Judging by our - albeit partial - chatty journey through the food and beverage market, there seems to be a new wave of young, foreign ‘brains’ making their mark at the highest levels of New Zealand business. Canadian-born Chris Goad, NZ country manager for SC Johnson, fits the profile.
We met him on a sun-drenched summer morning at SC Johnson’s headquarters, which boast a sizeable deck with panoramic views on Auckland CBD’s high-rises. Inside, the office was silent. Most employees, he explained, were out in the field.
“My proudest day is when I come in and I don’t see anybody here,” Goad said, smiling. “If you want to get your products onto shelves, you have to deal with Countdown and 200 people at Foodstuffs. It’s not two, it’s 200, and your team must appreciate that face-to-face relationship. The return investment that you make from getting out of your office is second to none.”
But let’s go back to the year 2000. A talented young golf player, Goad received a four-year athletic scholarship to attend university in South Carolina, USA, where he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Marketing. By then, Red Bull was ready to hit the Canadian market and Goad became their first employee. Within a year, the branch grew from five workers to about a hundred and, in seven years’ time, Goad went through seven or eight promotions, taking on responsibility for sales in the 13-million-people Ontario market.
In 2010, Goad moved to NZ and joined Colgate, where he later spent five years managing Foodstuffs and Progressive.
Despite some similarities between New Zealand and his birthland, the decision to pursue a career an ocean away from home hasn’t always been a soft landing. He found a deeply ingrained culture, where people were likely to get hired based on who they knew rather than their experience.
“Field team is a critical topic in New Zealand, and new ideas can be rejected because they conflict with how things have always been done. It’s a problem of trust, and people who come from outside, even from Australia, get that.”
In 2015 Goad joined Fonterra, where he soon became the general manager for Grocery, leading a 240-staff representing the largest FMCG supplier in NZ. When SC Johnson began looking for a country manager who knew New Zealand and its grocery landscape, the company turned to him.
“At Fonterra, the culture was bigger than anyone else, and SC Johnson feels that way. To be able to sell outstanding, multinational brands while also leaving your own footprint on the business is just amazing.”
The key to being successful in New Zealand, he added, is having a NZ-specific strategy, which also means investing in local offices and resources. “Over the years, many companies have struggled to understand this and took their resources out of the country.”
He feels NZ grocery is in good hands right now, with competent people at the top and several store owners who take pride in their businesses. Plus, local suppliers are fostering innovation by bringing in younger talent. “They make very clear that New Zealand is not just a two-year training ground, and that’s a massive difference from ten years ago.”
As for his 18-strong sales team, Goad wants to help them up the career ladder. “My aim for them is to have my job one day, rather than being sales manager forever. It would be my 'number one legacy' for the future of this organisation,” he said. “That’s why I would never advertise for a senior role. If they don’t get that role, it means we’re not hiring the right people.”