Still keen to make 'boat' go faster

Over the next few weeks, in association with the Sir Peter Blake Trust, we will be talking to leaders about what they have learned, who inspires them and their proudest moments. Today: Glen Sowry.

Housing New Zealand chief executive Glen Sowry says leaders have to walk the talk.  Photo / Supplied
Housing New Zealand chief executive Glen Sowry says leaders have to walk the talk. Photo / Supplied

Tell us about someone who has inspired or been a mentor to you?
As a teenager growing up in Wellington I was captivated by the exploits of Peter Blake and his Ceramco New Zealand crew in the Whitbread race. I became very motivated to try to get on a Whitbread racing crew and was fortunate to be selected by Peter to join his Lion New Zealand boat four years later. Going on to sail a lot with Peter, over the next eight years, he was a significant mentor and influence on my life and shaped much of who I am today.

What was an important lesson you learned on your way up?
As a teenager I regularly raced P class yachts against Russell Coutts, who more often than not beat me. After one close race, where Russell just pipped me, I complained to my Dad that Russell had been lucky. He replied, "Glen, you'll discover in life that luck always seems to follow those that work hardest for it." I've never forgotten that pearl of wisdom.

As a leader, what's the secret to getting people to support and share your vision?
Communication and walking the talk.

Also, empowering your people to be the best they can be through coaching and delegation. Describing what success looks like, and how we can get there, is something I work hard at.

What does a typical day at the office entail?
I try to spend as much time as possible meeting and talking to people about where Housing New Zealand is heading and exploring opportunities for improvement. Spending time with my front-line staff is really insightful and assists me, to quote an old friend, to understand "how we can make the boat go faster".

What has been a highlight of your career and how did you celebrate it?
Being appointed CEO of Housing New Zealand was a career highlight. Being given leadership responsibility for a large organisation, which is on a transformational journey and makes a big difference to people's lives, was a responsibility I felt I was ready for. I celebrated by going out for a nice dinner with my wife and I thought a lot that night about two people who helped me on my journey - my late father and Sir Peter Blake. I would not have achieved that milestone without either of them.

What was a low moment in your career and how did you deal with it?
I was leading the Tasman Pacific division within Air New Zealand when we had a very challenging industrial bargaining dispute with our flight attendants. Having worked hard to build strong relationships with my crew it was very frustrating and it ended in full strike action for four days. With the benefit of hindsight it was always going to happen. My lesson was to not take it personally and focus on running the airline, which we did successfully over the strike. After the dust settled I worked hard with my leadership team to find common ground with the crew and rebuild relationships, which I'm happy to say was done with goodwill from both sides.

Tell us about a leader that you admire?
Sir Winston Churchill, for the way he lifted, inspired and motivated his country through a period of immense adversity during World War II. His ability to lift his countrymen through extraordinary narrative and speech was inspiring.

Who would you love to invite over for dinner, living or dead?
Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Sir John Graham and Ben Elton.

What is your favourite way to relax?
I still love to get out on the water, either yachting or on my paddleboard.

What is the best part about being a Blake Leader?
Helping to enable a new generation of young New Zealanders to experience and learn from amazing adventures and expeditions the trust mounts and to celebrate great New Zealand leadership through the Sir Peter Blake Trust Leadership Awards.

What is a current goal or dream of yours?
To lead Housing New Zealand to be an increasingly effective supplier of social housing, for those New Zealanders that need it most, and to ensure we are creative and innovative in the way we achieve this. Also, for Housing New Zealand to become an even stronger customer-focused organisation that New Zealanders value and respect.

How would you like to be remembered?
As someone my children will be proud to call their father.

Glen Sowry
Glen Sowry is the chief executive of Housing New Zealand. In his earlier career, Mr Sowry enjoyed success as a professional sailor and was a member of three Whitbread Round the World Yacht Races, including Sir Peter Blake's victorious Steinlager 2 campaign. Mr Sowry was a member of the New Zealand Olympic Sailing Team in 2000 and a selector for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Since making the transition from sailing to business, Mr Sowry has managed public affairs for Telecom, TVNZ and Air New Zealand and before joining Housing NZ held the role of general manager, operations, at Air New Zealand. Mr Sowry was an inaugural winner of a Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award in 2005.

- NZ Herald

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