COVER STORY : Six of the Best – World Class Leaders

The World Class New Zealand Awards, run by NZ Trade & Enterprise and KEA and now into their fourth year, recognise those who are making an outstanding contribution to this country’s economic development as well as identifying leaders that young Kiwis can aspire to emulate.
This year’s award attracted over 100 top-level nominations from around the globe with 22 short-listed for the six sectors: information & communications technology, biotechnology, research science technology & academia, finance, investment & business services, and manufacturing. The overall Supreme Award winner will be announced at black-tie event on March 15 at SkyCity Convention Centre.
Last year’s Supreme Award recognised the achievements of Nobel-prize-winning scientist, the late Alan McDiarmid.
Winners are judged on six criteria: facilitates exchange of information, knowledge and skills with New Zealand; fosters New Zealand innovation and entrepreneurship; being an entrepreneurial role model; promotes New Zealand internationally; builds global connectedness with New Zealand; and the “X” factor.
Sponsors for the event include HSBC, Provenco, Department of Labour, Absolutely Positively Wellington, Enterprising Manukau, and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.



Ralph Norris, CEO Commonwealth Bank.
World class, finance, investment and business services

Having notched up an impressive record for leading business growth and culture change in New Zealand-based corporations, first at ASB then Air New Zealand, Ralph Norris is now applying his customer and people-centric style of leadership across the Tasman.
Known for his low-key approachability, Norris reckons there’s an egalitarian edge to the Kiwi leadership style that can to some extent be attributed to our relatively classless communities.
“We are society that still has significant mobility from socio-economic perspective. I mean, look at myself – brought up in state house in Mt Roskill and I’ve had the privilege of some very satisfying CEO roles.”
He is, he adds, hardly unique in that but it perhaps explains what seems slight air of embarrassment around his ‘world class’ designation. It’s not claim he’d make for himself and for him, leadership is something that has evolved over time through problem solving, dealing with challenges.
“I started off life in computer programming really and there were certainly plenty of problems and issues to solve there. I think I realised over time the best way to solve these was working closely with others – collaboration, teamwork, making sure you recognise the efforts of others.”
He was fortunate in his own career, he says, to have had managers who recognised and encouraged his potential. And one of the bits of advice he’d give aspiring leaders is to “put your people first”.
“If you expect people to share the vision you have, he says, then you have to value them, recognise them and be inclusive. Everyone likes to be appreciated – and they’ll go lot further when they do.”
It’s also important to be good role model for the values and behaviour you expect from employers, to set clear goals and objectives and to counsel people when these are not being met.
He also rates honesty as key aspect of leadership.
“Not only being honest with others but with yourself – so it is important to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to admit to weaknesses and attempt to do something about them.”
He believes that New Zealand business leaders (and he comes cross “surprisingly large number” in Australia) tend to be more outward looking, more open to new ideas.
“If you work in the hurly burly of London or New York, you probably think the business world starts and ends there, whereas if you work out on the fringes, so to speak, you’re more open to what’s going on in the big wide world.”
That said, he thinks Kiwis can often underestimate their capabilities.
“The great thing about New Zealand is it has been able to be thought leader. If you look at what’s emanated from here – and the achievements of people like Ernest Rutherford, William Pickering, Ed Hillary or Peter Blake … I think we can be influential through the power of ideas.”


Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.
World class, creative industries

Kevin Roberts is actually not too keen on the ‘world-class’ designation – he reckons New Zealanders should aim higher.
“We want to be way ahead of that – what’s the point of being in the premier league. We’ve got to win shit. We’ve got the right to play now because of the internet – there’s no way the tyranny of distance or size can be used against us, instead we can use that to our favour.
“All development comes from the edge whether you’re in business, sport or biology – because it’s too bloody hard to get up through the middle. So we have this great inbuilt advantage now of geographical dislocation and smallness. We can do anything here.”
He may be pommy-born, ex-pat New Zealand citizen speaking from hotel room in California but his use of the possessive pronoun is heartfelt. The CEO of ideas company Saatchi & Saatchi is well known for his passionate and forthright advocacy of all things Kiwi.
He arrived here with his family in 1989 as chief operating officer of Lion Nathan and still has Kiwi home base – along with homes in New York and St Tropez. Although appointed CEO of Saatchis nearly decade ago, he also retains strong ties through academic, business and sporting links as well as via family, friends and government – he was appointed private sector ambassador to the NZ/US Council in 2004.
So it’s no coincidence that several local companies feature in his latest book The lovemarks effect: winning the consumer revolution. This and his earlier Lovemarks: the future beyond brands also provide some insights to his own views on leadership – which is, he says, about “serving, connectivity, collaboration and how to be in flow all the time by combining passion and harmony”.
The leader/follower model is, he suggests load of rubbish.
“It’s all about inspiring everyone to be the best they can be against the dream of the organisation. So share dream, inspire them, provide them with framework, then get the f___ out of the way.”
His approach is to hire great talent then give them four things: responsibility (the earlier the better); learning; recognition; and joy.
He takes the ‘know thyself’ aspect of leadership seriously because he reckons the further up you go, the more stupid you get.
“That’s because you forget who you are and start believing your own PR. Plus everyone is telling you porky pies because you’re the boss. You have to keep grasp of who you really are – not who the media says you are.”
Roberts keeps himself honest by regularly asking three questions: where do I want to be in five years’ time? (serious aspirations only in here); where am I when I’m at my best? (patsy answers not allowed); and what will I never do again?
He reckons Kiwi leadership should stand for “creative action-packed results”. One of the reasons he employs lot of Kiwis is you can rely on them to get things done.
“Show them problem, they find solution. I’m massive believer in New Zealand creativity – in film, in design … we’re kicking serious butt.”
His advice to aspiring Kiwi leaders.
“Start business, get off your ass and go overseas to see if you can compete. Learn as much as you can, then go out and conquer the West Coast of America and China because they’re the two markets we’ve got to win in.”


Brian Peace, Founder Peace Software.
World class, information and communications technology

Even at school Brian Peace was never follower. “I always wanted to be in front on the tramp; to be class captain. I knew there would be better experiences being in the lead.” It never occurred to him not to aim for the top job.
But the founder and former CEO of Peace Software, has played out his leadership role on

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