My job: Go to guy for dealing with the new

By Angela McCarthy

Mark Spring's army experience gave him the confidence for a career in business management. Photo / Supplied
Mark Spring's army experience gave him the confidence for a career in business management. Photo / Supplied

Name: Mark Spring
Role: Managing director of DTR - Dominion Television Rentals
Working hours: About 45 hours per week in the office, but the laptop is seldom far from my side on the couch at night, and don't get me started on where the iPhone gets used. Weekends are sacred though.
Qualifications: Master of Business Administration and Graduate Diploma of Business (Finance) from University of Auckland.

Describe what you do

I lead a great bunch of Kiwis who are adapting and growing DTR, a retail business with rental, hire purchase and leasing options primarily for furniture, whiteware and audiovisual home items. The business has been around for nearly 50 years and we are about to open our 22nd store in Papakura.

Your history?

Immediately out of school I spent a year labouring and driving cranes, before joining the army as an officer cadet. I wanted to be a fighter pilot but my eyesight wasn't good enough. My experience as a teenager in the army really gave me confidence and a strong start.

I moved to Australia to my first general management role at about 25. That role, with [a Fortune 500 international firm] was pivotal, as it provided exposure to a much wider range of experiences, demands, and disciplines.

After five years in Sydney, I was coaxed back to New Zealand to join a customer of the firm, in a role focused on growing new revenue streams, organically and by acquisition, in both countries.

This path led me to DTR where we've instigated a culture change that has, over time, reinvigorated the business. I was involved in the management buyout four years ago which has added another layer of complexity to the role and to life, but also a greater sense of control and autonomy which I'm thoroughly enjoying.

What do you consider important first steps for a new chief executive?

I think the most important thing is to quickly and thoroughly try and drill down to the essence of what makes the business unique or different. What is it that would make it successful in any field it chose to operate? What drives its people to believe in what they do and why they're there? As incoming CEOs, we have a tendency to focus on "what" to change and, while it is important to get some quick wins, it's far more important to focus on the "why". Otherwise, there's actually a danger that we create short-term gains and miss the bigger picture of long-term sustainable competitiveness.

Your strengths?

I like the challenge of an environment with a lot of uncertainty and I tend to do well in those environments, regardless of industry or product.

I learned to conquer uncertainty by acknowledging the environment may be uncertain and then consciously choosing to overcome it. It is a skill you develop through experience - by putting yourself in uncertain environments. Across my career, I have been the guy who has put his hand up for doing new things.

You also need to be able to step back from the micro issues and see the wider landscape, then help those around you see it too. You also need to gain trust and to do that I believe you have to be honest and tell all of the truth. When we bought the business, it was losing money. We were upfront and told every staff member we had six months to fold or go forward and if we did turn it around, then these were the things we'd do. It is easy to stew on issues for months and shield people from problems because you don't want to lose them. Yet my experience has been that the more engaged and honest you are with staff, the more they want to stay.

Useful background and training?

There's a wide range of competencies involved in leading a business like DTR. Breadth of commercial experience is important but, ultimately, this is very much a people-based business, so life experience is probably just as important. I couldn't have done this 15 years ago because I wouldn't have had the emotional maturity. The MBA taught me about the language of business and gave me confidence.

Best part of the job?

When you see things come together or people saying "Aha. We can do this." That is when I see momentum building and that feels very good.

Most challenging part?

Getting the ball rolling in the right direction.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do the same as you've done?

Back yourself. You're probably better than you think you are.

Where would you like to be in five years?

In terms of my personal life and career there's probably a surprising lack of long-term planning.

I could do a lot worse than where I am right now and I'd hate to close off any potential paths by planning too specifically.

- NZ Herald

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