COVER STORY Laying Down the Lore

It’s hard to imagine some of today’s business leaders as callow youths. Did they lie awake at night worrying if they could do their jobs? Did they tiptoe tentatively through the mass of daily decisions before learning to trust their instincts? We asked this pack of proven performers to share some of the advice they were given on the way up. Not the technical stuff but the soul-nurturing, character-forming nuggets of insight that guide them to this day. instincts? We asked this pack of proven performers to share some of the advice they were given on the way up. Not the technical stuff but the soul-nurturing, character-forming nuggets of insight that guide them to this day. Their insights are as varied as their successes. Sometimes funny, poignant and at times surprisingly frank, this is what they were told. Here are their words from the wise.

Graeme Avery
Owner/CEO Sileni Estates

A couple of stimuli made me determined to prove myself in different ways. When I was at school I was told I should choose university course career – which I didn’t. I chose pharmacy instead because I wanted to blend mixture of science and commerce. Because of that I was very determined to succeed in doing what my teachers and classmates from Hutt Valley High School said I shouldn’t do. If I remember rightly, I was the only one from my class who didn’t go to university per se.
Also, just prior to being told to go to university, I’d done one of those ridiculous IQ tests in career guidance at school. The test said I was not suited to an academic-based career, but I went on to finish as the top pharmacy student. That’s probably because I could see through the nonsense behind the IQ test. These two events happened within couple of months of each other and, looking back, I think they made me determined to succeed. In my case, negative comments tapped into determination, stubbornness and desire to succeed through creative thinking about the future.

Jo Brosnahan
Chairman of Leadership New Zealand and consultant in leadership and strategy

I could think of those who told me to follow my heart (usually works), those who said to stay away from local government (ignored) and those who said to look after the people and the organisation would look after itself (followed).
However, I have no doubt that the best advice I ever received was to study leadership on my Harkness Fellowship in the United States from 1995 to 1996. I had been advised that I had been made Harkness Fellow but my carefully prepared topic had been rejected – I needed to find another. I went to restaurant one night with John Vandersyp – friend and mentor over the years – and put my challenge to him. He asked what I would like to do – and I said that I would like to travel the United States, talking with the variety of great people whom I had read about. What did they have in common? They were all leaders in various ways. And so he advised me to study leadership.
Thus began journey into the study and practice of leadership, culminating most recently in my involvement in the establishment of Leadership New Zealand and the recent involvement in global leadership forum in Istanbul. I have no doubt that it will be lifelong passion and commitment.
It has focused my career to the extent that my objective became to create organisations in which there is leadership throughout, as was the focus at the ARC in my time there. I am concerned now to spend more time in leadership research, writing and teaching and in assisting New Zealand to develop whole network of future leaders.
On reflection, that advice was life changing!

Liz Coutts
Professional director

The best advice I ever got is something I’ve been told often and by many people throughout my career. It was to make the hard calls early. When you have losses, address them quickly. If there are going to be redundancies, announce them as soon as you can. If there’s bad news, get it out the door.
It was first given to me by Rob Allen, when I was financial controller of Caxton Group and before I became CEO. Selwyn Cushing said the same thing to me when I was on the board of Air New Zealand. And many others have done so in between. It’s advice I now regularly pass on. If people see me as tough, it’s because I believe in this principle and act on it. Being in business is not popularity contest. It’s not about being liked. It’s about being trusted. And taking the hard decisions early builds credibility.

Evan Davies
Managing director, SkyCity Entertainment Group

When I first left university I worked for my father – Rodney Davies, architect and town planner. He taught me to be fair and open-minded about new ideas and different approaches to an issue or opportunity, and to be flexible as to method or route employed. At the same time, he taught me to be completely informed and absolutely implacable in dogged pursuit of clearly defined objective.
That approach has stayed with me and I think is the foundation of my role at SkyCity.

Roderick Deane
Chairman, Telecom New Zealand, Te Papa & ANZ National Bank & director ANZ Banking Group Melbourne

I have been the fortunate recipient of much advice over the years.From my father, Reg Deane: “Win or lose, be calm and not ungracious” and “never write to minister or government agency without first knowing what their reply will be”.From Philip R Coney, one of New Zealand’s most outstanding economists and my mentor at the Reserve Bank: “There are only few truly outstanding leaders in any arena … pursue the opportunity to work closely with them to really develop your own talents and those of the teams around you” and “always look for better intellects than your own to work with”.From Ray White, former governor of the Reserve Bank, when I was young: “Listen” and “be less impetuous and impatient of others”.From my wife Gillian: “Edit button, Roderick, edit button” … particularly when dealing with politicians and the media.

Corallie Eagle
Chairman, Eagle Technology

My parents told me to always be prepared for rainy day. In my life that advice has seen me through many hard times, but also through many good times. Always be prepared for change, because nothing ever stays the same.

Tony Falkenstein
Owner, Red Eagle Group

When I was 29 I accepted the position of general manager of Polaroid in New Zealand. I was very shy and had few nerves about whether I could really do the job. Norman Godden, who was principal of Sheffield Associates and had placed me in another role five years earlier, suggested I join Toastmasters and learn public speaking. This was one of the best things I ever did. It didn’t turn me into spectacular speaker but it gave me the confidence to handle CEO role… and I found my wife there as an added bonus.
I also learnt lot from Peter Masfen, who was the chairman of Corporate Investments, which owned Montana Wines and had large share in publicly listed Optical Holdings. I was appointed CEO of Optical Holdings, which we restructured and put on success track. The market didn’t believe it, so Peter continued to purchase shares and told me I should be doing the same.
It was only when he dragged me kicking into Westpac that I recognised the leverage of using someone else’s money – I had never been borrower. The lesson? When the return you can get from your business is higher than what you pay your funder, then use that leverage.

George Hickton
Chief executive, Tourism New Zealand

I was given bit of advice very early in my career that has stuck with me since. When I worked at the Ford Motor Company factory in Lower Hutt I was given rare chance to move from the factory floor to the office. One of the older guys took me to one side and said: “Never give them your soul. Always remember who you are and maintain your own sense of self. It’s the only way to remain sane. Ultimately businesses change but people don’t.”

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