Ian's story mirrors New Zealand's growth from its days as an agriculture-based economy. He laboured in the freezing works during the school holidays. Through the swinging 60s and 70s he was a singer in a rock and roll band, before being called up in the army. By 1980, he had completed a law degree and started an entirely new career in television, where he was part of an industry that went from black-and-white film to colour video and on into the digital age.
Ian founded Animation Research Ltd (ARL) in 1990 on nothing more than a handshake with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Otago. They bought their first hard drive to make their first TV commercial in 1991. It cost $15,000 and had 1 GB of memory. The computer they used for the America’s Cup in 1992 was the size of a small fridge and cost $500,000. Everything they did on that computer they can now do a mobile phone.
Today, working from their base in Dunedin, ARL covers sports events all over the world. They also have a joint venture with Airways New Zealand, who market the Air Traffic Control Simulator they built for them. They had never built one before. They continue to service the F1 Race Car simulator they built for one of the world’s leading F1 Race Teams. They had never built one before. They built an online Risk Assessment platform for one of the world’s largest mining companies. They had never built one before. They built an online application to demonstrate the power of the IBM cloud-based analytics engine, which they presented to a conference of 22,000 delegates. They built it in three weeks. They had never built one of those before, either.
Ian says he uses the word 'we' very loosely. He claims he has no idea how any of this stuff is done. 'We are where we are because of a very small team who, from day one, arrived with open minds and a belief that there was nothing they couldn't do. The fact that we only do stuff we like probably helps. In the words of Lord Ernest Rutherford – 'We didn't have the money, so we had to think.' We didn’t discover the digital world: it discovered us. We had already decided that we would take on the world from Dunedin – next stop the South Pole! Someone invented the internet, and they gave us our highway to that world. We have been travelling it ever since.'
Ian holds an LLB from the University of Otago and was inducted into the New Zealand Hi-Tech Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2010, he was named North & South magazine’s New Zealander of the Year. In the same year, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the New Zealand Computer Society, the top honour of the ICT sector in New Zealand. He was named a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2012 New Year Honours, for services to television and business, and won the Creative sector of the World Class New Zealander Awards. In 2013, he was named Outstanding Maori Business Leader of the Year.
It may come as a surprise that Ian claims to have no skills whatsoever, is at a loss to understand why anyone would want to hear his story and believes he has received the accolades he has because he lives at the bottom of the world, where no one has been able to check him out. That and the fact that he has had the amazing good fortune to have worked alongside some of the cleverest people in the world.
"Very good speaker with a great story. Ian has a very natural way about him and seems completely unaffected by his success". NZ Collision Repair Association