Michael Marr

BLAKE Leader 2020

Values-based business leader, lifelong learner, and philanthropist

Mike Marr’s career in business started with an electrical apprenticeship and a thirst to learn.

Two decades later, he’s created a group of complementary businesses from finance to electronic security, commercial property and drones. And his thirst to keep learning is as strong as ever.

“Being a lifetime learner is really important because it’s that journey of constant reinvention. And the world is changing and New Zealand’s changing and how do we keep on keeping up with that and how do we keep on breaking through those ceilings and growing as an individual? Coming from a sparky by trade, that’s been a constant journey for me,” Mike says.

“Our school education doesn’t define us and I’m a testament to that.”

In 1999, aged 30 Mike chased down his business ownership dream, establishing MJM Electrical. That first company was the beginning of TPT Group, which – 21 years later – now includes a further eight start-ups and eleven successful acquisitions. The Group has technical alliances with Microsoft Corporation, Panasonic Japan and Spark. The ASG Technologies business works with drones, robotics, the internet of things, edge computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

TPT’s most significant acquisition was Siemens’ electronic security business. Mike made over this once-failing business, focusing on changing the business’ culture and values, and turned it into TPT’s most successful company, Advanced Security Group. It is now New Zealand’s largest corporate and government security integrator with 16 offices nationwide.

Another of TPT Group’s most exciting companies is ASG Technologies, a business creating globally disruptive solutions to complex problems. These include smart innovation around drones.

“We’re on a pretty exciting journey with drone technology,” Mike says, “and have been for about five years. These are total gamechangers for freight and parcel transfer right around the world.”

TPT has two new start-ups in development and, as always, Mike balances a nose for an opportunity with an astute sense of risk management. Across TPT Group, Mike employs 200 permanent staff plus contractors. His belief is that a healthy organisational culture is the key to commercial success. The growth of his companies has been built on a culture of valuing employees, as well as continually striving for excellence.

“It’s been a crazy journey of coming up 21 years, from an electrical business through to electronic security with Advanced Security to IT and ASG technologies with all these drones, to a business where today we have 21 offices in New Zealand and it’s been an absolutely amazing journey.

“But I’m a real believer that great teams create great companies and though I get the blessed position of being the leader it’s what our people do every day, and I really believe a business is like a jigsaw puzzle, it takes every piece to come together to deliver what we deliver.”

Colleagues say Mike is personable, wise and humble, focuses on all the individuals in his team and is genuinely engaged. He is consultative and leads “from the middle”.

He has developed many ways to supports and celebrate his staff, such as shouting outstanding performers out for dinner with their families and housing allowances for Auckland staff. Through these initiatives and others, Mike has created a culture of engagement, pride and a sense of belonging.

In 2015, Mike and his wife Terese founded The Runway Foundation, a charitable organisation aimed at making a positive difference in the lives of people facing difficult circumstances. It has three areas of focus: Auckland families with a child diagnosed with ADHD; young people needing support to reach their potential; and, people facing significant disadvantage.

Mike and Terese’s desire to establish the foundation was partly due to their own experience navigating ADHD. They wanted to assist other families on difficult journeys. And they wanted children and their families to know that ADHD is also a strength; it is widely recognised that people with ADHD are exponentially more likely to own their own business. The foundation wants to encourage young people to dream and realise those dreams, just as Mike has.

Runway funds many dozens of initiatives such as sailing camps, parent centres and resources, and inspirational programmes for young people who are on the fringe of being expelled from school. Mike says the aim was, simply, to change lives.

“What drove my wife and I to establish the Runway Foundation is I guess just our heart for community and the importance, I guess, for all businesses and all of us individually to have that outward focus and to take care in the community and look after people, and so we’re about five years into that journey and it’s a hugely rewarding and neat thing to see Runway changing lives.”

But Runway is not the full extent of Mike’s generosity towards his community. Mike has established two scholarships providing students with financial support towards university fees, as well as part-time work and mentors. The first is the Advanced Security Bachelor of Business Scholarship at AUT. The second is the TPT Group Jump-Start Scholarship which supports a student aged 17 to 24 years old who has experienced homelessness, is at risk of becoming homeless, or has a serious housing need. Mike has participated five times in the annual LifeWise Big Sleepout, which aims to raise awareness and funds to combat homelessness, and on each occasion he has been one of the top individual fundraisers.

Mike is a member of various not-for-profit boards, as well as the Entrepreneur’s Organisation, the world’s largest entrepreneurial network. In 2017, Michael was one of two global recipients of the Beta Gamma Sigma Medallion of Entrepreneurship (and the first recipient to be awarded the honour outside of the USA). The Medallion is awarded to individuals who combine innovative business achievement with service to humanity.

TPT is about to launch Advanced Security in Australia and take other global innovation to the world. Mike is already capable of leading the more complex enterprise that TPT is about to become, but he understands the transition will require some new learnings for him. So, with his philosophy of life-long learning, he is actively pursuing career self-development programmes to break through these new ceilings and extend his competencies. Mike has reinvented himself many times already and understands the need to grow. To that end, he hopes Kiwi children will feel they are growing up in a country which encourages them to think big and soak up every learning opportunity.

“The world is a very fast-moving place and we very much believe in the big bold thinking we need to have as a country to position New Zealand for the future. How do we inspire our young people to dream?”