TAKING THE WORLD ON
Craigs Investment Partners
We caught up with Helen Robinson – Winner of the Business & Innovation Category, sponsored by Craigs – NEXT Magazine Woman of the Year (WOTY) Awards 2019.
There isn’t a lot that could hold Helen Robinson back – in fact, during a call from Los Angeles, where she’s now based, she admits she’d like to ‘go faster!’
Entrepreneur, innovator, and environmentalist, Helen led tech companies in Australia and New Zealand before taking on a project that opened her eyes – setting up the TZ1 Registry on behalf of NZX, to facilitate transparent environmental commodities markets across the world and lead change for future generations.
Now, she’s taken her latest venture – Organic Initiative (Oi), which manufactures and markets plastic-free feminine hygiene products – from Kiwi start-up to thousands of stores across the US. And she’s still not changing the world as quickly as she’d like to. We caught up with the NEXT Magazine Woman of the Year Business & Innovation category winner, sponsored by Craigs.
‘Doing good at scale’ is your personal mission. Was ‘doing good’ a value instilled in you as a child?
Probably. I grew up in a strict Catholic family - one of six children. I’ve always been an organiser and someone who wanted to help. I remember setting up a roster for the care of a little boy who had spina bifida and needed others to exercise his arms and legs twice a day. I also organised for a group to go down to a local retirement complex and sing on a Sunday. So yes, there’s always been an element of that.
I think one of the things missing in both schools and families is good financial and investment advice. I wasn’t taught about it growing up and it’s something I’ve had to learn over the years.
How did your upbringing translate to business?
As children, we knew the value of working to earn your way. While we were clothed and fed, there were no extras. So I worked at Foodtown from the age of 14. Dad was an executive at 3M and I have many memories of American executives coming to the home for dinner or a cocktail party. So we were encouraged to talk and learn and listen from a young age. In terms of doing good in business, I think it takes time to figure that out – to understand what our impact is and how we rightly fit in.
You’ve had such a varied career so far. What’s been a highlight?
One? We could spend a day on this! Working and setting up the TZ1 registry was pretty inspiring. I loved being able to enable a market that, until then, didn’t really exist. It meant that I was able to tour villages in Africa and South America and see the impact that the investment in sustainable projects was having. To see a piece of tech-based infrastructure in practice was both amazing and humbling.
What’s been your journey with investment?
I think one of the things missing in both schools and families is good financial and investment advice. I wasn’t taught about it growing up and it’s something I’ve had to learn over the years – where to invest both my money and my time. I believe they have equal value. It’s important to understand how your financial investment is providing the biggest return, but also how happy you are investing your time for the best return. On a personal note, I’m pretty invested in Oi – heart and soul, from both a financial and time perspective.
What’s next for Oi?
Our mission is to take plastic out of hygiene products. We hear a lot about no plastic in supermarkets, and no plastic straws. What about no plastic in our body as well? We launched in New Zealand in 2015, then pretty much doubled our company, launching in the States in 2018 into Walmart and CVS pharmacy stores. But if we want to be true to our mission we need to go global. The biggest challenge in business is going fast enough – although my board would be horrified at me saying that! We’re four years in now and arguably we’ve done pretty well, but I’d like to be in more markets, and I’d like to be in them now.
What advice would you offer to those who are considering investment?
I love that there is a growing awareness of the importance of where people are investing and what companies have an underlying mission of taking great social responsibility. It’s an exciting and significant shift. Advice? Go in eyes wide open. Determine if you have an appetite for risk, perhaps starting with a balanced portfolio at the beginning – some that you’re prepared to lose, some that are safe-keeping. We certainly need more people in this country to choose investment over putting money in the bank. But go in with the right attitude, the right expectations and good diligence. Work with people that you trust.