There's a vast gulf between rolling ice creams and heading up one of the country's most prestigious law firms. But Alastair Carruthers' career has been nothing if not diverse.
The Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit has worked as executive assistant to a cabinet minister, taught music and writing, worked as a consultant, chaired arts boards and is now in his second CEO role at a top law firm - this time at Kensington Swan.
It's not been a strategically planned career path.
"I never studied a thing to become a thing. I didn't have a strategy in mind when I started working."
Carruthers' working life started at age 14 - rolling ice creams supplemented by teaching music.
His first desk job came along a few years later; processing claims for people cashing in their family benefits to buy school uniforms.
Music was (and is) a great love and he embarked on a music and English degree at Victoria University in his late teens.
But music wasn't his destiny.
"While I was studying I realised I wasn't going to be good enough to be a professional.
"It was a bit of a relief actually - but I knew I would need to make money in other ways."
It was during a study break that he got a job that would prove pivotal to his later success.
The job involved delivering messages (it was the pre-email age) between director-general John Grant and Ann Hercus, then-Minister of Social Welfare.
"I sat inside the editorial correspondence team and ran the private papers between the two. Eventually I started correcting a few typos, and also got to know the staff while I was waiting for things to be typed out."
The job would be continued for two summers - providing Carruthers with valuable contacts and knowledge around the mechanisms of power.
After graduating, Carruthers was left pondering his future. If music wasn't an option, teaching was. He moved to Christchurch to undertake a three-year teaching programme and it was during this period that he got a "big break" when he attended a short writing teachers course run by a Fulbright professor.
"I was really lucky. She invited me and another student to go to North Carolina to undertake the full programme.
I spent an entire American summer writing and being critiqued, and learning how to best teach writing."
On conclusion of the course in 1988 Carruthers returned to a New Zealand shaken by political upheaval.
The fourth Labour government was imploding; David Lange had resigned as Education Minister, Phil Goff had just taken over and his office decided to expand his team to include an executive assistant who could write and had an understanding of the classroom.
A former colleague from Ministry of Social Development days thought Carruthers would fit the bill andrecommended he apply.
"I said yes, feeling sick," he laughed, doubting his level of experience or aptitude.
He wrote a few speeches for Goff to peruse, and was offered the job a few days later.
This period of upheaval was exhilarating and exhausting but ultimately vital to his development.
"In many ways it crystalised a set of relationships with people from all political stripes. It gave me an inside perspective on power, systems and the individuals engaged in it."
He was ultimately happy to leave the theatre of politics behind. "I was near the action during the replacement of a Prime Minister when Geoffrey Palmer was replaced by Mike Moore. And by the end of my year there, I was glad to get out.
"But I learned not to be afraid of anything - or at least to pretend to not to be."
The skills gained in the political sphere allowed him to move into consultancy - designing courses for managers and directors, dabbling in industrial psychology and team building.
He developed a programme in writing - combining his ability to write and teach writing with hisexperience of being communicating complex ideas in a manner accessible to the lay person. His consultancy clients included ministries andprivate companies.
"At that time professional companies were tendering for work. An accounting company found themselves having to put proposals together so I wrote that for them."
This work would ultimately see him move into his first CEO role at Chapman Tripp. Joan Allen is key to Carruthers' career.
The Victoria University academic (one of four people to pen theResource Management Act) became a partner at Chapman Tripp in the early 1990s. The firm's clients were struggling to get to grips with the new law and its implications and Allen called on Carruthers to be an intermediary; creating connectionsenabling allow clients to engage with the esoteric language of law.
Chapman Tripp soon became a big client - and when the Wellington-based firm decided to open in Auckland "one thing led to another" and he was asked to apply for the CEO role. He was just 32 when he was given the job.
Carruthers' acceptance within the top echelons of New Zealand's legal system was particularly significant. As a young homosexual man he'd been only too aware of the legal battles that raged around the legalisation of homosexuality (for his first 21 years it had been illegal; this was overturned in 1986).
He says it would be disingenuous to say that he wasn't trying to prove something when he took on the role. "One of the country's most respected law firms said they believed in my skills and nothing else mattered.
If someone believed in me and didn't care about my sexuality, I wasn't going to give up that chance."
The firm would provide Carruthers with more than a decade of enjoyment and challenge. When he left five years ago to pursue other avenues, he didn't intend to go back into the legal world.
That was until "someone from Kensington Swan rang me up".
"I'd always loved this firm," he says. "Some of the best judges and most wonderful lawyers have come out of here. It's always been a great place for women and always stood for something rigourous and wonderful, but also very contemporary and commercial in the way they do stuff."
He was fearful the work would jeopardise his lifestyle with his partner, chef Peter Gordon, who is based in London. But the company assured him that he could have flexibility - technological advances mean he can work between London and Auckland.
He says this is indicative of the company's bold and forward thinking. "This firm is more likely than any other to take on what the modern century is like - it's great to be a part of this."
Alongside Carruthers' work runs a lifelong engagement with the arts. He has maintained a connection with this world since he left university, starting with the New Zealand String Quartet, for whom he became a trustee in the 1990s.
While he has stepped back from much of the earlier work (he was chairman of the Arts Council from 2007-12) he is still on the board of the Royal NZ Ballet. He was honoured to accept his royal accolade for his work in this field.
Carruthers believes his courage to be different has been a key factor in his success. "I won a lot of work this way because I did things differently, and faced up to challenges," he says.
He advises others to accept and celebrate their difference; to maintain authentic vision and practice in their working and personal lives.
"Be yourself. Be really real about that," he says. "Work out what your core beliefs are, be useful, be kind."