In Touch: The new Blake Medallist

A New Zealand engineer who became the first outsider in the University of Oxford’s 900-year history to be appointed its vice-chancellor has earned the coveted Blake Medal – New Zealand’s supreme award for leadership.
John Hood joins four other Blake medallists – Sir John Anderson, Stephen Tindall, Professor Paul Callaghan and Sir Murray Halberg – recognised for their outstanding leadership ability and their long-time commitment to New Zealand. Hood, who was presented with the award by Lady Pippa Blake at special ceremony held aboard the HMNZS Canterbury on June 26, is no stranger to accolades.
Just two years ago he earned the supreme KEA World Class New Zealand Leader award which also recognised the breadth of his engagement – across the academic, business and sporting worlds. In his previous role as VC at the University of Auckland, Hood spearheaded the two “Knowledge Conferences” where he described the best leaders as “inspirational, informed, curious, open-minded, respectful and action-oriented”. Certainly his own career path reflects those values.
It was the spirit of enquiry, fostered early by his headmaster father, which drew him to Oxford in the first place when, as Rhodes Scholar, he completed Master of Philosophy in management studies. By then he’d already earned an engineering degree from the University of Auckland and had been working for Fletcher Challenge – the company to which he subsequently returned, later heading its paper, building and construction divisions.
Driven to achieve high standards in everything he undertakes, Hood’s primary focus over the past 10 years both at Auckland and Oxford has been to work with colleagues and other stakeholders to reinforce the strength of universities as “the heartbeat of modern democracies”.
During his tenure at Oxford, research income has nearly doubled with the university achieving success in the latest Research Assessment Exercise. The physical infrastructure of the institution has also been enhanced and the Campaign for Oxford has raised well in excess of £700 million – putting the university in much sounder financial position.
In his previous role at the University of Auckland, Hood’s work championed the potential of academia to play part in creating more internationally competitive New Zealand and culture in which the nation’s top thinkers might be as honoured and respected as top sports people. And he knows quite bit about the latter, having served as chair of the America’s Cup Taskforce, the Minister’s Think Tank of High Performance Sport and the Hood Report on New Zealand cricket.
In the business arena he has served on the boards of ASB, Fonterra, and Universitas 21Global, chaired Tonkin & Taylor, the Knowledge Wave Trust, and the NZ Vice Chancellor’s Committee, as well as being member of the Prime Minister’s Growth and Advisory Board.
While his tenure at Oxford concludes in September, he will continue to maintain leadership role – as president and CEO of The Robertson Foundation, private family-led philanthropic foundation in America. And despite his time offshore, Hood maintains close connection with this country and its future. As he noted in an interview with NZ Management magazine (April 2007), this country has an edge in the “art of possibility”.
“There is something extraordinarily special about the New Zealand character. People here tend to grow up with wider range of skills and greater sense that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and bring your skills to bear on it.
“So we have to always try to ensure we do everything to the highest possible standard, whether in business, education or government. We need to constantly look across the world for best practice, bring it to what we do and don’t accept second best. If we do that, then I think we have every chance of great future.”

Emerging leader awards

Their experience ranges from flying planes to helping give businesses flying start; their skills are applied to sectors spanning agriculture to army, or education to law – but the six winners of Sir Peter Blake “emerging leader” awards share commitment to empowering others.
Giving people opportunities, expecting them to step up to the mark and empowering them to find solutions is all part of the leadership recipe that has helped 38-year-old Russell Mardon, Wing Commander in the Royal NZ Airforce, earn accolades for inspirational leadership both in combat and sport. Described as having an infectious enthusiasm, he is currently responsible for 150 people and fleet of 19 helicopters in his role as Commanding Officer of No.3 Squadron at RNZAF Base at Ohakea.
Good leadership, he says is about being able to build effective teams.
“That includes focusing on each individual’s strengths, then providing them with roles that allow them to use those strengths to shine.”
Harnessing the collective ability of individuals is how John Penno describes the sort of effort required to build up dairy farming enterprise that annually produces more than 75 million litres of milk and manufactures 30,000 tonnes of export dairy product.
The 40-year-old CEO of Synlait sees himself less as an individual leading team than an individual leading group of leaders and says the “best leaders empower others to take the lead”.
His leadership extends to chairing the Dairy Environment Leadership Group and an involvement with irrigation plans for the development of sustainable farming in Christchurch.
As the principal of One Tree Hill College, Iva Ropati (42) sees himself as “a cog in the bigger machine – creating opportunities for others to lead, take ownership and get excited about the school”. The former Warriors player has transferred his team skills from the field to the school yard with strong belief everyone must play their part to see the college become “the champion” Auckland school.
With capabilities as diverse as the communities, he serves, 42-year-old pastor Alfred Ngaro strives to be “space creator” rather than “space invader” – making way for others to become involved. He hopes to inspire those he works alongside at the grassroots of community to see there are opportunities for all to become leaders.
For him “it’s all about being the best at who we are”. His strength in uniting diverse groups is now being applied to what’s been described as the most innovative social renewal project in Auckland – the Tamaki Transformation Project.
His commitment to giving local businesses kick start has given ICEHOUSE chief executive Andy Hamilton (40) reputation for being tireless advocate noted for his enthusiasm, vision and support. In the past eight years, the ICEHOUSE incubator has provided learning environment for nearly 2000 owner-managers as well as providing the impetus for 70 start-up companies which between them have raised $45 million in venture capital and employ 300.
A belief that strong leaders can be “made” and need not be “born” has inspired lawyer Rachel Paris to lead by example and get involved at grassroots level as much as possible – providing mentoring help both in her profession and in the wider community. At 32, she has recently been made partner at Bell Gully, breaking ground in the legal community as being the first part-timer to achieve that status. Managing her profession alongside motherhood, Paris also pursues her interest in film, co-authoring feature film screenplay currently in production with South Pacific Pictures.
She believes that today’s more relevant leaders are “the innovators who challenge the way things have always been done because they are ambitious for improvement” and says we can each be leaders in our own way. “We simply need to find cause that inspires us and rally others to help achieve our goal.”

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