Dreaming of saying goodbye to the big smoke and working remotely from a rural, idyllic bliss? The reality could be closer than you think. Here’s how one of New Zealand’s most successful businessmen did it.
Down the phone, Rod Drury, Chief Executive of accounting software giant Xero, sounds quietly pleased with himself.
In the Hawkes Bay the temperature is north of 30 degrees and the landscape is wreathed in bright sunshine.
Wellington, where Xero has its head office, has just endured one of the worst summers on record and earned the unflattering title of ‘The City that Summer Forgot’.
Is this what prompted the move?
“I used to live in Wellington. Now I’m living in Havelock North. I usually do the middle of the week in Wellington, and Auckland every second or third trip, and overseas probably once every month,” he says.
“I love the stimulation of Wellington and the windsurfing and the mountain biking, but since having kids, my leisure time would be after work, the afternoons or the weekends. It just got harder and harder.
“We bought a beach place in the Hawkes Bay and were spending more and more time there. Being able to have that healthy lifestyle and get outside and wear shorts – for me it was the summers. I really wanted to have that New Zealand summer.
“And I wanted the kids to grow up in the provinces, and ride their bikes and have that outdoor lifestyle. We moved when my eldest was 5 and started school.”
The Bay was once a subject of humour for Aucklanders. But with all the big city issues like population growth, housing affordability, and traffic congestion, it’s been a few years since the term “A visitor from Hawkes Bay” was used by a patronising media.
So, does the Bay, and New Zealand in general, offer the best provincial lifestyle in the world? Maybe, and it’s improving, Drury says.
“It’s got better. Now we’ve got fibre, we’ve got Netflix. You can get access to all of your content. It makes it an even greater contrast to being in the city.
“You’ve got a pretty simple lifestyle, but you’ve got access through the Internet to the contemporary culture-building phenomenon you would expect. That’s been quite a difference. The only thing we don’t have is Uber.
“I love the contradiction of living at the beach and doing video conference calls, you know? It’s amazing.”
Drury says he tends to swim and mountain bike most days he’s in the Bay.
“I’ve ridden up Te Mata peak over 600 times by now. I should be skinny!”
What’s the effect on running an international business? Does the time away from the situation room of the office make a difference? Drury doesn’t think so.
“I’ve worked to construct an environment that works for me. Today, I’ve got 4 hours solid of video conference calls from all over the world. And it doesn’t matter where I am. I can do it from the comfort of my own home.
“I’ve already been for a swim, and I’ll be on my mountain bike around 6:00 riding up the hill. It’s very sustainable, work doesn’t really feel like work. Just getting that kind of exercise balance is great.”
It’s clearly working for him. Is it an environment that might work for his staff, too?
“What I’m hoping is now we’ve got a regional contact centre in Napier some of the other people inside the business will move themselves here.
“They’re having kids and are really concerned about home affordability and wanting to have that balanced lifestyle. So I think we’re constructing the next phase of the regional journey for some of our other team as well.”
Despite the allure of great weather, affordable property, and a better work-life balance, Drury wryly adds that it isn’t for everyone.
“I don’t care what other people do, but it’s the right thing for me. But I don’t want the waves to be too crowded.”