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Most recent published work in
Unlimited Magazine, Auckland

Diaspora: Roger Wilkinson profile, published October, 2002


On his first foreign assignment, Roger Wilkinson found himself in the middle of four cyclones and a military coup in Fiji. For Wilkinson, now chief executive officer of US-based risk and insurance brokerage Marsh in South East Asia, the mid-80s baptism by fire kindled his ambition and sense of adventure.

"Opportunities are abundant for our business in places like Indonesia and Vietnam, as the economic potential is high. It is not like this back home. Our business is not as sophisticated in New Zealand," says Christchurch-born Wilkinson, who has spent 29 years with the company.

His experiences in Fiji taught him the importance of being true to himself and stood him in good stead when the firm asked him to move to Indonesia in 1999.

Those who have worked with Wikinson say his open and straightforward manner works well in Asia. "For a gwei loh [white man] in his high position, he does not have airs many Caucasians who work in Asia tend to have," says an employee, who doesn't want to be named.

Wilkinson shrugs off the need for a Kiwi network to survive in Asia — in his line of work, being a New Zealander has little relevance. His advice to Kiwis aspiring to work in Asia is to have a positive attitude and learn to adapt. "You don't have to change your personality to match a culture. It is more important to be open and to trust others, as well as delegate, in order to gain their respect and confidence."

And don't let age stand in your way: the firm asked Wilkinson to move to Indonesia when he was 50. Jumping in and out of aeroplanes, enduring choppy helicopter flights and pot-holed car rides became a part of life in the poverty-ridden Indonesian archipelago. "I regularly had to travel over 1200km to a copper mine to see a client. The journey took almost a day on a jet aircraft, then on a small plane, followed by a helicopter ride and then a four-wheel drive," he says.

Wilkinson left all that behind earlier this year when he moved to manage Marsh's regional office in Singapore. He plans to stick around Asia for another decade rather than return home. He's deterred by New Zealand's location and its small domestic market.

"Many global companies have, since the 1980s, moved out of New Zealand to relocate in Australia, and I think the same thing is beginning to happen in Australia as well."

Diaspora: Grant Corban profile, published August 2002

Grant Corban

Grant Corban spent a great deal of his childhood gazing out over the horizon from his parents' Auckland home, wondering what lay beyond the sea. Armed with a diploma in theology, he left home at 23 and spent the next 10 years travelling and working in 25 countries.

Now a father of three and director of information technology at Crystal Edge, a Kuala Lumpur-based event management firm, Corban is glad he left home when he had the chance. "When I dropped out of uni after a year, I realised that I needed to do something more fulfilling. As I'd always wanted to see the world, I left. If I had stayed in New Zealand, it would have meant a life less interesting."

What do you need to forge an interesting life in Asia? In Hong Kong soon after leaving New Zealand, Corban lived in seedy slums and combined his church ministry with part-time jobs. "One thing I learnt from my years there is that you have to be responsible for yourself. No one will look after you … It is crucial to have an open mind and a tolerant attitude in order to live comfortably in a different culture. Hong Kong was competitive — the pace, the people. I enjoyed it." It helped that Corban has never lived as an expatriate. "My friends have always been the locals."

His first real job was as a sound engineer for a Hong Kong band, where one of the members introduced him to an Apple Macintosh. He has been hooked on computers ever since, becoming a graphic artist, designer and now technology director. Over the past five years, starting with just a single computer, Corban has built up computing infrastructure so that Crystal Edge can now handle events management business for companies like Microsoft, Intel, Compaq, Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

Another attribute to his success is that Kiwi "can-do" spirit, he says. "If something needs to be done, we do it. In Malaysia, hard work is rewarded and qualifications are secondary to ability. The work ethic is good because if you don't work, you don't eat. This breeds personal responsibility." And, in Corban's case, a new sideline in wedding photography.

So, will he bring that can-do spirit back here one day? He might miss sailing on the Hauraki Gulf and views over the Domain, "but it would take a lot for me to go home for good".

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