Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Banker gives full credit to the team

What began as a post-rugby career has grown into a top finance job.
Diversity is a key aspect of today's New Zealand, says Martin Gaskell. Picture / Nick Reed
Diversity is a key aspect of today's New Zealand, says Martin Gaskell. Picture / Nick Reed

The spirit of time spent on the rugby field permeates Martin Gaskell's career.

It was the return home to northern England after a season playing semi-professionally in Queensland in his 20s that made Gaskell realise he needed a profession in reserve, to kick in when his rugby days were over.

The BNZ's 37-year-old director of customer fulfilment settled for accounting, seeing it as a stable career path, but he also discovered he enjoyed the corporate culture at his first postgraduate job with the Ford Motor Company.

"It's like a big team and from my days playing rugby within teams, I quite like the team ethos." But Gaskell never really settled back into life in England after that time spent playing Down Under.

Although he considered a move to Canada or back to Australia, a mate in Auckland encouraged him to buy a one-way ticket to New Zealand.

Within two or three days of landing, Gaskell decided he'd never leave.

Not only did the lifestyle suit, but Auckland had what he calls the Goldilocks effect: not too big, not too small, not too hot and not too cold.

Gaskell also scored his first job at the BNZ.

What started as a contract position as a financial accountant rapidly evolved into leadership roles on the operations side of the business, culminating in chief operating officer of business banking in 2012.

"That was a complete baptism of fire, not being a banker to start with and going into the most complex area of the bank, the business side." Although he says it was a big step - overnight he went from leading 17 people to 250 - he loved the role, which took him into the very fabric of the business.

Eighteen months ago the role was bundled into operations roles across the wider bank by newly appointed CEO Anthony Healy, to create the new customer fulfilment position.

"In old money I suppose you'd call it 'chief operating officer'." Now Gaskell is overseeing 1000 staff in what he describes as "an everything role".

"If you look at it from 30,000 feet it's been really fast and I've felt every step of it.

"How I look at my leadership - I'm probably building on my team mentality.

"I've always tried to lead through my team.

"I always think if you get really good people and you highly empower them then my role is to really orchestrate that team and make sure that team is synergistic and the dynamics of the team work well.

"Then it's the power of the team not the power of the single person." People think leadership is about being a statesman who has a point of view on everything, he says, but his leadership style is to take a back seat to his staff.

"I've got an extremely good team and if I start to tell them what to do, we're only as smart as I am, but if I've got a diverse set of team members who orchestrate well to have really good conversations and make decisions, then we're all pretty good." Getting diverse views on issues has seen Gaskell recently step in to chair the bank's diversity and inclusion council. "We take it hugely seriously," he says.

"I think if you don't, you're missing out on something that is fundamental in New Zealand at the moment.

"The reason that I wanted to do that, I suppose in my upbringing in northern England, it's very homogeneous, everybody knew everybody's business and as long as you were like everybody else they'd leave you alone.

"And then I moved to New Zealand and it's a super diverse city and I probably live in one of the most multicultural areas [Balmoral-Sandringham], arguably, in the whole of the city.

"My kids, they're at kindy and school, and you look at the class photo, there'd be 20 people in that photo and there'd be four what people would term Pakeha kids.

"There's no majority, there's no minority really, and all their friends are from different backgrounds and different cultures, Indian, Korean, Chinese, Maori, Pasifika, and they're just as excited by Matariki and Diwali and Chinese New Year as they are about Easter and Christmas.

"I really wanted them to grow up in that kind of place where they get joy from their friends and it doesn't matter their cultural identity, it's just they see everybody as equal.

"I didn't want them to grow up in a New Zealand that will stream them out of that because their parents aren't comfortable with their own cultural intelligence, so I thought I want to be part of the solution so that was my first step."

Gaskell says it's important for staff to see themselves represented up through the layers of management.

While women are found in equal numbers across the organisation, there is still an opportunity to develop cultural intelligence, he says, "because every day people are asking the question 'why should I follow you?'.

"Increasingly, if you're not culturally intelligent that question is going to get harder and harder to answer."

And rugby is still a feature of his life, with Gaskell running up and down the rugby field at the weekend. These days, though, he's coaching from the sidelines of his son's under-6 rugby side.

- NZ Herald

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