Q&A with Dr Rod Carr

Dr Rod Carr was looking forward to retirement after 10 years as University of Canterbury’s Vice-Chancellor. But this didn’t last long for the Christchurch businessman, who’s had a prominent career including as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s former Deputy Governor and Chairman, and Jade Software Managing Director.

Dr Carr was recently appointed chairman-designate of the proposed Climate Change Commission (and in October fitted in his 23rd marathon at age 60, in -10 degree conditions in Greenland’s Polar Circle, no less). Update magazine sat down for a chat.
What inspired you to take on the Climate Change Commission role?

I retired from a full-time chief executive responsibility when my contract with the University of Canterbury came to an end last January. I was looking forward to a slower pace of life with a few directorships. But I became aware the government was establishing the Commission and would be looking for a chair. When I happened to mention it to my kids, in a round-the-table dinner conversation, they were pretty adamant this was the only job I should do in my retirement, should the government choose to appoint me. I should let all other ones go, because this was the issue for their generation. You could say it’s pretty compelling when your four kids tell you it’s not time to hang up your boots.

It’s a huge issue to tackle, and there’s a feeling of hopelessness amongst some youth that those at the top will actually do something. What’s your message to these young people?

Despair is never a good place to be. I have enormous confidence in the creativity of human beings. I’m a realistic optimist

 – I do believe that climate science has been known for a long time, but it has taken a surprising amount of time to galvanise mainstream awareness to action. But it’s reassuring to see the UN framework agreement and reassuring to see other countries put in place the type of institutional arrangements New Zealand is contemplating.

It’s reassuring to see CO2 emissions are now being assessed in a standard international way to provide an evidence base of where we are and where we’re going, and the impact of changes we need to make. There is reassurance that action is being taken. That action is later than it should have been, but is all lost? No, I don’t believe that for a minute. There will be significant new technology and changes in production processes and consumer preferences, which will provide opportunity to redevelop how we consume and what we produce. But we need to do this with urgency – we need to act now as tomorrow may be too late.

Let’s move on to the future of Christchurch – what would you like to see improved?

Well, 20,000 more people would make a world of difference. We have an amazing city, a high quality of life, a world-class education system. We have affordable housing compared to other parts of the country and the world, and access to a clean and exciting hinterland with recreational pursuits. But we have excess office space and underutilised retail and hospitality space. We can accommodate the extra people and it would be great if they came soon.
How do you attract them?

There’s a whole bunch of things which create a vibrant, interesting city. But there has to be good quality jobs which attract talent and make them want to stay, and create more good jobs – it’s a virtuous circle.
There’s some really exciting research and plenty of young start-ups coming out of Christchurch, but a whole lot won’t make it. What’s your advice to entrepreneurs?

The infrastructure supporting entrepreneurs is qualitatively and quantitatively better than it was 15 years ago. There are incubators at the university, the angel capital market is much more developed and there are significantly more pro bono or low cost support services. So my advice to entrepreneurs is make sure you access those networks of talent and people. If you want to be an entrepreneur you need to be flexible – the chances of finding the one bright idea that’s able to be carried to market on its first go are very low. Entrepreneurs need to develop skills, knowledge, capabilities and experiences so when they develop ideas, they can double down on winners and let go of losers. And it’s not just young start-ups. Companies with 20-40 employees wanting to grow to 120 employees face challenges with cashflow, leadership and the founder being willing to compromise on control to engage additional talent. But what we’re beginning to see in Canterbury is a conveyor belt of progress – which is pretty exciting.