Making a difference as a disrupter

Linda jenkinson talks to Paul Mulrooney

Serial entrepreneur Linda Jenkinson has made a career out of re-inventing business practices. Now she is ready to show New Zealand business people the secrets of her success. She talks to Paul Mulrooney.

Linda Jenkinson sees herself as a disrupter and an adventurer, and both adjectives fit the self-described serial entrepreneur well.

For more than 25 years the Palmerston North-raised woman has seen it as a personal quest to upset the apple cart in terms of business processes and blazed an adventurous trail based in the United States while doing it.

And she has been recognised for it too.

In 2014 she was a recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from Massey University, where in the early 1980s she graduated with a Bachelor of Business Studies, and last year received a World Class New Zealand award joining other leading business, political and cultural identities.

In her acceptance speech, Jenkinson said she had “taken her Kiwiness to the world stage to make a difference and be a disrupter”. That strategy has certainly paid dividends for the entrepreneur who has built businesses worth NZ$1 billion and in the process become the first New Zealand woman to list a company publicly on the Nasdaq exchange.

Two business models and companies are at the core of her success. Dispatch Management Services – a $320 million same-day delivery firm operating in 80 cities and concierge business LesConcierge that became the world’s leading corporate loyalty concierge programme. Late last year she sold the latter business to French hotel group Accor for $215 million and relocated from San Francisco to Wellington.

In the case of the courier company, it was based on idea of instead of having to organisationally remember what all the couriers were doing,  allowed them, via innovative customised dispatch software, to determine when goods would be delivered within certain timeframes.

“If you look at things I’ve done it’s coming up with some concept, some different view of how to solve a problem utilising technology, different business systems and re-inventing how things are done.  I disrupt through re-invention,” she says.

“So, to me that is what disruption does. It creates a better customer experience and my ethos is, how do you actually create a win-win and maybe redistribute some of the profit stream to the employees and to the local entrepreneurs, so it’s not just about disrupting from a business perspective but from an ownership model.”

Linda Jenkinson with daughter Isabella at last year's Massey University Defining Excellence Awards

I want to be master of my own destiny, and that’s why I went to Massey University

One thing to be said about Jenkinson is that she has owned her career.

From the moment she decided, after hearing visiting Massey lecturers speak at Palmerston North Girls High School, she would go to university herself, there was no turning back.

“I remember ringing my Dad and telling him that I’d decided I’m going to university to do computer science, because that’s the future; accounting and finance because I want to own the money, and I want to be master of my own destiny, and that’s why I went to Massey University.”

The example of her father, who grew small business enterprises, inspired Jenkinson to try her hand at the business building game.

She is equally pleased her son (she and her husband Nick also have a daughter) is following in her father’s footsteps by taking up judo too.

And from Massey she embarked upon an MBA at Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania breaking her father’s traditionally minded business heart in the process. He thought the Ivy League environment of Yale University was more prestigious.

But to get to Wharton, Jenkinson had to first raise $115,000, achieved through small scholarships, taking any business jobs she could find and working her contacts.

“I basically number-eight wired it, I decided I was going to do it and figured it out as I went.”

Wharton appealed for various reasons aside from its reputation for an open, expansive, creative and collaborative learning culture.

“I got into six top schools. Back then Wharton was the only one that had 30 per cent global students, so I really wanted to be a global citizen, that was very important, all the others were very US centric.”

It was the gateway to doing business on a global scale, from trading options on Wall St with Merrill Lynch, to helping open the Leningrad (now St Petersburg) stock exchange and training Russians in finance market management, to working with Nikko Securities in Tokyo.

Being globally minded is a philosophy Jenkinson has taken as far as Senegal where she co-founded WOW for Africa, a new social model investment fund focused on building women-led businesses in West Africa. It was acknowledged in 2008 at the Clinton Global Initiative as the most successful small/medium enterprise investment model in Africa.

It’s significant that Jenkinson has made her name in such far-flung places. She cites Victorian-era explorer Henry Stanley whose search for Dr David Livingstone in central Africa has entered folklore, as an inspiration.

“Everyone thinks they’re crazy!  They’re doing something that people have never done before, it’s physical, it’s mental it’s going to where the barriers are and bursting through the other side. That’s where I really draw my inspiration from, great adventurers as I see myself as an adventurer.”

Her next endeavour is very much Kiwi in size – a book about building successful businesses. She will then workshop ideas and themes within it with New Zealand companies.

“My book is a set of formulas for New Zealand business people about how to build businesses specifically into the American market and ultimately how to build your own formula.”

If Jenkinson and her career path is any guide, that formula has every chance of being a winning one.