Business Leaders

Sandtmann more than an Ad man

Kurt Sandtmann is the kind of guy you’d like to see win Celebrity Treasure Island. He’s resourceful, determined, driven and outdoorsy. He’s also people focussed, funny, and easy to chat to.

We sat down recently to chat with Kurt about buying and managing Hawke’s Bay based Marketing Agency Tracta, and how he manages his workload to make sure he doesn’t miss the good surfing days.

So Kurt, tell us a bit about Tracta, what is it?
A – There’s a lot of ways to describe what Tracta does, basically we are a Marketing Growth Agency. We specialise in Customer Strategy, Marketing, Digital, and Communications to help Agribusinesses grow and sustain a competitive advantage. I started working in the company in 2015 and in 2021 the opportunity came up to purchase it. It’s been a fun but wild ride!

How have you found your transition into an Owner Manager position?
Becoming an Owner Manager can be one of the hardest, yet rewarding positions you can ever have. The day you become an Owner Manager is the day you put a mirror up and see what you were like as an employee. It can be pretty confronting. There’s a huge realisation moment there where you reflect on previous roles, managers you’ve liked, and managers who’ve taught you how not to lead. I have however thoroughly enjoyed the transition and learned a lot about myself, management and leadership along the way.

What’s your professional background before Tracta?
I studied a commerce degree at University of Victoria in Wellington. I was working in hospitality to pay the bills, which led me to form a hospitality venture straight out of university. Through hospitality I met a few heavy hitters in the film industry so I then had a few fun years working on The Hobbit trilogy for Peter Jacksons production company, 3Foot7. I moved on to client-side marketing roles for a few years and before deciding to sell the hospitality business and complete my Masters degree. Since graduating I’ve worked in marketing agencies – almost 10 years now.

How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I’d call myself a democratic leader. I’m a big believer in the ‘Radical Candor’ leadership framework and like to create a candid but collaborative work environment. I want the people around me to be able to tell me when I’m off track, just as much as I tell them . We run a very flat management structure at Tracta, there’s no egos, we place a lot of trust in our staff and ensure they have opportunities to contribute to our future direction. This works well for our team and our business.

Do you have any advice for 20 year old Kurt?
Plenty! Firstly to enjoy the ride more. Business is an infinite game and we’re not great in New Zealand at celebrating wins along the way. Our humble nature does sometimes put us at risk of thinking we are never as successful as we should be and we need to be better. SME owners in particular need to be careful not to let this lead to them burning out. Secondly I wish I recognised that the path to success doesn’t always go a certain way. I wish I trusted my gut, put my neck out more and didn’t let people keep me on the beaten path
so much. If I’d known then what I know now about how to use mess-ups as learnings I would have taken more risks. I recently did a course with The Icehouse which really helped to cement this for me.

Tell us more about The Icehouse?
I can’t rate it more highly. It just a wonderfully practical way of learning how to form a solid business path, and how to actually put ideas into motion. The biggest benefit of the Icehouse is also the people you meet throughout the course. Many of them are in similar positions and facing similar challenges. For SME owners in particular it’s a great opportunity to form a lifelong support network that will set you up for success. My staff have definitely benefitted from what I learned, at the centre of everything we do now is people. If I can keep my staff happy, they can produce excellent results for our clients, keeping them happy. It’s not always easy, or simple but it always works.

What are the best and worst parts of being your own boss?
The Worst? The continual juggling the business, you in the business and your personal life – the mental pressure particularly can be immense. Most SME owners work in the business and on it simultaneously and this can get challenging. I laugh nowadays when people tell me that they want to be their own boss, many end up going back to employment. The Best? The real satisfaction for watching people grow, giving people a platform from which to succeed. The rush – you’re only as good as your last job, so while you try and harness the energy you get from a big win for a client, maintaining that is where you really start to win. This far outweighs the negatives for me.

How does the future look for Tracta and you?
Yeah it’s a funny question isn’t it. I don’t think anyone has the ability to predict much anymore. What I do know is that we’re pumped. We’ve just had six months of unprecedented growth. We’ve done some incredible work this year, we’re at the moment onboarding five new staff and it feels like we are hitting the stage internationally where people come to us if they need to compete in the Australasian agribusiness market. We have big international clients pop into our inbox. It’s great to know our reputation is spreading and I think if we continue the way we are going, then we’ll be in a really strong position to deliver great work for our clients no matter what the future holds.