Speaker Q&A

Icebreaker's Jeremy Moon talks business reinvention

At the age of 24, Jeremy was shown a fabric developed from 100 per cent merino wool - it inspired him to quit his job and mortgage his house to start Icebreaker.

This brave move launched merino wool outdoor clothing as an entirely new retail category and has led Icebreaker to becoming New Zealand's leading outdoor-clothing producer and exporter.

The brand now has over 450 employees worldwide, with offices in the US, Canada and Europe. These days, Rob Fyfe (ex Air NZ) is chief executive officer and Jeremy is executive chairman & creative director, focusing on product innovation, brand and marketing.

He is a leading figure in the sustainable business movement, and was named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2008 for his services to business. He also chairs the New Zealand Government's Better by Design group, attends the invitation-only TED conference in North America, and is a leading speaker on sustainable business practices and the role of design and innovation in business.

Jeremy Moon will be speaking at the Nurture Change Business Retreat in November on how to succeed as a NZ exporter.

Who is a leader that you learnt something incredibly valuable from and what was the lesson you learnt? 

When I first started out, I was lucky enough to have two strong mentors who played an incredibly important role in the development of Icebreaker, and also in my personal development as a leader. Noel Todd, a director of Todd Corp, and Peter Travers, formerly of the BNZ, were both with me as directors from the very inception of the company. We met every month for 18 years until they retired from the Icebreaker board. They brought necessary challenge and discipline to Icebreaker, in a very supportive way.

Noel's classic line was, "Jeremy, not much has changed in business, it's all about people." He helped shape Icebreaker to have a very strong people-centred culture. 

Peter was obsessed with the challenge, "Where do we want to be in three years?". This taught me to have a strong, constant vision for the future and then work backwards to find the steps to get there. 

What lesson in business do you try to pass on to others and what does it mean to you? 

I love the idea of designing a business with your customer at the heart of it.

To me, the definition of a business model is around how the components synchronise to add value to the customer. The parts typically consist of the raw material, supply chain, logistics, brand and purpose, team, competitors, product offering, and channel to market e.g. web vs retailers.

There's a fascinating set of choices and trade-offs when you design a business from scratch, based around the consumer experience you are trying to create.

At the moment I'm mentoring five young entrepreneurs who are just starting out. As we spend time together I find my experience is most useful in helping them really get to the core of their story: why they exist, how that can benefit their customer, and the choices around the best business model to optimise the opportunity. 

Who do you think is a great innovator and why?

I've always admired Jake Burton from Burton snowboards. I admire anyone with enough passion and courage to create an entirely new category - snowboarding didn't exist before Jake!

At Icebreaker we work hard to maintain our category-creator status. We built the merino category, first in New Zealand in 1995, and then internationally from 2000, and are now innovating hard and fast to continue to be the global leaders of natural outdoor clothing.


What has been your biggest learning in business to date and why? How has it affected you going forward?

A business requires constant reinvention based around a clear vision and a core set of ideas. At Icebreaker we refer to it as "shedding skin". We do this every 2-3 years, often quite radically, to ensure we stay relevant. If the external rate of change is higher than the internal rate of change, I believe it should be a watch out. It also keeps the journey exciting.


If you were 21 years old again and could do any career you wanted, what would you be and why?

I've had the chance to live my dream of being based in the best country in the world (New Zealand) and constantly exploring the world through international business. We export over $200m of Icebreaker every year to 44 countries, and fly the flag for New Zealand across the globe. It's such a privilege and I'm so proud of the team we have built. I wouldn't have it any other way.


What are you most excited about in attending the Nurture Change Business Retreat in Fiji?   

I love spending time with entrepreneurs.  They tend to be restless, curious, courageous and creative, which usually also means lots of fun.

The Nurture Change Business Retreat is for business owners, senior managers and entrepreneurs looking for new ideas, space to think on their business, inspiration, relaxation and connection with others from the business community. The Business Retreat runs November 2–6 at the 5-star InterContinental Fiji and features more than 12 incredible speakers across business, health and wellness, plus other activities. See more at www.nurturechange.com 

As published in the Sunday Star Times and on Stuff.co.nz - see that article HERE

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