Written by Kimberly Rees, Alumna 2013
Stephen has always been professionally attracted to complexity, tackling difficulties and developing solutions.
He attended the Leadership NZ Programme in 2008 while Group Manager, Customers, Strategy and Enterprises at the NZ Post Group. Stephen says that he chose the Leadership NZ Programme over others on offer, because he liked the idea that it was 2-3 days each month over a year so there was more time to immerse yourself into the learning.
“The intellectual stimulation that Leadership NZ provides is amazing,” he says and admits that he relished the fact that the Programme tackles complex social issues within New Zealand.
“Every month over a couple of days we learn about issues facing New Zealand, hear from top influential people on that topic and learn about their personal leadership journey and how they got to where they are now. We are given space and time to ask questions, have a real dialogue, reflect and learn at a much deeper level than you would get anywhere else,” Stephen says.
When asked how his organisation benefited from his attendance at the Programme he immediately says, “It helped me do my job better!” He then adds, “We are a customer service focussed organisation. Leadership NZ gave me the insight into the breadth, depth and complexity of our customers and how to better serve them.”
After being in the Programme for the year, Stephen undertook some volunteer work through the Leadership NZ SkillsBank (a service that matches the numerous requests from not-for-profit organisations for pro bono support to the skills of Leadership NZ alumni to those requests) and helped Neighbourhood NZ with their sustainability planning while still in his full-time GM role at NZ Post. “Again,” Stephen says, “this gave me the chance to get to know real everyday people and to think about how our business can be better in that context.”
In 2012 Stephen switched to the government sector and took up the role of Chief Operating Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Stephen says “Prior to going on the Programme, I was immersed in the business world of revenue and profitability. But in the Programme you are working alongside, and in teams of, people from not-for-profits, government agencies, creative industries, etcetera who are making a real difference and grappling with complex problems that you just don’t get to see very often on the commercial side.”
Therefore, when the opportunity came up at MFAT to test his ‘transferable skills’ and see what value he could bring to the government sector, Stephen jumped at it. He admits that he probably wouldn’t have taken on a high-level government position prior to attending the Programme. Now looking back on it, Stephen says that in the beginning, some of the commercial ideas he brought to MFAT were considered high risk at the time. “I believe that the exposure I gained through the Leadership NZ Programme around the value of diverse perspectives when addressing complex issues made my time and the programmes I developed at MFAT ultimately successful,” he says.
Stephen has recently moved jobs and into an entirely different sector. He is now General Manager, Services at the New Zealand Racing Board. Only a few weeks into his role, it seems that Stephen is already taking-on new complex challenges with a diversity perspective and is not afraid to challenge the status quo. He says he is looking forward to helping address the issues such as internationalisation and digitisation of the changing world and the impact on the racing industry, and consequently rural and principal New Zealand.
When asked what his key advice is for future leaders, Stephen says, “Stay authentic – don’t be afraid to try something different nor to express your opinion or perspective because everyone has his or her value to add. Otherwise, we all end up running with blinders on.”
In realising that he is has created a metaphor linked to his new workplace, Stephen expands his advice for future leaders or those considering the Leadership NZ Programme and says, “Start the race, go forth and be fearless – you can’t win if you don’t start. It is the best way to find out what it is that you are really good at.”