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New Zealand’s Startups

From Lower Hutt to the Nasdaq‍

The Exit Interview

Caffeine catches up with Sir Neville Jordan about his journey from startup to public listed company.


Peter Griffin

Tech entrepreneur and investor Sir Neville Jordan

By 1996, Lower Hutt-based MAS Technology, a manufacturer of telecommunications microwave equipment, was celebrating its 20th birthday, had annual turnover of around $100 million and employed 240 staff.

But its founder, engineer Sir Neville Jordan, had bigger ambitions for his creation. That led to the first-ever listing of a New Zealand company on the US-based Nasdaq main board. Then, as the public listing attracted ‘bigger fish’ seeking acquisitions, MAS Technology was sold outright about two years later. 

Jordan doesn’t want to talk numbers on the deal but it reportedly personally netted him $60 million. 

Jordan is also well known in New Zealand as a venture capital pioneer, founding Endeavour Capital in 1998. The former NBR Rich Lister fell off the list in 2016 when his wealth was assessed to be under the then-$50 million threshold. Endeavour Capital was placed in liquidation for an unpaid $313,000 debt but was taken out of liquidation and restored to the Companies Office Register by court order in August 2023 after its debts were settled.

He was made a Knight of the Realm in 2014 for services to business, science and the community including through his Jordan Foundation, which has provided performing arts and higher education funding for those who may otherwise not be able to afford it. 

How did you decide to pursue an IPO of MAS Technology?

We needed capital for further expansion. At the time, a public listing was kind of an accolade to have, so we went to the then-CEO of the New Zealand Stock Exchange. He said we were too risky. Real estate was in the ascendancy as well as finance companies but we were high-tech. 

I was reading an article about the Nasdaq that was all about tech companies. I called the head office of the Nasdaq and was put through to the vice-president of international. I said, ‘can I come and see you next week?’ That’s literally how it started, along with employing an outstanding CFO here in New Zealand.

What was it like dealing with the Nasdaq as a small Kiwi company looking to list?

They were fantastic. The VP said, ‘look, here are some merchant bankers you should meet, the legal firms you need to talk to, the big investors’. Soon I had a list of 25 or 30 organisations to meet with over the space of three weeks. 

I secured a wholesale banker on the West Coast and a retail banker, Oppenheimer, in New York. About a year later, the guys in California had the prospectus ready and two weeks after that we launched the roadshow.

How did the listing go? Did you get to ring the opening bell at the Nasdaq?

No, the MAS CFO and I were on the investment bank’s trading floor in California, three hours behind New York. Ten minutes before the bell went off, one of the brokers was on the phone to a major investor, Fidelity, selling MAS Technology. The bell went, the stock started going up, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The guidance range was US$11–$14. It started at the top of the range and took off. We went off to breakfast and got totally hammered.

There’s an option called a ‘green shoe’ where you keep some shares in reserve. As the price goes up, you sell them as well to keep the momentum going. That’s what we were able to do; it worked out very well.

What was the reality of running a Nasdaq-listed company?

It became all about being able to talk to the financial analysts. They wanted to know everything about the company. To them it was novel and a bit disarming having this New Zealander turning up with a funny accent just telling it as it was. We got some great press. Quarter by quarter, our revenue and the share price were performing well.

MAS was the first Kiwi company to list on the Nasdaq exchange

Not long after, another Nasdaq-listed company, Digital Microwave Corporation, approached you about buying MAS Technology. Why were you keen to sell?

We were interested in making an acquisition ourselves. The bankers observed that ‘now you are in the public domain, there are bigger fish that will want to buy you’. I was open to that. I knew I needed to do something else at that point, but I didn’t know what. We spoke to several companies who just wanted to move everything to the US. We had operations in New Zealand, the Philippines, Europe and South Africa.

Digital Microwave came along and I said, ‘I’ll only do a deal if you commit to keeping everything in place for at least 18 months, until you can figure out what’s happening’. They said yes and they honoured that.

It was a very easy process, because when a publicly listed company wants to take over another public company, there’s not a lot to negotiate. You look at the price to earnings ratio and make an offer. Our P/E ratio was very good. I didn't even go to the US. I was on the phone here. They named their price. It all took about half an hour. We sold at US$24 per share.

What did the sale mean for your employees?

I'd made sure everyone in the company had shares or share options, including a lot of the black employees in South Africa, where we had acquired a company. Years later I was in Ghana and got talking to a woman who knew the company and the people who worked there and the village they lived in. 

She said they’d gone from strength to strength on the basis of their shares and share options. They used to wait for the bus to take them to Johannesburg. Now they have their own bus and running water in their village. The company has changed names, but is still there.

Any advice for founders contemplating selling the company they worked so hard and long to build?

There’s that song The Gambler: ‘You’ve got to know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, and when to walk away’. Do you want to carry on with this or do other things? Because I retired, I had time available and was able to become the president of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the first time they’d appointed a non-scientist without a PhD. I later became  chancellor of Victoria University. 

Those things were challenging and fulfilling. You can only really understand these things in retrospect. It meant making sacrifices. There is always a price to be paid but it was worth it.

You’ve said there was a certain spirit that inhabited MAS Technology. What do you mean by that?

I don’t quite know. That’s a theological question! I just know how it manifested itself. We had people turning up, extraordinary people, saying, ‘can we come and work here?’ 

A couple of years after the listing, I said I was going to retire. I sold my shares. They threw a big party for me. One of our staff came up to me and said, ‘we all worked for you’. It was obvious, but I knew what she meant. I still get emotional thinking about it. My retirement lasted three weeks.

The proceeds from the sale of your stake in MAS Technology allowed you to set up Endeavour Capital and make numerous investments in science and tech-related startups. How would you sum up 25 years as a venture capitalist?

It has been miserable at times. There are a lot of predators out there, and a lot of vexatious litigation, particularly in the US. We worked with some big names who turned out to have feet of clay. But the likes of myself and Jenny Morel were the first wave over the parapet. Now there's a vibrant, mature venture capital industry here.


What are you working on now?

A few years ago, I was on a trade mission to Indonesia and met people from their energy ministry. They generate a lot of geothermal energy but they told me they also had a lot of problems with their wells getting clogged up with calcium scaling. 

I remembered Professor Jim Johnston from Victoria University, who is an expert in calcium silicate, talking about this exact problem. I gave him a call and we set up CaSil Technologies to try and solve this problem. We’ve found the answer. This is New Zealand enduring and grunty science and engineering that can really assist the geothermal industry here and internationally. 

MAS still has a sizeable team in Lower Hutt nearly 45 years on from you setting up the company. Have you been back to visit?

I said at my retirement function that, on my leaving day, I wanted to be the last to leave the building: ‘I'll go through and turn out the lights, leave the key on site, and pull the door shut, and I will never look back.’

And I did; I went cold turkey. Then a few weeks ago, I bumped into an old colleague who now manages the New Zealand operations and he invited me to visit, which I did. There were some familiar faces, and lots of new ones. It’s a very well-run company. They gave me a box of old photographs and various trophies they’d kept. I’ve got them at home, as a warm reminder of creating a new and enduring New Zealand industry.


Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin is a Wellington-based technology and science writer, media trainer, and content specialist working with a wide range of media outlets and tech companies. He co-hosts The Business of Tech podcast for BusinessDesk and is the New Zealand Listener's tech columnist. He has a particular interest in cybersecurity, Web3, biotech, climate tech, and innovation. He founded the Science Media Centre and the Sciblogs platform in 2008.

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