Widely known in the business community as the co-founder of NOW, Ben Deller delights these days in telling people he is a student.
Having left the successful telecommunications company early last year, the 38-year-old is now dovetailing business consultancy work with part- time postgraduate studies at EIT.
Ben enjoyed his 14 years heading NOW’s sales and marketing team, but over time, he says, the focus became less about innovation and more about management and scale.
Having broadened its customer base, the company was continuing to expand beyond Hawke’s Bay. It needed an injection of capital to achieve further growth. In 2015 Spark bought a stake and, over a period of 12 months, Ben started looking at what else he might do.
“I was working with some really smart people,” he says, “and one in particular – she has a master’s degree – suggested I study, as she had, purely for the enjoyment.”
Learning by chance about EIT’s suite of postgraduate programmes, he worked through his study options with School of Business Associate Professor Jonathan Sibley.
Ben had good reason for feeling tentative – his first experience of tertiary study hadn’t gone well. After leaving Lindisfarne College, he abandoned Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science studies after just a fewweeks.
“It really wasn’t my thing, but it’s taken a long time to pay back that student loan,” he ruefully reflects. The move to Palmerston North wasn’t a total write-off, however. He reopened a disused nightclub and attracted DJs from around the country in staging “a lot of parties”.
Jonathan suggested Ben attempt a course that took his interest to determine how he felt about study aligned to his passion for business. He enrolled for a leadership course taught by applied management Robbie Field and “absolutely, thoroughly, utterly enjoyed it”.
Tackling one course each semester, he is now on the way towards gaining a Master of Applied Management.
Ben says he wouldn’t keep coming back to EIT if he didn’t see the value in study – “I’m learning skills beyond those I already had.” His wider skill set comes into play in advising clients of Workshop X, the specialist consultancy he established to grow business ventures here in Hawke’s Bay.
And EIT is also gaining from Ben’s enthusiasm for study. He has agreed to feature in a light box advertisement to be prominently displayed in the Hawke’s Bay Airport.
“It’s going to be odd seeing myself on a poster board,” he says with a grin.