Mountford Media, $30.00,
Random House, $40.00,
Boundless and ecoman chronicle the journeys of two of New Zealand’s most colourful and successful entrepreneurs, Greg Hopkinson (founder of pet store Animates) and Malcolm Rands (founder of sustainable products wholesaler ecostore). These two memoirs, while fascinating in their own right, should be of particular interest to budding entrepreneurs, whether of the more traditional commercial variety, or their more recent incarnation, social entrepreneurs. Each author describes his unique business journey, but common to both is how inextricably tied those narratives are to their personal journeys.
Boundless is Greg Hopkinson’s unstoppable, full-on, rip-roaring adventure story, beginning with the author stuck in an avalanche. However, Boundless is also a compelling tale that will resonate with anyone who has wrestled with that judgmental little voice in the head that constantly undermines self-confidence.
A book of two halves, in Part I of his memoir, Hopkinson explains how he pursued and eventually won a fortune, but failed to find happiness or peace. From a childhood full of great times with best mates on the West Coast, through a challenging family environment, Hopkinson eventually received his engineering degree from the University of Canterbury. He next tried his luck at gold mining, with limited success. A call out of the blue soon had him diving head-first into Russia as the Soviet Union was collapsing in the early 1990s, rapidly transitioning to the wild west of raw, unregulated capitalism. Hopkinson spent several years travelling across Russia to sell and install New Zealand’s meat processing technology, many of his business meetings conducted in a vodka-induced haze.
Boundless doesn’t hold back, and what ensues is a real-life thriller. Hopkinson unflinchingly describes his misadventures with beautiful Russian women, smoking joints, taking Ecstasy, smuggling US dollars, chronic insomnia, infidelity, prostitutes, masturbation, sexual performance anxiety, and a failed marriage. Along the way, he must contend with envious locals trying to undermine his every move, while consuming enough vodka and caviar to bribe the entire Kremlin. Despite it all, Hopkinson gets the job done and makes a lot of money. Part I of Boundless is nothing short of the ultimate adventure story for grown-ups.
After Russia, Hopkinson returned to New Zealand to start what became Animates, the very successful chain of pet stores. Despite his business success, Hopkinson describes his chronic unhappiness, a yearning for peace and love that continually evades him. When he joins an introductory class in meditation, that one hour becomes the major turning point in his life.
In Part II, Hopkinson describes his awakening and steady adoption of a whole new lifestyle that helps him control the demons in his head. He rejects his self-destructive ways to become a monk and teacher, helping others to achieve the peace and happiness he says he now finally enjoys.
Hopkinson’s style of writing is more fluid and relaxed in Part II and a calm infuses his words, replacing the rollicking style of Part I. He is a natural storyteller who makes good use of dialogue, putting the reader right into the story.
Malcolm Rands’s memoir, ecoman, is the story of both the man and his creation, ecostore, New Zealand’s iconic sustainable products manufacturer and retailer. Rands takes the reader on his journey from growing up in Wellington, via co-founding an eco-village in Northland in 1986, to the founding of ecostore with his wife, Melanie, in 1993.
As CEO of the climate change website www.celsias.com, I had the opportunity to meet Rands in 2007, at his ecostore in Freemans Bay, Auckland. We had a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation, from Mamaki the eco-village to US/NZ relations and, of course, to ecostore. He came across as a high-energy, but not egocentric, entrepreneur, who had a clear dream in mind and was determined to achieve it. Rands wanted ecostore to be about more than just financial profits, and he co-founded the company with a higher purpose, even beyond the obvious eco-friendly products he sold. He wanted ecostore to be profitable so it could comfortably fund a non-profit foundation dedicated to helping other social entrepreneurs kick-start their own projects.
In that same spirit, ecoman serves as an entrepreneur’s How To manual. Candid about what he believes were mistakes, Rands describes how he trusted, but did not verify, the ingredients in some of his vendors’ products, how he tried to pull ecostore into exporting too early, and how he should not have replaced himself with a hired-gun CEO. That said, ecostore’s success is in large part attributable to the founder’s willingness to admit to a few poor decisions, but not dwell on them, and instead to take on board the consequent lessons. Rands has achieved his dream, and has shown the investment and business community that it is possible, even advisable, to create companies that do well financially while also doing good for humanity.
Hopkinson and Rands are two entrepreneurs who confirm that New Zealand is a great country for creating, nurturing and growing companies that can make a difference in the world. They have also shown us that putting a more human, and humane, face on business is good business. But Boundless and ecoman are much more than business books, they are also fundamentally good stories.
Nick Lewis is the co-founder of Woodward Partners, an investment banking, equity research, and securities trading firm.