During Katie’s tenure at Aptiv she was involved in the firm’s $4 billion joint venture with Hyundai, which saw her head up the talent strategy to recruit more than 500 tech and engineering experts from around the globe.
By early 2020, Katie needed to press pause on her corporate career. Life involved weekly red-eyes, global travel and the burnout and health problems that come with the corporate lifestyle. The family had moved five times in six years, and hour-long commutes were a twice-daily occurrence. Prior to joining Aptiv, Katie took on some mammoth projects all at once, including completing an MBA followed by a Masters and having two children.
The plan was to travel the world for a year, with New Zealand being the first stop. What they hadn’t planned on was a global pandemic making New Zealand their final stop. Covid-19 put New Zealand into lockdown and forced Katie and her family to stay where they were, Queenstown.
However, every cloud has a silver lining and Katie first caught a glimpse of Queenstown’s potential as a permanent base for the family after a meeting with Olivia Wensley from Startup Queenstown Lakes.
“Olivia began to invite me to events and show me there was opportunity in Queenstown and that there were some really smart tech people here,” says Katie.
The family soon decided to make Queenstown and its idyllic lifestyle their new home. While Katie believes Queenstown is still in its infancy as a tech hub and talent pool, she is attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit and sense of positivity.
“There’s this cool Kiwi ingenuity here. If there is a problem to solve or an opportunity which presents itself, Kiwis just get on with it. In the US, it’s quite different.”
It wasn’t long before Katie found herself a new project and teamed up with Scott Witters (former Rhythm & Vines CEO and RFID tech entrepreneur) and Sam Hay (live events expert and co-owner of Rhythm & Alps) to found live event tech company, Slate.
“RFID wristbands have been great for events, but users have to load up at a booth. This is something you should be able to do on your phone. With Slate, we have opened a direct-to-consumer channel for brands enabling engagement with consumers while they are at the festival.”
Thanks to Slate, Katie has broadened her skillset as the company moves from small, self-funded startup to its first round of capital raising later this year. And there’s much more to come.
“This new project has certainly allowed me to draw on my global HR career, especially operations and strategy. Entrepreneurship was something I wanted next. I was looking for a project that would also offer business development, capital raising and broader operations.”
The decision was made early on to grow Slate out of Queenstown.
“This was mostly because of the support we received from local organisations. Startup Queenstown Lakes was pivotal in introducing us to our development team, our investors and each other,” says Katie. “Council have also been supportive. QLDC’s Economic Development Manager, Peter Harris has reached out to invite us to participate in several industry events.”
The company has partnered with Cromwell-based Southern Software, thanks to an introduction from Startup Queenstown Lakes.
While Katie has not begun the process of recruiting yet, she can see there will be challenges as well as opportunities.
“I’m hoping my past experience will ensure fewer headwinds in that space than others have had.
“There needs to be a big push from tech companies to move to Queenstown Lakes to flush out the talent. The talent will follow if one or two businesses commit to being here.”
“When Pittsburgh became an autonomous driving tech hub, it became easier to recruit people away from places like Silicon Valley because Pittsburgh offered options. If an employee had to leave the company they were with, they knew there would be another local company offering a similar proposition.
“Tech companies are made of talent. What makes the value of the company is the talent that they have.”
Hear from those who have already made the move.