Chasing his dream pays off for entrepreneur

Chasing his dream pays off for entrepreneur


By SHARON MARRIS – Taranaki Daily News
Friday, 23 November 2007

Wednesday night in Wellington was a big one for Peter White-Robinson.

 

MARK DWYER

Prize-winning
entrepreneur Peter White-Robinson, owner of Fitzroy Engineering and
Fitzroy Yachts, at home with sons Finn (7) (left) and Cole (6).

 

The 59-year-old owner of Fitzroy Engineering and Fitzroy Yachts was
named NZ Engineering Entrepreneur of the Year. He’s still recovering,
he says with a laugh.

Mr White-Robinson’s businesses employ about 600 people with a
turnover of $90 million – not bad for someone who admits his first
attempt at an engineering qualification met with less than stellar
success.

"When I was a child I wanted most of all to go to sea as a sailor or
in the merchant navy," he says. "I liked technical things and I liked
seeing how things worked."

He walked away from an engineering degree after only a year but
still dreamed of big boats and endless oceans so he tried an
engineering certificate at polytechnic where he topped his class.

"I like numbers," he says when asked what skills made him a
successful entrepreneur. "I do the sudokus every day." Unlike many
other readers, however, having the puzzles on page two does not bother
him. By the time he gets home to pick up the newspaper the day’s news
is getting a bit old so there is no competition.

Mr White-Robinson is responsible for creating VT Fitzroy, which in
2004 signed a contract with the Royal New Zealand Navy to manage the
dockyard at Devonport’s naval base. He is also a director of the New
Zealand Clean Energy Centre and judge of the world’s superyacht contest
held annually at Fort Lauderdale, among many other business interests.
With all of these things it is not surprising that questions about what
he does with his free time gets little more than a laugh.

Mr White-Robinson says the most common mistake made by would-be
entrepreneurs is not doing the research and making a good business case.

"That’s probably one of my weaknesses too," he says. "Sometimes you
just need to step back, but you could also lose the opportunity then.

"I know some people who will analyse a thing to death and never get on and do it."

A successful entrepreneur has to be able to take a risk, Mr
White-Robinson says. Early in the 1990s, he did this when he bought out
the first part of the Fitzroy company.

"I signed up to buy it uncond-itionally for quite a large amount of
money," he says. "I only had thousands in the bank and six weeks before
I would be held accountable."

Thanks to a supportive bank manager, he came through on the day before settlement.

The risks haven’t always paid off, however. A digital imaging company, started before scanners became the norm, failed.

"You just have to keep having dreams and keep thinking of ways to make them come true," he said.

In 1997 he launched Fitzroy Yachts, a dream that has resulted in a
brisk business producing superyachts up to 50m long, many for overseas
buyers.

"Both companies have great futures and I’m really excited about boat building," he says.

"We’ve had lots of inquiries and we’re always very, very busy."

Much publicised skills shortages in engineering and other hands-on
sectors are yet another obstacle that Mr White-Robinson says has to be
worked through. He estimates that, with a full complement of staff,
about $50 million could be added to the company’s turnover.

"There are so many good people going to Australia and I understand
why they are going because there’s good money to be had," he said.

"It certainly limits our growth."

As for the future, Mr White-Robinson looks forward to stepping back
from his heavy involvement in the day-to-day business operations,
allowing him to spend more time with his two sons Finn (7) and Cole
(6), who he describes as "my new family".

"I see myself as being around for a while yet," Mr White-Robinson said.

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