LEADERSHIP : Energy to burn

Brett Christie’s enthusiasm for life is contagious. He’s just pushed 50 gym members to their physical limits through full-on cardio workout. He’s grinning and the participants are obviously happily exhausted.
As he winds down after the session as group fitness instructor at Les Mills Christchurch, Christie admits to having hectic professional and social calendar. His life is all about meeting people and the classes he leads are just one of his many networking forums.
By far his most impressive feat is launching the Young Professionals, Canterbury-based concept that has now grown to include nine groups and 3000 young business people round the country.
He typifies Gen-Y and his zeal is infectious, if little daunting.
His gym career came about after being left for dust on mountain bike trip with his brother and father. Christie wanted to get fitter – he became, in his own words, “a fitness freak”. He made so much noise and had so much energy in the group fitness classes he attended, he was asked to be an instructor.
Christie can talk. And talk some more. He’s such natural communicator, and he is so genuine, his energy and noise are smoothly converted into motivational and inspirational messages.
It’s surprise to find out that his profession is structural engineering, and he’s the first to say he is not typical engineer. It is no shock to hear that his employer, engineering consultancy Beca, utilises his communications skills by having him speak to graduates and potential employees at University of Canterbury functions.
Christie worked as structural draughtsman after high school then left Palmerston North for Christchurch to attend the University of Canterbury’s School of Engineering. Like most students, he joined society, Ensoc, to make friends in new place.
The camaraderie of those student days left an impression.
Twenty-eight-year-old Christie is now president of Canterbury Young Professionals (CYP), which for the last three years has brought together young Christchurch people for social and business networking.
He says there was an obvious gap in the professional socialising market for younger people who understood the importance of networking, but were at loss as to where to start.
“I wanted to break down the silos of industry for young professionals,” Christie says. Rather than having accountants meeting with accountants, and lawyers networking with other lawyers in industry groups, the group’s founders wanted to set up meetings for all professions.
But the reality of networking in Christchurch is that it was all about ‘what school did you go to’, which can isolate newcomers and locals alike.
The group’s founders, some from out of town like Christie and others from the ‘right’ schools in Christchurch, wanted to eliminate this barrier and create opportunities for young professionals from all walks of life to meet on equal terms.
It’s been Gen-Y style revolution.
“Life is all about who you know. We are giving people access so they can get to know more people,” Christie says.
“You can’t attract business or get further in your career if you don’t associate with people who can give you business.”
The Canterbury group’s growth has been through word of mouth, email and social media, given the demographics of the members.
Sponsorship means the not-for-profit organisation can heavily subsidise its social occasions and provide high-calibre business training at low cost.
Members tend to be under 30 and in the first five years of their careers and they don’t necessarily have tertiary qualification. It is fairly even split between men and women, says Christie.
Christie was instrumental in the group’s emergence in Christchurch networking circles and cemented the relations with sponsors and the New Zealand Institute of Management.
In 2008, NZIM Southern approached the group to participate in its management training programme. NZIM Southern acting chief executive Tom McBrearty says it is win-win relationship. Young professionals have the chance to be mentored by NZIM members who are in the positions of responsibility they aspire to, while the more experienced business people have the chance to understand what is driving Gen Y.
The word-of-mouth marketing for the Canterbury group has also triggered interest from other centres. The young professionals society concept has now spread to Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland, Nelson, Queenstown, the Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, and Hawkes Bay.
national umbrella organisation is planned, the New Zealand Young Professionals.
Says Christie: “I find energy from the things in my life that make me happy. Since becoming fitness freak, I have been able to achieve more because I have more energy.
“The skills that I am attaining from the group and Les Mills have also redirected where I want to be at Beca. I have discovered that I have real passion for business management, leadership, marketing and business development,” Christie says.

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