Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Deloitte Top 200: Young Executive of the Year - James Bergin

A blend of inspiration and motivation

James Bergin has always shown strong leadership qualities throughout his career and has been named the IMNZ & Eagle Technology Young Executive of the Year for 2016.

The award, sponsored by the Institute of Management New Zealand (IMNZ) and Eagle Technology since 2005, celebrates executives up to the age of 38 who have had a role in influencing, growing and providing direction within an organisation.

It recognises rising stars, talented professionals and transformational leaders.

Bergin, who has worked for ASB Bank since January 2005 in a number of roles, is currently the Chief Architect of Architecture, Strategy and Innovation. He has been described by colleagues as "a gentleman and a scholar", and by ASB chief executive Barbara Chapman as an outstanding young leader.

"James is one of those exciting leaders who combines deep industry and technical expertise with the ability to inspire and motivate people through clear and compelling communication," Chapman said.

"During his time as ASB's Chief Architect he has played a key role in nurturing a culture of innovation right across the bank," she said.

"He has a clear vision for the future of our business and industry along with an unwavering focus on leveraging technology to ensure we are providing unbeatable experiences for our customers."

Judges Gary Langford from Eagle Technology, Glenys Talivai from Tower Insurance, Liam Dann from the Business Herald and Steven Naude from IMNZ said Bergin was a very articulate, clear thinker with a broad range of skills.

"He's an impressive young leader who transcends a wide skillset and is an excellent communicator," they said. "He is people and customer oriented, has the potential to grow and is a professional community contributor."

The judges were impressed with the Clever Kash money box programme which Bergin helped drive, and said his career progression was remarkable.

Helping people understand complexities and adjusting messages accordingly to ensure they are understood at an authentic level is my biggest, and most exciting, challenge as a leader.
James Bergin, ASB chief architect

As well as his work with the bank, Bergin is involved with the Catholic church -- he is a director of Icon Media which helps with communications for the church, and Mustard Seed Consultants providing IT services for the church.

Bergin said the most important quality of being a good leader was the ability to encourage and drive different thinking among his team, and push a strong vision and purpose for the business and its customers.

Watch: The Young Executive of the Year finalists:

Video

One of the biggest challenges he said, was managing people. "In a strategic, future-oriented role, the biggest challenge is in leading a broad spectrum of people with different levels of understanding about where we are heading as an organisation and an industry -- and what this means for them.

"Helping people understand complexities and adjusting messages accordingly to ensure they are understood at an authentic level is my biggest, and most exciting, challenge as a leader."

In his role with the bank, Bergin has been heavily involved in the innovation and technology side of the business as well as helping to build a strong culture among his team and across the wider business. He has also frequently presented on disruption and innovation -- most notably at TEDx Auckland earlier this year.

James is someone who has both high IQ and high EQ.
Helen Perry, ASB Senior Management for People and Culture

"James is someone who has both high IQ and high EQ," said ASB Senior Management for People and Culture, Helen Perry.

"By which I mean he can talk about really complex and difficult topics in a way which engages and excites his audience -- be it one to one, or to a packed auditorium -- and he connects with people and inspires them in a way which is seriously impressive."

When he's not at work, Bergin spends his time with his family, photography and the church.

One of his best pieces of advice is to work with a team that can help deal with problems from different angles, be supportive and celebrate with you when you succeed.

Young Executive of the Year finalists

Kimberley Bray

Position: National Service Manager, Ravensdown
Judges' comments: "Kimberley demonstrated good all-round capability. In her work she has achieved positive outcomes in call centres and stand-up meetings. She was continuously confident in her work."

Michael Stribling

Position: General Manager Strategy, Spark NZ

Judges' comments: "Michael demonstrated strong strategic thinking, ability to engage and lead. He is an excellent communicator and influencer, and his leadership and operational experience suggest huge future potential. He has a strong strategic focus, has led major acquisitions and is a clear thinker. Michael also demonstrates good communication and coaching skills."

Andrew Slater

Position: Chief Executive Officer, Homecare Medical/The National Telehealth Service

Judges' comments: "Andrew is a future thinker and is passionate about social and health issues. He has a high level of achievement and responsibility, is customer focused and shows a balanced capability. The speed with which he establishes organisation and his clarity of vision are to be commended. Andrew's use of technology and negotiation of Plunket's memorandum of understanding highlighted his ability to negotiate health sector politics and his passion for better health sector outcomes."

Sasha Lockley

Position: Head of Operations, Avanti Finance
Judges' comments: "Sasha is an outgoing, personable leader who is engaging and has a balance of people and commercial acumen. She is a passionate communicator and is confident and high energy. Sasha has excellent communication skills and is viewed as a change agent."

What the judges say

There were 21 entries for Young Executive of the Year in 2016 and five finalists were interviewed by the judging panel who said the quality of candidates was outstanding and represented a wide range of sectors with the finalists coming from the banking, finance, telecommunications, health and primary sectors.

IMNZ chief executive Steven Naude said the judges were very impressed by the calibre of entrants for this year's award. "We look for exceptional combinations of skills, experience and behaviour. Leadership is a multi-faceted beast and requires people to be competent in a range of skills that are potentially contradictory. It is the decathlon of the business games. Our finalists showed that they were fluent in a wide range of skills."

Naude said it is important to mention that the finalists work in organisations of varying sizes, from a SME to one of New Zealand's largest corporates. One organisation is more than 100 years old, one is less than two years old.

Clearly, the challenges of limited resources in a SME are obvious. Equally, though, the challenges of a huge hierarchy with rigid structures can be limiting to innovation, change and transformation.

"Each of them has made a remarkable change to their business. They have shown not only commercial savvy but a high degree of empathy for their staff and particularly for their customers. They have blended hard, technical expertise with soft, human-centred thoughtfulness to effect a fundamental shift in their organisation's performance," he said.

Eagle Technology CEO Gary Langford said the finalists were all inspirational leaders who had made significant impact. "That made it challenging for the judges," said Langford. "However the judges were unanimous in choosing the winner."

- NZ Herald

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