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Homecoming: Adman Kevin Roberts back in NZ for holidays

In the first of an occasional feature on New Zealanders who are back for the holidays, JULIE MIDDLETON talks to Kevin Roberts, head of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

Ask New York-based Kevin Roberts what distance does to his perception of New Zealand, and there is an unusually long pause - for he is as chatty as a starling.

It's a good question, he says, but "a paradoxical one. Being away from New Zealand makes you more demanding of it - but being away makes you miss it more. I count the hours until I'm back."

Roberts' job - Saatchi has about 150 offices worldwide and more than 7000 staff - makes him a globetrotter extraordinaire, and he has houses in the Big Apple, Auckland and St Tropez.

Born in England, 54-year-old Roberts settled in New Zealand in 1989 and is back in the country about "once every six to eight weeks". This year he spent 120 days in New Zealand.

The night before he spoke to the Herald, he had been at a New York art gallery do featuring United States and New Zealand artists, during which he played, to great interest, teenage singing star Hayley Westenra's album Pure.

Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a hot topic, he says, with Niki Caro's Whale Rider also selling New Zealand talent well.

"New York is meant to be kind of where the street beat happens," says Roberts, "but New Zealand is now being viewed amongst this audience as being very much 'today'.

"It's not about bloody Taupo and mountains and green fields and stuff. It's like, 'This is a hip place. I want to find out more'.

"The creative face of New Zealand has never been stronger. That's the feeling that's going on now among New Yorkers."

When he arrived in New York nine years ago, New Zealanders "were always tacked onto Australia. Over the last three or four years we have absolutely got our own identity."

But Roberts would love to import some ideas picked up from the US. One is New York's famous zero-tolerance policy under which police crack down on petty criminals with the aim of preventing them becoming major offenders.

"We have an 80 per cent reoffend rate in New Zealand, and our imprisonment rate is growing 8 per cent per annum, so we're doing something seriously wrong."

Roberts supports the police youth-coaching project Turn Your Life Around, which works with at-risk youngsters aged 10 to 16 in the Auckland suburb of Avondale.

He also supports the work of fellow New York-based Kiwi and corporate headhunter John Wareham, author of the book Break Out of Prison, based on the course he teaches to prisoners aimed at helping them to deal with life on the outside.

Roberts has recently become a Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at Waikato University, and says New Zealand could learn from the United States' encouragement of small- and medium-sized businesses.

"There are tax breaks, research grants and funding, banks taking risks ... they make it easy for them."

This holidays Roberts is spending a month at home in Remuera with businesswoman wife Rowena and children Ben, 24, Rebecca, 22, and Daniel, 18. The offspring live in the house next door.

"We make a point of getting together at Christmas. It can be New York, Morocco, London - wherever we are. But by the far the best is New Zealand."

Thanks to Keith S. for locationg this item


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