Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose: Putting youth to work in the boardroom

31-year-old director says people his age bring a new perspective.
Hamish Walker (L) on election night 2014, with Cabinet Minister Michael Woodhouse. Picture / ODT
Hamish Walker (L) on election night 2014, with Cabinet Minister Michael Woodhouse. Picture / ODT

When Hamish Walker sits at the board table, what's going through his mind is the famous line from yachtsman Sir Peter Blake: will it make the boat go faster?

For Walker, it cuts to core of what it is to be a director. "To me, that really simplifies strategy," he says.

The 31-year-old business consultant is one of the youngest directors around, having flown through the Institute of Directors' training and examinations to become a chartered director. This year he took a place on the Otago Rugby Union board.

Even so, when you're sitting across the board table from someone 30 years your senior, it can leave you wondering what you have to offer, Walker says.

"But the thing is, technology has changed so much in the past 10 years, or even the past couple of years, that people my age actually have a lot to offer and especially our generation, we do think a lot differently to someone 30 years older."

Walker says the biggest difference he sees is a lot more focus on the long-term sustainability of a business, but a lot less brand loyalty exhibited by his contemporaries.

Research by New Zealand Rugby found the average punter attending a provincial or international game in Otago was a male and over the age of 46, says Walker.

But for someone under 45, what happens on the field isn't the only thing that matters, he says.

"That sums up my generation.

"We're after an experience as opposed to the average punter that comes to a rugby game, someone over the age of 46, so it's how do you connect with that age group?"

Walker is on the board's marketing and sponsorship committee, lending a millennial's perspective on how to push not just the rugby game, but the experience beyond the ground.

"So it's how do you create that buzz and atmosphere to get someone to come along to the game, as opposed to someone in their 50s on the board - they'll just be thinking rugby."

Walker says that since he joined the Otago Rugby Union board in March, he has had about a dozen people press him for tips on taking their first steps into governance.

"People, especially around my generation, want to give back.

"We want to go to work, we want to achieve something.

"Money, for me, is not a huge motivator.

"I'd rather have a fulfilling job."

But in general, governance is a big unknown for many under-40s, he says. "Some want to do it for the wrong reasons, which is because they get to make big decisions or it sounds fun.

"It's actually a lot of hard work."

Walker says a three-hour rugby union meeting will take up to nine hours to prepare for, which he juggles with work at Dunedin accounting and business consulting firm Polson Higgs, membership of the Otago/Southland Regional Lotteries Community Distribution Committee, rugby refereeing and sitting on the board of the Otago Rugby Referees Association.

He also stood for the National Party in the Dunedin South electorate in 2014, a year in which Labour lost the party vote in the electorate and incumbent MP Clare Curran's majority was reduced.

It's a long way from the kid who dropped out of school at 17 to work as a commercial fisherman.

Walker's schooling was derailed when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 14, a difficult time to be jabbing yourself half a dozen times a day when all you really want to do is fit in with everyone else, he says.

Walker's diabetes was picked up after he bombed out of a secondary schools' tennis tournament in the first round to a "crap" opponent, despite being ranked second seed.

"I walked in the door. Dad is a GP and he knew straight away."

Walker says diabetes hasn't stopped him doing anything except become a policeman - though for a while he was a police station jailer before heading to Auckland to study accountancy at Unitec.

Before that he'd never been interested in tertiary study, despite all four of his siblings going to university, but says once he'd mastered essay writing he was clocking up A grades.

"With me, I learn differently and also I need to know why we're learning for certain things.

"That's something I've realised lately, I'm big picture.

"I always like to think how the decision we make now is going to affect whatever in a year or two; what is the public going to perceive of this decision?

"I went through school thinking I was really dumb.

"Even now, I work in a firm with 50 or 60 people, I do things quite different."

- NZ Herald

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Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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