Michelle Sharp is a force to be reckoned with. She’s run a £38 million business in the UK, taken a New Zealand social enterprise from the brink of collapse to a successful business and set up the world’s first charity BCorp.
So what’s left for this high achiever from Ōtautahi?
Well, quite a bit as it turns out. Sharp has been headhunted back into the telecomunications sector, to head up Vodafone New Zealand’s Internet of Things (IoT) team and explore digital innovation in the South Island for the digital services company.
Sharp reflects on her decision to move from a high-flying career and outwardly perfect life in the UK, to a city bordered by the mountains and the sea in the middle of the South Island.
“I was running a multi-million pound business but ended up leaving the UK feeling frustrated with the focus of some of my fellow directors. I felt they didn’t seem to understand the stakeholder was much wider than just the shareholder – it’s the employees, the customers, the community you operate in.
“I had something of an early mid-life crisis thinking about why I had been so driven by a one dimensional view of business for so long,” Sharp said.
Practically overnight Sharp and her husband packed up their young family and moved to Christchurch, to escape and explore something different for two years.
That was ten years ago.
It was here that she took up the role of CEO at Kilmarnock Enterprises Ltd – a manufacturer employing people with intellectual disabilities providing work experience and growth opportunities.
Sharp, alongside the team at Kilmarnock, transformed the then small charity on the cusp of closure, to an award-winning business who now occupy a $12million facility, with a strong and loyal client base.
Now she is setting her sights on making an impact in the digital world.
Three weeks into her new role as Vodafone’s Head of Iot and South Island Business, Sharp sees huge opportunities to solve some of the worlds biggest problems, starting with impact areas that make sense in the NZ context – sustainability, wellbeing and digital communities.
With these focus areas in mind, Vodafone has plans to support innovation in industries such as agriculture, security, transport and logisitics, and smart homes and buildings.
“We are excited about bringing every part of the digital eco system together to hum. In Christchurch we see huge opportunity to make this happen,”Michelle Sharp
“We are excited about bringing every part of the digital eco system together to hum. In Christchurch we see huge opportunity to make this happen,” she said.
She explains those who have not done business here don’t realise it’s one of the most connected cities in the world. Also described as ‘open-source Christchurch’, Sharp talks about how open collaboration and accessibility permiates Christchurch’s business culture.
“You can make stuff happen so quickly in comparison to any other environment I’ve lived in. The meetings, the conversations you’re able to have, means you can achieve so much so easily,” she said.
Sharp will be putting this theory to the test, as partnerships will be key to driving digital innovation in the area. Vodafone will be working with the likes of University of Canterbury, other tertiaries and businesses to research and deliver new ways of doing things.
“I truly believe, and I don’t say this light-heartedly, Christchurch is the best city, in the best country, in the world. I’ve had many opportunities to go back to the UK, but my passion now sits with making Christchurch the best it can be,” she said.
Sharp’s plans for Christchurch might sound aspirational coming from anyone else, but if her proven track record is anything to go by, you’ll be seeing big things come out of the city in the next six months. Just sit back and watch it unfold.