Plotting for global domination
- 06 June, 2010 22:00
Ian Macrae is the founder, chief executive officer and a director of Auckland-based Orion Health, global headquarters of a growing empire. Quite often he sketches as he talks. He thinks a lot about things - things that can be fixed or changed or made. He is an engineer, a mathematician actually, and he loves to solve stuff.
"Soft bait fishing," he proffers, when he discovers I like to fish, "that's where it's all at. Bait or soft bait?" he asks. I say bait.
"You've got to change. You may not catch more fish but you catch bigger ones and it's really intense because you can feel every little thing at the end of the line."
Kahawai and snapper and the odd kingfish are what he catches mainly, at Waiheke Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, where he and his wife Rosemary have a beach home at Onetangi.
Moving from fishing to the subject of Orion, I remind him of a 2006 interview with Unlimited magazine in which he talked of his "big hairy audacious goal" to build a billion- dollar company by 2016. Mr McCrae reckons Orion, New Zealand's largest software company, is still on course to meet that goal.
"We're looking to get $100 million [in revenue] and we're two-thirds of the way there now," he says.
Revenues in 2005 were $34m. "We'll be in the mid-60s this year so we've closed off the year. We made our profit targets.
"We're edging toward $100m, if we get lucky, this financial year, otherwise it will be the next financial year. We will get there."
Orion provides clinical workflow and integration technology to the healthcare sector.
Mr McCrae was one of the prime movers behind the formation of the New Zealand Health IT cluster.
"In Ian's original conception he saw that it was an opportunity to create a New Zealand health IT brand for overseas marketing for the support of the industry," says Malcolm Pollock, director of Auckland University's National Institute for Health Innovation and immediate past chairman of the cluster.
"Then as it evolved it started to get involved in some innovation initiatives actually using the membership to put together collaborations of a number of companies working together, both to create new opportunities and to develop marketing strength by collaboration."
Funding has always been an issue for the 90-member group, and Mr Pollock says that at one stage Mr McCrae lost faith in what the cluster was doing.
"But Orion has now recommitted to the cluster and is taking an active membership role and the cluster, I think, is in a stronger position now than it's ever been."
Mr Pollock, who once competed directly with Orion, says he has seen the company and Mr McCrae show it is possible for New Zealand to grow companies domestically that can compete in a world market.
"That success is paying off in dividends, not only to the company, but to New Zealand as a whole."
For his part, Mr McCrae is confident Orion can penetrate further into what is a US$70 billion (NZ$103b) global market with Orion's niche product suite.
The immediate focus is on growing its international footprint and distribution, setting up two or three new offices and improving the company's product range.
"We're also continuing to improve the company's operation. Having offices all over the world, communication is always an issue," he says.
And it is communication, in a specialist industry, that his company deals in. Its applications are designed to improve patient care and clinical decision-making by providing integrated health data in a single, unified view.
Orion's Rhapsody Integration Engine lets healthcare organisations transfer information internally and externally without having to replace existing information systems.
Rhapsody was developed jointly with Auckland University and part- funded by TechNZ.
"Every developed country in the world has realised the linkage between better health information and better health. It's pretty hard to deliver better healthcare if you don't have lab results, problem lists, medication lists, all the other information, for clinical staff to make good health decisions," Mr McCrae says.
Orion's profile is growing as its office numbers swell and the United States is becoming a major market.
"Forty-two of the US states use our integration engine software," Mr McCrae says.
Orion, which was founded 16 years ago, has 15 sites globally, which account for 30 million patients. Mr McCrae says no other vendor has that sort of breadth. It also means the group can claim global leadership in the electronic health record (EHR) space.
"So for a New Zealand software company to have got from basically nothing to that position, that's not a bad outcome.
"In terms of new sales in EHR space where you provide a system for an entire region, our map of the world would be better than anybody else's because we have more sites than anyone we can think of by a long shot."
When it comes to running a global company from New Zealand, Mr McCrae says once Orion reached a certain size, he had to start organising things differently. He was told it would be impossible to do from New Zealand but "we seem to be managing".
Of Orion's 290 staff, more than half are overseas. It has offices in Santa Monica, Boston, Edmonton, Reading, Spain, Sydney, Melbourne and Wellington.
And the company is looking to set up in the Middle East this year.
"We've got a fair amount of business in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi. We have sales, sites, installations there already. So when you reach critical mass then you say, 'right, we need to support these people'," Mr McCrae says.
He retains 64 per cent ownership of Orion while chairman Andrew Clements and Pioneer Capital each have a 10 per cent stake. The balance is held by staff and others.
"We really are a New Zealand company and it has some advantages for us because we have real unanimity of purpose for the organisation."
It is a long way from his beginnings on a dairy farm in Waerenga near Te Kauwhata in North Waikato.
Mr McCrae was a boarder at Hamilton Boys before going on to Auckland University to complete two degrees in engineering science. His masters was on Antarctic ice shelves.
Even then his flair for innovation or, better still, Kiwi ingenuity, was fairly well-honed.
His issue was a lack of materials for his studies. So where did he source his equipment from in the Antarctic?
"You find it in the American rubbish dump, which is huge. Kiwis are banned from it.
"The New Zealanders are always scavenging in the American rubbish dump.
"We used to get chased away but we'd sneak over at two in the morning. It was still light. You'd drive away with wood and all sorts of stuff. There was an entire snowmobile in there so the Kiwis got it and fixed it all but they had to hide it away because it was orange.
"All the wood and poles and stuff I used for my [masters] project I got out of the rubbish dump."
Even then he was good at improvising, fixing things. Independent