27 May 2014

Derek Handley: Finding a purpose beyond profit

8:40 am on 27 May 2014

Derek Handley is on a mission to change the way we think about our careers. He’s created an online recruitment campaign called the #theshouldertap and he’s looking for candidates keen to act as his “chief operator” or “right hand” here in New Zealand.

“We need this generation to be thinking about a dual track of doing well for themselves but doing well for society also,” the Auckland-raised entrepreneur says. “In order for that to happen we need to create different expectations of what a job is”.

Derek Handley

Derek Handley Photo: Supplied

The successful applicant will be responsible for managing preexisting investments and relationships as well as generating “profit with a purpose” - coming up with and identifying new ideas that aim to drive social change, and turning those ideas into reality.

With its focus on Twitter as a means to spread the word, an application form that looks more like a BuzzFeed quiz, and flash website with inspirational video featuring actress Antonia Prebble, scientist and social entrepreneur Sir Ray Avery, former All Black Mils Muliaina and others, Handley is aware #theshouldertap is, “… Investing in the process in a way that’s totally disproportionate to how you’d normally invest in the recruitment process”.

Partly this is to do with the kinds of applicants he is targeting - young, emerging leaders - but he also hopes a high profile campaign will get people thinking about the wider message, namely “…How they can use all of their talents to not only be the best in New Zealand, but be the best for New Zealand.”

#theshouldertap campaign  is about more than just a job, and young, emerging leaders are responding to that.

The 36-year-old is in a good position to talk about non-traditional definitions of work and workplace. Now based mostly in Brooklyn, New York, his professional life is split between a number of projects, roles and passions. His titles range from chair, co-founder and board director to imaginary-sounding “entrepreneur-in-residence” and, “perhaps most importantly… astronaut-in-waiting”. He’s not joking - having dreamed of going to space since he was nine or 10- years-old, Handley’s name is on the list for a Virgin Galactic flight next year.

“I just love any idea of exploring beyond the traditional confines of earth… You’re going out to 400,000ft where it becomes space, and there you will look back and see the planet,” he says - equal measures excited and scared.

After graduating from Victoria University in Wellington, Handley moved back to Auckland and started working for now-defunct multinational corporation Fletcher Challenge. In the year 2000, aged 22, he quit to start his first company - global online sports and racing betting business Feverpitch. When Handley led Feverpitch to be listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, he became the country’s youngest managing director of a listed company - but soon after, the company was closed.

“It was a complete failure… Obviously it’s not what you want to achieve but all the lessons you learn are invaluable. A company collapsing is just as exhilarating as it growing,” he says.

This is perhaps the first clue that Handley’s disposition might lean towards serial entrepreneur. That, and the fact that when Feverpitch closed he’d already started his second company, with his brother Geoffrey.

“There was huge adrenaline driving us … Once you start doing it you see that if you fail you still wake up the next morning and you’re much more comfortable to do it again… it’s kind of addictive,” he says.

Handley’s second company, global mobile marketing and media agency The Hyperfactory, went on to become the most awarded mobile agency in the world; listed by Entrepeneur Magazine as one of the Top 100 Brightest Ideas of 2010 and Brandweek’s 10 Biggest Ideas of 2008. In 2010, Handley and his brother sold a 19.9 per cent stake in the company to Iowa-based Meredith Corporation at a valuation that has never been disclosed, but estimates range from less than US$20million up to NZ$60million.

Handley founded another company, mobile advertising network Snakk Media, and in 2011 was named to the ‘Silicon Alley’ 100 most influential technology people in New York, that same year, he was named a World Class New Zealander and Sir Peter Blake Trust Leader. One wonders if it might have carried on like this - new company, new awards, new titles, repeat - had things not taken an interesting turn at the end of 2011, when Handley found himself playing a high-stakes game of pool with English business magnate and founder of Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson.

Branson was looking to start a movement. A not-for-profit initiative called The B Team, which would bring together world leaders with a mission to: “… catalyse a better way of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet.”

The name ‘The B-Team’ refers to the Plan B that Branson, Handley, and the team see as the way forward for business; a move away from “financial ‘short-termism’” towards a model that unites people, planet, profit and purpose. It’s been called a sustainable version of capitalism, which is a hard concept to fathom considering the very nature of capitalism is to grow.

But where many see only a problem, Handley sees potential for a solution. He says the technologies, approaches and new models we need to “move the world and the economy to a sustainable, neutral platform in terms of resource” will come out of the engines of capitalism.

Handley though does seem genuine in his efforts to shift the paradigm - #theshouldertap campaign  is about more than just a job, and young, emerging leaders are responding to that. The position of Chief Operator received more than 1,000 applications from all over the world, and 100 have just been selected to go through to the next phase; making a short video and devising a “written plan” that addresses an issue in New Zealand they’d like to help resolve. One look through #theshouldertap tweets shows that this conversation is one many people have been waiting to have.

It’s an interesting reaction considering the amount of energy that goes into dismissing younger generations as narcissistic, entitled and politically and socially disconnected,

“You have to inspire people to want to create change or to want to do positive things. And if there aren’t role models or examples or paths that make it clearer it becomes harder… I think the younger generation understands more than probably any part of society at the moment the challenges we’ve got and the things that need to change. That’s why I think [#theshouldertap] resonates with emerging leaders. Because there are too few opportunities for them to do the types of things that this job will enable them to do,” he says.

Handley hopes to fill #theshouldertap position by the end of June. Keep up to date on the campaign via www.theshouldertap.com, or through #theshouldertap on Twitter.


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