What time do you wake up?
My alarm usually goes off at 6.30am. If I know that I have something big on the next day, my body clock usually wakes me up at 5.30am, probably to give me more time to prepare. This is annoying, but the body clock knows best I suppose.
What kind of work do you do?
I’m chief people officer for Air New Zealand, so I look after all people-related activities in the company. I like to think I am in the job of helping 12,000 individuals be their best selves at work.
What’s the ideal way to start your day?
Without an alarm waking me up! Ideally, I would wake up naturally after eight hours of sleep and not have to rush to get out of the house. Reading a good book in bed with a view of the sea, birdsong in the background, and having a cup of tea or a flat white hand delivered to me!
What’s your media consumption or interaction like – which podcasts, radio, videos, books, magazines, and new sites do you read or listen to?
I am a voracious consumer of media and written material. It’s how I stay relevant, connected to the world and get my ideas and stimulus for work and life. I traverse the whole spectrum:
- Twitter for quick international news and the occasional deep dive.
- News apps: Guardian, BBC, AFR, Newshub, NZ Herald.
- LinkedIn: I spend a dedicated hour a week reading articles on LinkedIn.
- Radio: George FM for music (turned up very loud when no one else is in the car, one of the ways I consciously transition out of work mode is to listen to loud music) and The Edge for the morning show banter (if the kids haven’t tuned in their Spotify playlists into the car stereo).
- Podcasts: This American Life, Desert Island Discs, Ideacasts, TedTalks, Serial, RNZ (all usually listened to very sporadically at the gym).
- Magazines: Mostly UK fashion ones which I sometimes store up for months. This is okay as there is usually a long lag time before any semblance of the fashion trends hits these shores!
- Netflix for box sets: usually with a futuristic or dark edge.
I also have a pile of books by the side of my bed. Reading a great fiction book is one of the ways I treat myself in life and I also have two kids who are book worms like me. Every Saturday after sports, we head to Mt Eden Village for sushi and go to Time Out bookstore to see if there is anything new in the world of books that we want to purchase.
What do you think is unique about the way you approach your work?
I have a rule that I have to speak with or present to at least 100 people each week in a meaningful way (so casual chit chat doesn’t count). I do a lot of internal and external presentations and also 1:1 and coaching/mentoring type conversations each week and it’s such a privilege to connect with different people each week and genuinely get a sense of how they are progressing at work.
What responsibility do you have in a typical day? What takes up most of your time?
I usually work a 10-hour day when I have the kids, or a 12-hour day when I don’t. I also travel a fair amount for my role, but I tend to do that on the weeks I don’t have the kids. Luckily, I love to travel so I think I am in the right industry. If I’m in New Zealand, I spend around seven to eight hours a day in meetings, which will generally be exec-steering committees, decision-making meetings, meetings with my team or people from other organisations. I try to keep 90-minutes a day free to deal with any emerging or urgent issues, to skim emails (people get a lot of one to two-word emails from me). On a quick trawl though my sent emails – “yes, no, awesome, fantastic, congratulations, well done, let’s talk, maybe, OK, approved” seem to be my most frequent responses.
Where do your best ideas come from?
When I am on a long-haul flight, reading a book or article, walking on the beach, in the middle of the night, but mostly listening carefully to what people are saying. That last one is key. Too many people listen to respond, rather than listen to learn. I am an inductive thinker which means I like lots of different sources of information and data and I try to find patterns and meaning from them.
What does resilience look like to you?
I know my own physical, mental and emotional limitations pretty well. I work long hours every week and then every six to eight weeks or so I need to take a long weekend off to recharge. I also purchase an extra week of leave each year because having proper holidays with the kids during their school holidays and over the summer period is really important to me. I know I am at my most resilient when I have a sense of humour about most things, and when I have the perspective that although maybe things aren’t going your way in terms of what you want to achieve that day or that week, you know you’re ultimately making progress in the right direction.
What has been the most transformational business practice you’ve implemented at your work?
Getting people to focus on purpose and meaning. Too many people carry on doing the same thing each day unquestioningly or coming up with either an incremental fix or one that doesn’t address the root cause, so I try to influence people problem solve in a meaningful way.
What social or environmental issues inform the work you do, as well as what you’re aiming to do with your company’s overall vision?
I do a lot of research and thinking into the future of work, technology trends, productivity, changing societal norms, how people experience discrimination, racism, sexism, ageism, the #MeToo movement, changing demographics, gender politics, the responsibility we have to Māori in Aotearoa, issues around vulnerability, wellbeing, living standards, labour market dynamics, industrial relations, and individual and collective activism. Environmentally I think about supply chain management, ethical sourcing, and last but definitely not least I think about our carbon footprint and how we need to do more to offset this and lead the way in the aviation industry. All of these and more issues inform the sort of company we are now and where we want to be and I think long and hard about what it means to be a national carrier whose mission is to supercharge New Zealand’s success and the challenges and opportunities that presents us with on a daily basis.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?
Laughing with colleagues or my team. A day spent without some irreverence and belly laughter in it is not a day well spent. My exec colleagues and I are a pretty tight knit bunch and I genuinely enjoy hanging out with them both in and outside of work. From a ‘what I do’ perspective, nothing gives me more enjoyment than having someone say to me that somehow, I helped them realise their full potential.
What about the least enjoyable?
Some business transformation or people decisions can be tough ones to make. Whilst I may not enjoy making tough decisions, I have a philosophy that you should always be able to look someone in the eye and explain your rationale and feel comfortable that you have considered all options and that it’s the one you are accountable for taking.
What’s your best productivity hack?
Learning to say no. I try to follow the doctrine of simplicity and trying to pare back on clutter at work and in my personal life. So I am constantly thinking, “What’s my purpose in this meeting? Why I am spending my time doing this? What better value can I be delivering? How can I scale my impact more?” Then I let non-essential things fall by the wayside which helps to prioritise when saying no. The other thing is having one source of truth in terms of my work online outlook calendar. My calendar is a colour coded masterpiece of my life in terms of activities, meetings, tasks, people to speak with, what my kids are up to, personal appointments and social engagements. I spent 16 years working as a management consultant for KPMG in London where I had to charge clients for my time, so I am a little obsessive about productivity and making every last minute count. I know exactly which tasks to do if I have one, five or 30 minutes spare and how to make those minutes count.
What’s your interaction with friends and family throughout the day? Can you be both a successful businessperson and a good mother/partner/friend?
You can absolutely be a successful businessperson and parent or friend! There are all types of flavours of businesspeople and all types of flavours of parents and partners and friends. I talk on this topic a lot to Women’s Networks and leadership development groups and it really bothers me that so many working parents, especially Mums, are tied up in knots about it. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. I don’t do parental guilt or angst. I am a firm believer in owning the decisions I take and how I live my life and my barometer is focused on the big stuff: are my kids happy, do we have fun together, do they talk to me, and are they growing up to be kind and curious people? Luckily, they are all very healthy and active so I also give thanks to that as health is the one curve ball you can’t control.
What do you do once you get home? Can you switch off?
I am an advocate of personal and work life interweaving – and in a 24/7 aviation industry you have to have that way of being. So I have no issue with booking into my working day 90 minutes to go watch a child play sport, or go to the dentist or deviate off route from head office to the airport to pick up dry cleaning or whatever personal admin is needed, because I usually work at night on the couch next to the kids while they do their homework or they’re watching something on Netflix. Often on a Sunday morning, I will allow them to have a few hours on tech and I will spend three hours working. When I have the kids the maximum amount of evening events (both work and personal) I will say yes to is three per week.
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