If you’ve ever wondered how far a few chance meetings, some solid relationship-building and hard work can take you, look no further than University of Waikato alumna Michelle McCarthy.
An international business graduate, former Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar, and table tennis champion, Michelle is currently the start-up partnerships manager at Creative HQ, a Wellington-based strategy and innovation company.
Creative HQ works with start-ups, corporates, and government to deliver innovative initiatives to solve problems, enact change, and bring new ideas and products to market.
Michelle has a lot of experience to bring to the table at Creative HQ. With several international roles and experience in the private and public sector, she’s well-placed to advise on different ways of doing business and is particularly keen on helping New Zealand start-ups reach the Chinese market. Being fluent in Japanese and Chinese Mandarin doesn’t hurt either.
How did a girl from Lower Hutt make her way to university in Hamilton, then to Korea, Japan and Taiwan, and back to Wellington?
It all begins with table tennis.
Like a lot of kids, Michelle had a table tennis set up at home and would often have a hit with her dad after school. By chance, one of her teachers at Hutt Intermediate was also an avid player and encouraged Michelle to play, and eventually into competitions.
“From there, it just grew,” says Michelle. “I started playing in competitions, and then the Oceania championships, and the more I played, the more opportunities came up.”
At high school Michelle heard about the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship Programme, a full fees scholarship where students are supported to achieve their passion while completing a qualification at the University of Waikato. She applied, and was accepted.
“I really liked that I could integrate a language with studying business, and the beautiful campus was a real plus,” she says.
While studying international business through Waikato Management School, and Japanese, Michelle made the most of the support the Hillary Scholarship offered.
“I found the leadership and public speaking opportunities really valuable, and just the general support the programme gives you to help you focus hard on your studies.”
Having dedicated coaching and mentoring from the Hamilton table tennis community alongside the Hillary Scholarship really set Michelle up for success. After graduating in 2010 with a Bachelor of Management Studies with first class honours, Michelle headed overseas.
Her first stop was Korea to teach English for six months, followed by a stint back in New Zealand, in Tauranga, working in economic development at Priority One. Itchy feet struck again and Michelle was soon off to Tokyo on a contract with honey brand Comvita, helping them move to an online sales model and position their brand in the competitive New Zealand honey market in Asia.
She then took on a role for Christchurch-based visual marketing platform Shuttlerock, leading the Japan office’s development and managing digital marketing campaigns for the likes of Sony and Hello Kitty.
In 2015, as the recipient of a Prime Minister’s Scholarship, Michelle completed the intensive Chinese Language Programme at National Taiwan University.
Through all of her experiences on and off-shore, table tennis has been a constant. In Japan and Taiwan Michelle would organise games and tournaments where she could meet people from a range of ages and backgrounds, practice the local language, and connect people with each other.
“I met the most incredible people at those table tennis games, and some amazing opportunities came from my friendships there – including the chance to cycle 900kms around the Taiwan border, which was a fantastic experience!”
Back in Wellington, she worked in business growth with the regional economic development agency for a couple of years before taking on her current role at Creative HQ. She’s also currently a member of the Asia New Zealand Leadership Network and a board member of Table Tennis New Zealand, where she is passionate about helping more young players realise their potential through the game.
“Table tennis gave me so many opportunities and pathways to follow, and I’d now love to give some of that back to up-and-coming players.”