This months speaker at our young professionals gathering was entrepreneurial Seaworks owner Bill Day. The ins and outs of the Seaworks business aren’t important in this context, and we’d both probably finding them uninteresting unless you’re a fan of marine exploration and using boats to get big projects done.
Bill is extremely personable, intelligent, and rich without being at all cocky, he seems like a dream boss, and the ideal mentor to entrepreneurs. Bill’s talk was full of anecdotes about getting started in the business and scoring big jobs. The explanation on how he got started with diving was that there was this woman, who really loved diving. And that’s about all he had to say to get us engaged and laughing.
Bill went on to liken new businesses to babies shitting on the carpet. It’s hard to enjoy them at that age even though everyone warns you that they’re the best years. He talked about being able to grow his business and create new methods purely because they had no idea what they were doing. They weren’t aware that some pieces of equipment should work in a certain way, they just knew enough to test new things. And the new ideas usually worked, worked better, and worked for a lot less money.
Being a Kiwi certainly seems to help when doing business. Most of the world loves us for our hard working, number 8 wire enthusiasm and the ability to adapt to other cultures. Doing a big business deal with Saudis can be nerve wracking, lots of foreign customs to remember, but if you remember they’re humans just like anyone else (and you’re a male) it might be easier. The night before a project was to be awarded Bill was having dinner with the clients, trying to schmooze remembering to reach with the correct hand, and then he’s passed a plate of sheep testicles as a test. Without missing a beat he grabs one and takes a bite. And then he says…this is great, it’s the first time I’ve been able to get one of these in my mouth without fear of being kicked in the head. It was followed by uproarious laughter and a night full of sheep jokes along with confidence he’d sealed the deal. The next day he wore a tie with sheep on it to the meeting and needless to say Seaworks got the job.
Another time they were trying to get a job for a guy who just doesn’t read proposals. He knew everything would be great and they’d get hired if they could get the guy to read it but they didn’t know how. Bill decided to buy a brand new Louis Vuitton briefcase for the meeting. He put the proposal inside and then put superglue in the locks. At the meeting he tried to open the briefcase in vain, he frantically wriggled and poked at it before asking if there was something to pry it open with. Nothing was getting it open so they decided to take to it with scissors. Both guys got involved at ripping this expensive briefcase to pieces in order to get the proposal out. And he couldn’t very well not read it after all that effort. Of course, he got the job.
Kiwis have a reputation for DIY and ingenuity. Number 8 wire has become a symbol of our “culture” and the ability to take bits and pieces and use them to get the job done. Last year when a helicopter crashed in Lake Wanaka Bill was there on holiday and able to give a hand to police divers trying to rescue the helicopter and body of the pilot. When the dive squad realised their equipment wasn’t going to be able to do the job, because there was no arm on the robot, Bill told them to just use a ski pole, rope, carabina and rubber bands and it worked.
Other funny stories include the time Bill sent and ex navy diver called Raro to be Tom Hanks’ bodyguard on while filming castaway. Raro was later found teaching Tom to do donuts in the golf carts. And the time they dropped a boat 12 times while trying to pull it out of the water. And the other time they had a boat with divided mess rooms for officers and crew and he walked into one of them with a chainsaw in the middle of lunch and cut it down.
After the talk he stuck around to answer more questions and drink beer. Bill runs his business like a family, everyone is equal and he lets the managers get with their jobs. He’s a typical Kiwi bloke who through hard work is now rich enough to buy helicopters for fun.