New Zealand has an interesting relationship with art. It gets little coverage in our sports-obsessed nation yet New Zealanders are more in touch with their artistic side than we think. And while New Zealand produces some world-class artists, funding is limited and the sector doesn’t attract as much philanthropic support as it needs. Art is an important part of the fabric of our society but I have discovered it can also be a valuable tool for businesses.
As the son of artists I have long held an interest in art but even I was surprised to learn how the choice of art can influence the direction of culture in a business, as well as how it is perceived by customers and staff. The experience came at Perpetual Guardian, where we had been upgrading and modernising all our offices across the country to reflect our culture as an innovative business that embraces change, shifting our thinking into the 21st century. The art connection came almost by accident.
I found as I provided art work into the offices there was a sea change. An example of this is when we refurbished our Dunedin office I noticed they had re-hung the old art on the walls. This was not in keeping with the new fresh look of the office décor so I went straight to a local art gallery and bought and borrowed some new pieces. There was an initial cautious welcome from my staff but when we had our reopening function that evening the customers saw it and said “Wow, that’s brilliant!”
The staff became so interested, they asked if we could also buy the two borrowed pieces of art in the boardroom. Modern art serves two separate purposes useful to businesses:
- as conversation starter, and
- to cause people to reject an established norm and embrace something more challenging.
I use modern art across my businesses, mostly from New Zealand artists, so people view the company in a different way. Perpetual Guardian doesn’t look like a conventional trust business, because it isn’t. With abstract art rather than traditional sepia photographs and water colour paintings,it looks and feels different and this encourages clients to think about us in a fresh and exciting new light. It does the same for my staff.
We are using art to help change the culture of my businesses. Art is part of our staff’s working environment and I use the working environment to create the culture I want. It is no accident that if you visit to tech hubs you will see funky art; they want to have a creative environment that is not high-brow in the traditional sense.
The results show Perpetual Guardian’s change in culture is working. With the refurbishment of our Dunedin and other offices we have seen our Will numbers, both with consultants and also with our digital solutions increase by over 300% in the last year alone. Obviously this is not solely due to art, but also strong, effective leadership, a focus on innovation and customer needs. However, I firmly believe the art project has helped. Businesses will get a better bang for their buck improving their environment than spending big money taking a few clients out for lunch.
Art is a secret ingredient for business success and it does not have to be a Picasso painting to be effective. There are plenty of New Zealand artists selling eye-catching works at an affordable price, which is great for the 97% of our businesses who employ fewer than 20 people. By buying quality New Zealand art, businesses can do more than just improve their working environment and culture. They can support our art scene, helping this important part of our society thrive – something that many of the charitable trusts under our care support as well.
Andrew Barnes is the founder of Perpetual Guardian, which formed through the coming together of Perpetual Trust and Guardian Trust, and a director of Complectus Limited. He is also chairman and non-executive director of Perpetual Trust Limited.