Innovation Heroes: Penelope Barr-Sellers

Next month a bunch of top Kiwi brains are taking to the road for the Innovation Heroes tour - think wine, canapés and inspiring stories straight from the horse's mouth. Today we meet Penelope Barr-Sellers.

​Next month a bunch of top Kiwi brains are taking to the road for the Innovation Heroes tour - think wine, canapés and inspiring stories straight from the horse's mouth. Rod Snodgrass, Penelope Barr-Sellers, David Darling and Shona Grundy - will share their journeys of building businesses, leading businesses and advocating for young talent and innovation.

innovaiton heroes idealog penelope barr-sellers

Idealog, naturally, will be there with bells on. Over the next few weeks, though, we'll be introducing you to the guests of honour. Today, we meet Penelope Barr-Sellers - broadcaster turned communications strategist and consultant, most recently AUT's group director of development and innovation. 

What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation for me really means thinking outside the square. Creative problem solving. Looking at the way something is done, thinking of a way to do it better … Idea generation, being inventive, taking risks.

What is your driving purpose?

My current focus is really on connecting business to young talent. They both need each other to develop and grow but sometimes they don’t know where to find each other and start that conversation.

What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

For me it would be don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. More often than not the answer will be positive. I actually don’t think women are always very good at asking for what they want. I have certainly have had periods of being better at it than not.

Ask for what you want. Most people are quite responsive and positive to people being very clear and direct.

Who have been your most influential role models?

While in my early years of broadcasting Neil Roberts was certainly influential to me. He really was a true sector innovator and had this incredible knack of knowing who and what would work on screen. I think he’s quite a resilient risk taker who was pretty passionate about everything he did ... Paul Cutler at TVNZ, a really excellent newsman with a great nose for a story and excellent interpersonal skills.

In more recent years in the UK, a woman named Deirdre Murphy, my managing director at Ketchum in London - just a really super smart strategist who has an amazing work ethic, who’s even under pressure and has a leadership style that brings out the best in everyone. She’s Irish and has a great sense of humour and I think that’s a great thing to have in any setting.

What is one mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?

Not so much a mistake, but it could have been seen as a mistake by other people, was a realisation and a game changer for me in terms of my career. I was working on a show called Made in New Zealand. After, I think, four episodes, it had its funding cut. I realised at that point I didn’t really have a lot of control over what my future career looked like and I might not if I stayed in that industry.

I’d had a pretty good run, I’d been working in TV for about 10 years, and decided that moment in time was perfect for me to take the skills I’d developed as a broadcaster and storyteller and move into a new industry sector. That basically led me into public relations, which I really enjoyed from the get go and subsequently into agency management. That’s enabled me to work in a whole range of sectors with top business people.

What are the key qualities do you think that got you where you are today?

Tenacity. Once I set my mind to something, I’m off. I make sure I achieve those goals to the highest standards - my standards.

I’ve got lots of drive and energy and I think my son definitely has inherited that.

I’m really adaptable and I’ve got quite good EQ around how to operate with different people. I think that’s been honed over the years by working with many different cultures in business.

Aligned with that is curiosity. I’m interested in everything and I don’t see a new sector as a challenge, it’s something to research, find out more about and embrace.

A sense of humour and not taking yourself too jolly seriously, having fun along the way and working with people you enjoy working with – that’s really important.

Click here to find out when the tour hits your nearest city and to book tickets.