Sporting skills passed on to business

Craig West

Position:

General manager northern

Company:

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Downer NZ

Judges' comments:

"We were incredibly impressed with Craig's mana, personal ethos, integrity, drive and level of achievement he has made and this resulted in him being named the Young Executive of the Year."

After a serious injury put paid to a promising rugby career for Chiefs prop Craig West, he turned his attention to business and at 35 has just been named the Deloitte Top 200 young executive of the year for 2015.

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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.

West said his sporting career had given him skills that had transferred across to business including resilience, a strong work ethic and knowing the value of team work.

Judges Fiona Hewitt from IMNZ, Liam Dann from the Business Herald, Glenys Talivai from Tower Insurance and last year's winner Michael Lewis from NZ Post say West's strength of character made him stand out as a strong leader.

"Craig was a strong winner among a very talented pool of talented winners, Lessons from the end of his rugby career through injury taught him the importance of resilience, agility and faith and this has further shaped his work ethics and approach."

See video: Young executive of the year

According to the judges, West epitomised the Downer philosophy of humbly smart, preferring to compliment his team's work over his own abilities, with his approach to the way he worked, connected with others and the commitment to his people clearly evident.

Growing up, West's passion was in rugby, playing for the Chiefs and New Zealand Maori All Blacks rugby teams. He was 28 when he was injured, leaving the rugby hopeful unsure of his next move.

"It was certainly a change in focus and a challenge [not being able to play], however I have really enjoyed this challenge," he said.

He decided to have a go at business. Prior to playing rugby he had been involved in civil engineering which he said had exposed him to some great people in the industry.

He took up a job as a cadet at infrastructure business Downer New Zealand. In his 15 years there, West has moved through the ranks from cadet to general manager northern. He says good leadership is all about people skills.

"When I say people skills it's about being able to communicate and influence people," West said. "I think being able to articulate the vision and purpose and try to create and engender that passion and motivation in people and inspire people -- those are a couple of the key things for me in terms of communication, but also emotional intelligence and being quite self-aware in terms of how do you encourage others to succeed and take those next steps."

West says Downer NZ is a company that affects people's lives every day from water mains and roading to infrastructure and phone lines -- a factor that made him passionate about his work, with the company able to help New Zealand grow, prosper and be competitive internationally. His best career move, he said, was taking up the role as general manager northern with the company.

See video: Red carpet with Holly Ryan

Join Holly Ryan from the New Zealand Herald on the Deloitte Top 200 awards night red carpet as she interviews the leaders of NZ business.

"This is a really challenging role and it's a lot of focus around the cultural change and the cultural shift from where we have been historically, to where we operate now and where we want to be going in the future," West said. "Leading a large team of over 700 people across the region has been a big role and obviously what that means for me is that I'm the youngest general manager for Downer. I suppose that provides a lot of confidence and pride for me personally, but it probably uses my skills well around leading people and being able to influence people and articulate the vision and that's something I really enjoy."

The judges said West was committed to building capability and understanding within his industry, and to ensuring his approach to business was well-rounded, innovative and fresh. "We were incredibly impressed with Craig's mana, personal ethos, integrity, drive and level of achievement he has made and this resulted in him being named the Young Executive of the Year," they said.

Finalists for the young executive category have typically had exceptional people skills, leadership capability, an overwhelming sense of purpose and a vision for themselves and their organisation. West said being a finalist for the award had allowed him to reflect on the work he and the company had achieved.

"We don't take the time to look at what we've achieved very often and this has forced me to stop and have a think about that and look at what we have achieved," he said. "It's been really good for me personally but I also think it demonstrates the growth in people and the leadership that the organisation at Downer has promoted and invested heavily in."

Although West's injury left him unable to play rugby professionally, he still finds time in between his work at Downer to coach and support the Waikato Development team and the Waikato Under 20's rugby team.

This year's Deloitte Top 200 young executive finalists represent a range of different categories and sectors, with Daniel Warsaw working in the not-for-profit sector at Wellington Zoo, and Taryn Hamilton the general manager for consumer at telco business M2.

Finalists:
Daniel Warsaw
Position: General manager for business and partnerships
Company: Wellington Zoo
Judges' comments: "Daniel is a highly skilled and passionate young executive who impressed the judges with his desire to make a difference within a not-for-profit environment. In his time as GM Business & Partnerships, Daniel has had significant influence on the performance of Wellington Zoo creating numerous growth opportunities and inspiring his team with new ideas and business concepts."

Taryn Hamilton
Position: General manager for consumer
Company: M2 Group
Judges' comments: "Taryn is clearly a strong leader. He was dynamic, very direct and came across as someone who was prepared to take a few risks and shake-up the status quo. He said it best himself: 'You don't come to work to push paper you come to effect change'. Taryn is clearly ambitious and has great potential as a business leader."