? We can’t,” he says. “We have faith that they’ll come back. Is their heart leaving? No.”
It becomes more poignant when he considers Sophie saying goodbye to the Bay next year, although he is as sure as she is that she’ll return.
“It’s that invisible bit of elastic that holds her here wherever she is,” he explains. “As a Dad I don’t want her to go, but as someone who wants to see her become all she can be, absolutely.”
The Little Chihuahua is a series of Mexican restaurants in San Francisco owned by Hawke’s Bay ex pat Andrew Johnstone. We made contact on the night he was catering for 100 Kiwis at a black-tie Waitangi Day dinner.
It’s full circle for Andrew who left Hastings in 1990 straight out of high school. There’s little nostalgia for him.
“I totally believe getting out of Hawke’s Bay and NZ has made me who I am,” he says. He’s lived in America since 1999, after working for two years in Chile, meeting his wife, becoming fluent in Spanish. “The US in particular is all about business and growth. Some may not like that, but from a business side it is amazingly supportive.”
But it’s not just the business world that has supported Andrew’s ambitions, it’s the people and the general attitudes too. “People are very supportive and not afraid to show that; something that is really lacking in New Zealand. Tall poppy syndrome comes to mind.”
Andrew believes that encouraging young people to seek their fortune overseas is essential to growing them as people, although he admits it’s not for everyone.
“We should definitely send the ones away that want to go, with pride and let them shine,” he says. “There are the ones who are content to stay and live a chill Kiwi life, which I do miss sometimes, and the ones that just need to do go.”
Andrew has always been open to opportunities. Since childhood he wanted to be a chef and at 18 headed to Auckland to work and train. In 1997 he was poached by a New Zealand businesswoman setting up a New Zealand cafe in Chile. In that role he began to learn business and management skills.
“This was my first look at the business side and I was really intrigued. I helped with design, concept and 100% of the operations. We built a very successful business which has now grown into one of the top cafe concepts in Santiago.”
From Santiago Andrew took roles as a corporate chef in an up-and-coming restaurant chain and culinary director of a Mexican restaurant chain with 152 outlets.
“I had fallen in love with Mexican food years earlier and had taught myself all about it,” he explains. “I ran the entire kitchen programme nationwide and spent many, many days flying around the country helping to revitalize their brand.”
As his family grew to include two children Andrew took the big step of opening his own operation.
“My wife and I came up with the concept of healthy fresh Mexican food using sustainable ingredients and made to order. We found an old restaurant for sale, bought it, did all the renovations ourselves and opened in 2007. The Little Chihuahua was born,” he says. There are now three restaurants that serve up to 1700 covers a day.
He does come home to Hawke’s Bay every other year and, although he says he’d like to, he can’t imagine settling here.
“Unfortunately New Zealand is still a very tough limited market and it doesn’t seem like the structure is there to really support young entrepreneurs. This makes it hard to leave such a supportive space here,” he says.
Rowan Fraser works for the United Nations in Bangkok. He’s a consultant on urban development projects across Asia and the Pacific.
Born and raised in Hawke’s Bay, in 2000 Rowan was head boy of Havelock North High School. In his late teens/early twenties he left New Zealand for good, twice. First in 2005 when he travelled to London and Paris and “forgot about New Zealand.” Then again for study and work opportunities in 2010. Between times he completed an architecture degree in Auckland, then, with a taste for study, went on to masters degrees in architecture, French literature and finally urban policy at a university in Paris. Rowan moved to Bangkok and the UN in 2012.
Amidst all the travel, study and impressive work opportunities, the things Rowan is most proud of come from within, and some of that he puts down to his upbringing in Hawke’s Bay; a “good wholesome family-oriented launch pad”, he calls it.
“One of my greatest strengths is my focus, and I feel like I owe that to Hawke’s Bay,” Rowan says, although he’s nervous to enter a debate over nature versus nurture. “Perhaps the white crystalline sunlight and the brilliant transparency of the skies breeds a certain capacity for clarity and focus in people who grow up in the Bay.”
Rowan’s work takes him all over the Asia-Pacific region, but he comes back to the Bay regularly. “Every time I come back, I feel how much Hawke’s Bay is home. Even if I spend the rest of my life outside of the Bay, it will always be home in a very deep psychological way.”
What keeps him away is his work, but he can imagine a time when he will be able to balance work and being here.
“I would love to spend three months in the Bay per year, and then the remaining nine in some large city.” If the right project came up Rowan would come home, but he thinks it unlikely that he’ll ever return to live “solely and exclusively in Hawke’s Bay”.
On Hawke’s Bay’s presumed ‘brain drain’ Rowan is considered. He’s not convinced that it is a true export of brains and skills, but instead a difference between raw and honed talent.
“Hawke’s Bay produces raw talent, and the facilities available in the Bay can begin to hone that raw talent. But for the real honing, you need the universities in the major cities around NZ and globally,” he explains. “You need work places where quality experience can be gathered and where talent is pushed, stimulated, challenged and recognised.”
Rowan wonders if perhaps the secret ingredient in Hawke’s Bay is a concentrated dose of a quintessentially Kiwi characteristic: a can-do attitude.
“The ‘can do’ attitude is pretty strong in the Bay. There’s a great culture of getting stuck in, of making the best of things,” he says. “At the same time, I think the beach and winery culture brings a kind of hedonism into the mix, a somewhat bucolic bacchanalian undertone, which adds a lot to our capacity to enjoy life. Maybe it’s the combination of ‘can do’ and ‘fun times’ that is of value as a unique characteristic of Hawke’s Bay folk.”
Hayden Judd lives the dream. Well, his dream at least: he thought it up, he made it happen, and now he’s taking the lead role.
At 17 he skipped out of Taradale High School, worked for a few years then headed to Auckland at 21. A year later he was on a plane to elsewhere. He ended up in America; started to build the strong networks that later in the journey would form the basis of his bread and butter.
“I did a lot of travelling, like most of us do at that age, then I decided it was time to get a real job,” he says.
The ‘real job’ was with a financial magazine in London. “It was the most boring, mundane thing you can ever imagine. I decided that if I was in London to build a career I had to work at something I felt passionate about”.
He went hunting for passion and for a company that shared his vision of creativity and entrepreneurship working in harmony. That’s when he found Richard Williamson and eDv, now McKay Williamson, who make films for families. Connecting with Williamson meant meeting a mentor and then, a few years later, a business partner.
Finding where he fitted, in business and creatively, Hayden adapted quickly. He worked hard, did his time, progressed swiftly, broke some records, then took a big step. He wrote a business plan for his boss proposing opening a studio in New Zealand. “He said it was one of the best business plans he’d read, but he wanted a studio in NY not NZ.” Hayden rewrote the plan and found himself heading up a studio in New York City. That was six years ago and Hayden still runs the New York operation, but now from a base in Auckland.
Judd comes from creative roots. His mother’s a fashion designer, his father an architect.
“My father told me, if you want to survive at something be smart enough to be stupid enough to do exactly as you’re told. It’s advice that’s seen me through.”
Last year McKay Williamson did 300 commissions for clients. There are 32 staff and 30 regular freelancers, including film makers, writers, artists, animators, photographers and producers.
Hayden’s happy to talk metrics and measurements of success, he can rattle off figures and knows how his business is tracking but is more proud that the studio produces work that is fulfilling.
“We do have to get over that tall poppy thing,” he says.
Hayden attributes a lot of his success and his attitude to the way he was raised. “You notice these things as a child – the way your parents operate – but it holds no relevance. It’s only as an adult that you reflect back and weave that into your life goals, your ethics, your ways of working.”
Hayden doesn’t see young people leaving the safety of their nest as a bad thing; in fact it’s essential.
“That ‘brain drain’ phrase is really changing now,” he says. “Whether people have to go off overseas or not, they always come back. We just learn a lot more, experience life and then we can contribute to our community.”
There is an excellent Independent article on what McKay Williamson does, although it is ten years old and predates Hayden’s time for the company. It can be found online at http://ind.pn/197cm2e