The Last Word: Helen Robinson


Robinson has always been manager on the move. Her CV is peppered with impressive leadership appointments. She was chief executive of Microsoft New Zealand until 2007 when she was shoulder-tapped to become the founding CEO of TZ1 Registry, an NZX-sponsored carbon trading start-up venture that eventually led to her becoming the Markit Group’s global managing director, environmental markets. Markit is London-based global financial information services company that bought TZ1 in June 2009 for reported US$20 million.

With the TZ1 team, Robinson built strategy to deliver global carbon trading registry which, up to that point, did not exist. She is now leading advocate for monetising environmental commodities as the fastest and most effective way to deliver clean and sustainable environment. She sees certain irony in the fact New Zealand initiative is now global enterprise while New Zealand is still grappling with how to formulate what are to her mind “more enlightened” environmental management strategies.

What worries Robinson most is that we are now letting the opportunity to leverage our strong green, environmental reputation slip. There is still the opportunity to turn that around and capitalise on our image but that means moving on from the climate change debate. “We know that humans pollute. Now let’s do something about it.

“Being green, sustainability and their associated issues all offer New Zealand the biggest single opportunity we have for economic growth. It leverages our science, research, our innovative thinking and our technological skill set. We could become proven economic success that is the font on much of the knowledge around sustainable farming, forestry and other resource management practices. We could be the innovation centre for clean and green technologies.” But, she adds, we “navel gaze” too much. “We are reluctant to commercialise our great ideas. We are still far too risk averse.” And Robinson believes poor governance, inadequate commercial leadership and acumen lie at the heart of this reality.

Robinson sees her expertise as growing businesses. “There are two things that are important to company’s success. One is scale – and there are not many markets in New Zealand that provide the scale that business needs to be super successful. The second prerequisite is governance. Getting the right governance structure in business is paramount. Get those two things right and you are well on the way to success.” She likes to win, to succeed at what she does. “My priority is always to run the best company to do business with,” she adds. “What is important is that our customers delight in doing business with us.”

Robinson accepts her life on the wing because she would not live anywhere else in the world. She eagerly anticipates her Thursday night flights back to her home-based husband and three children. She has, she says, “the best of both worlds”. She is, she adds, “passionately Kiwi” but sometimes she wonders why more of us don’t hanker to spread our tiny wings and take flight.

Extract from an interview with Reg Birchfield. For the full interview visit

NZ Management’s October issue focuses on what New Zealand needs to do to become global leader in the burgeoning clean tech market. Click here to purchase copy.

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