Over the coming weeks, the Waikato Chamber of Commerce will be talking to each of the award winners from the recent Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction Group, to find out what they did to stand out from the crowd. This week’s ‘Winner’s Insight’ is with Chris Joblin, CEO at Tainui Group Holdings, winner of the 2021 University of Waikato CEO of the Year.
Meeting Chris Joblin for the first time, you quickly understand that this is a man who doesn’t seek the spotlight. It’s not a surprise, therefore, that the winner of CEO of the Year is constantly bringing his answers back to focus on his team throughout the interview.
“For me, I’m a pretty humble person, so winning this award has taken a bit to sink in,” Chris said during our talk at the Novotel Hamilton Tainui, one of Tainui Group Holdings’ (TGH) many investments in the region.
“It’s a huge achievement, one that I’m really proud of. But one of the things that really means a lot to me is that my team felt that I was worthy and nominated me. Having that accolade from them is really important. It’s not just about me, it’s a reflection on TGH and the things that we’re doing. My role is just to facilitate and lead that, but the hard work is done by a whole lot of people.”
That hard work includes a range of projects across the Waikato and New Zealand, with property being the group’s biggest investment, but also including stakes in natural resources such as fishing, agriculture and forestry, as well as equities and infrastructure. The biggest project currently on the books is the Ruakura Superhub, which Chris talks excitedly about.
“The things that we’re doing at TGH are pretty exciting; it’s not every day you get to build a multibillion-dollar property development. In another three or four months when you start to see buildings going up there, I think it’s really going to hit home to people just how big and how important it’s going to be to our region. It’s going to drive a lot of economic prosperity to our community, and obviously to our owners Waikato Tainui, so it’s really exciting.”
You also get the sense that TGH are just getting started. “Some of the things that you’re starting to see from TGH now, and what you will see in the future, are going to blow people’s minds,” Chris said in his acceptance speech at the award ceremony.
“We’re hugely aspirational, we want to see our iwi and our region really thrive. It’s really cool to work in an organisation that has an inter-generational focus. As a CEO that gives you a lot of freedom, and the ability to think outside the square and do good things.”Some of that aspiration will, in future, focus on Hamilton’s CBD.
“We have the privilege of being an intergenerational investor, which means we can look long term. It means that we can invest in ways that others don’t because we know that we’re going to own these assets for a long, long time. So we look at things like the CBD, around creating something centred around public transport that’s a lot more vibrant, that will attract more activity into the CBD.”
Like many investors in large-scale projects, the pandemic has affected the development plans of TGH, in particular, the new five-star Te Arikinui Pullman Auckland Airport Hotel. Chris explained that rather than just continuing with the original plans, they completed the shell of the building first, then waited to see what the impacts of Covid would be. Now they’re going back and fitting out the rooms so it more closely aligns with the time they see tourism returning.
While the brakes were applied when it came to TGH’s tourism portfolio, in other areas the pandemic sped up their plans, in particular the opportunities Ruakura will provide.
“One of the things that I really focus on is looking for the opportunities in every situation. When you look at Covid and the changes around supply chains and supply chain constraints, localism versus globalism, being able to look and see where those opportunities are, rather than focusing on the negative and making sure that you can invest in them and accelerate them. Some of the global trends that were occurring over a generation have accelerated into a period of two to three years due to Covid. So there’s always opportunities, and having that positive mindset to be able to see what the opportunity is, to be able to pivot to take advantage of that is really important.”
Once more, Chris brings the conversation back to focus on his people, and how prioritising them during Covid was really important.
“I care about our team, so most of all it’s about putting people first. I think that’s the most important thing, and by putting people first it means that we’ll be really well positioned once we come out the other side of this. In difficult times is when leaders shine, and Covid has definitely been a difficult time for most.”
While you can feel that Chris sees TGH as a family, he also spoke proudly of his two children, and wanting to find more time to spend with them as they embark on their own careers. His daughter is currently at the University of Waikato, and his son, who is at high school, has his own small enterprise already – a fishing related business where he’s manufacturing and selling equipment.
So as the winner of the CEO of the Year award, what leadership advice does Chris have?
“My advice to business leaders is to be authentic. I’m a big believer in authenticity as a leader, and knowing what your strengths are and how you can use those to inspire others around you. I think that’s really important. But the other thing for me in a business setting is to be aspirational. There are always opportunities, and you need to have the fortitude to go out and make them happen, because they’re there, and if you don’t have that aspiration it’s really hard to make things happen.”
One of the common threads running through the Business Awards speeches were the amazing things happening in the Waikato that are flying under the radar.
“People here are pretty down to earth. We as a collective group, we’re pretty understated, but we’re doing amazing things. And that’s one of the things I really like. Everywhere you look there’s awesome stuff happening. Think about the IT sector and their involvement in the film industry – most people wouldn’t even know that is happening in our region, but it’s huge.”
On the other hand, Chris agrees that we could be putting ourselves out there and telling our story more.
“As a region we probably don’t celebrate success well. That’s definitely something we need to do better, because I firmly believe that we’re entering our moment in the sun. You look at the big strategic economic drivers; they’re aligning really quickly for our region. Given our location, our workforce, and the ability to connect into our tertiary institutions and provide quality people into roles, there’s just lots that’s happening. We’ve just got to be aspirational enough and willing to go and make it happen, and that’s what TGH as a business is endeavouring to do.”