CEO-in-Residence shares secrets of his success

CEO-in-Residence Mark Powell speaks to alumni at Auckland's Mercure Hotel.

Massey University’s CEO-in-Residence Mark Powell has come a long way from the working class town in Wales where he grew up. In a career that has seen him move from mining to logistics to leading New Zealand’s largest retail group, he has become known as a leader who puts people first and makes decisions based on a long-term horizon.

The former chief executive of the Warehouse Group shared his life story and business insights with an intimate gathering of 80 Massey University alumni in Auckland last week. He told the group that after years of leading many different types of organisations, he had distilled his success down to three simple principles: clarity of purpose, principles and priorities.

“After working for a lot of different companies on a lot of different contienets, the one thing I’ve learnt is leadership is actually very simple. Leadership is a function, and its function is to ensure clarity of a number of things in any organistion,” Mr Powell said.

“Firstly there needs to be clarity of purpose: ‘What are we about?’ Secondly there needs to be clarity of  principles: ‘How do we do stuff around here?’ And thirdly there needs to be clarity of priorities: ‘What are we trying to achieve with our limited resources?’

“In many ways I think the CEO is the chief clarifying officer, and then they become chief reminding officer to keep things on track.”

Massey almuni network at the event before Mark Powell's presentation.

Education can open doors

Mr Powell also stressed the importance of education in giving him the confidence to reach beyond the low expectations that were part of growing up in a Welsh mining town in the 1970s and ’80s. He has two undergraduate degrees and three master’s qualifications in areas as diverse as mine management, logistics, business administration and theology.

“Early on I realised that education was important. I realised it can open doors and that most things you think up, somebody has already thought about and studied,” he said.

As a result, he takes his role as CEO-in-Residence at the Massey Business School seriously. The job, he says, has three main components: being an ambassador for the Massey Business School; being a resource for the school to draw on to get a businesss perspective; and giving insights to students through formal lectures and talks with student groups.

“It’s been so enjoyable to deal with these young people who are so far ahead of where I was at the same age,” he said. “It’s quite exciting to see the incredible talent, aspiration and idealism. I think ideaism is good. I’m a realistic idealist but I also say to people, ‘Never give up your idealism.’ It’s just great to see the energy and how they want to contribute to the flourishing of society as well.”

At the end of Mr Powell’s presentation, the floor was opened up for questions and the audience asked for his view on a wide range of business issues, including dealing with diversity, bureaucracy and difficult customers.


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