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Professor Brendan Gray is retiring but not giving up on entrepreneurs

Thursday 26 May 2016 9:20am

Brendan Gray image
Moving on . . .University of Otago Business School Professor Brendan Gray.

Helping up-and-coming entrepreneurs along their journey has been as rewarding for retiring Professor Brendan Gray as it has been helpful for the students who have turned their business ideas into commercial success.

Professor Gray has retired after 26 years at the University of Otago Business School, teaching entrepreneurship, international marketing, marketing management and public relations.

He was the inaugural Dunedin City Chair of Entrepreneurship in 2007, a position set up as part of the University’s Leading Thinkers programme to harness entrepreneurial skills for the benefit of Otago.

Professor Gray says he particularly enjoyed developing the Centre for Entrepreneurship, helping to build a nurturing environment that met both the needs of the younger students seeking a broad range of knowledge, and the more mature students who turned to study for the skills necessary to back up their experience.

"It’s very satisfying to see the stepping stones we set up for our students used for such a diverse range of ideas."

“It’s very satisfying to see the stepping stones we set up for our students used for such a diverse range of ideas. It’s hard to single them out, but it has been exciting to watch Medikidz providing medical information to children in hospital, to global internet gaming phenomenon Runaway Play, to the very successful crowd funder PledgeMe, and for the events company Highly Flammable, to mention just a few.”

What’s also been very successful is the alumni community created from supportive graduates, who give freely of their time to guest lecture, mentor or advise new students at Otago.

Professor Gray’s public relations and communications skills were a strong reflection of his previous broadcasting and public relations profession, working in television, as Radio New Zealand news editor in Dunedin, and as a public relations consultant.

His connection with the University started with studying for a Master of Business Administration, initially to develop management skills for his broadcasting career, then widened to researching marketing strategy, then teaching it.

He and colleague Shelagh Matear developed the Marketing Performance Centre, attracting a $1 million investment in 1998 from the Government’s Public Good Science Fund to identify sources of competitive advantage for New Zealand service enterprises, initially focusing on professional service firms.

A diagnostic computer program he helped develop at that time for businesses to assess their competitiveness in the marketplace was widely used throughout New Zealand in the early 2000’s.

"the main aim has always been to provide people with research they can use."

Professor Gray has seen marketing and public relations change hugely in the last two decades of teaching, with the digital era seeing the use of interactive platforms like social media to create awareness of products and services, as well as crowd-sourcing to fund innovative ideas.

Many traditional marketing concepts have become less relevant, and he and marketing colleagues met the challenge of upgrading the curriculum to ensure new generations of students understood concepts like digital marketing, and co-creating value for businesses and customers.

But to him, the most valuable research is community-based, and he is proud of his role in entrepreneurship development in the Pacific Islands, work he’s hoping to continue.

Research reports he has produced on helping women to create innovative enterprises includes a group in Samoa that is supplying virgin coconut oil to the global ethical beauty brand Body Shop. Another group in Tonga has gained organic certification and is now helping young people in remote island communities to develop sustainable businesses, assisted by New Zealand Aid.

“My research tends to have been highly applied; the main aim has always been to provide people with research they can use.”

Professor Gray is not only looking forward to contributing to his Pacific Island projects in his retirement, he is also president of the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, and is helping it move into new premises in the former Baptist Church on the corner of Hanover and Great King Street.