When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit early in 2020, Ollie Farnsworth realised tourism risked being the hardest hit sector.
Tourism Holdings owns thousands of camper vans around the world and the assets were in danger of sitting idle. Overnight the goal changed to finding ways to stay in business and saving jobs. That meant looking for new revenue streams and recovering outstanding debt balances from travel agencies who were facing their own crises.
Farnsworth, who is the chief commercial and customer officer at Tourism Holdings (THL) put a plan into action to find an alternative use for the vehicles. Among other initiatives, this meant prospecting businesses and government organisations to use the vans as isolation facilities or for business continuity. One advantage of acting early meant that Tourism Holdings had a first-mover advantage.
Vehicles were also used to house seasonal workers on farms or vineyards. Around 100 vehicles are in use today for mobile vaccinations in New Zealand. In Australia, indigenous communities use vans where there are no facilities to isolate sick family members.
Another programme sought to kick-start domestic New Zealand tourism to replace the missing overseas visitors.
Farnsworth ran a campaign to slash rental prices. It was a huge success with tens of thousands of travellers on the road. Not only has this stimulated demand for future domestic tourism, but it helped to stimulate THL's sales as it sold off surplus vehicles. The key was to price things at a level where the business would not lose any more money. It would not be profitable. But it would cover costs.
Said Farnsworth: "I think we've managed to maximise the available opportunity. Some of the business forecasts and revenue targets go out the door when you're in this type of environment. Instead we've become super-focused on what we can control.
"And we've managed to get a balance sheet into a really strong position and I think we've got the business culture and performance into a stronger position leaving the pandemic than we had coming into it."
He was promoted to his current role in September 2020 and reports direct to the CEO. Before that he was the company's general manager of marketing and revenue management.
They noted he had operational and revenue responsibility for a business that faced, and continues to face, significant challenges, saying he "approached tough issues of cost reduction and revenue generation with a constructive outlook.
"An innovative mindset has seen Ollie identify and effectively execute on new business opportunities including the well-known Get Moving to Get New Zealand Moving campaign. His energy and empathy for customers and his people shines through in his leadership approach," the judges said.
While THL tore up the original business plan and the company is not making a profit at the moment, Farnsworth helped get the balance sheet into a strong position.
The business is in a stronger position culturally and performance-wise than it was going into the pandemic.
The result for the 2021 financial year saw revenue reach $359 million, down 10 per cent year on year. Company debt reduced to $49 million, a 62 per cent reduction year on year.
Craigs Investment Partners picked up on this and reported "THL's improvement in net debt position is arguably the NZX story of Covid."
Farnsworth joined Tourism Holdings in 2017 when he moved home to New Zealand with plans to start a family. Before the move, he was working for a marketing and customer strategy consultancy.
His main client was the worldwide hospitality giant the InterContinental Hotels group. Tourism Holdings hired Farnsworth after a series of remote, virtual meetings. It seemed unusual at the time, yet in some respects, it was a taste of life to come.
As the judges point out: "His diverse range of career experiences across countries and industries brings a strong global perspective and understanding of the social and environmental imperatives faced by leaders.
"Ollie's commitment to continuous learning is demonstrated through scheduled reading sessions and insight days with his customers and team."
Finalist: Renee Mateparae — Spark
After starting out with an engineering degree, Spark Technology Evolution Tribe Lead Renee Mateparae made an early career move into management consulting.
She worked for Accenture in the UK and in Sydney with The Macquarie Group on strategy consulting projects before heading home in 2010. Mateparae took up a strategy role at Air New Zealand working with then CEO Christopher Luxon. While with Air New Zealand she moved into customer experience.
From there she moved to Spark Ventures as the commercial and operations director. That meant working, in effect, as a strategy consultant to other parts of Spark's business.
When Spark made its move to the Agile business model, Mateparae put her hand up for the Mobile tribe lead position and then two years ago technology director Mark Beder asked her to shift to a technology leadership role looking after infrastructure build programmes, which took her back to her engineering roots.
The Young Executive of the Year judges noted that Mateparae is responsible for a third of Spark's capital investment: "Her agile approach, and passion for harnessing Kiwi ingenuity and innovation, has seen Renee play a significant role in delivering on elements of Spark's strategy."
Said Mateparae: "I think that the great thing about Spark at the moment is the culture that Jolie's (Spark CEO Jolie Hodson) created and where I can see it moving to. There's a real focus around innovation and technology and having the ability to use technology to solve big problems.
"It means I can make a real impact for New Zealand and that's part of the reason for my partner and I wanted to come back. We wanted to be working towards making New Zealand a great place as opposed to working in London or Australia".
The judges were impressed by her ability to pick up new skills and ideas and balance a positive demeanour with clarity and vision. Mateparae sees her team's successful rollout of a 5G mobile network with 100 live sites by the end of the last financial year as a career high point.
Finalist: David Bennett — Ryman Healthcare
As part of Ryman Healthcare's response to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Young Executive of the Year Award finalist David Bennett looked to diversify the business's funding lines. As the company's chief financial officer, he found three sources of funds and restructured more than $850 million of debt. The move gave Ryman the financial headroom needed to commit to new retirement villages and construction projects as well as provide a cushion to deal with difficult operating conditions.
Bennett's project impressed the award judges who recognised it as a significant project enabling Ryman to commit to new projects in a period of unprecedented uncertainty.
Said Bennett: "I have spent a lot of time in the early years understanding the operational side of the business.
"Our debt restructure was unique for New Zealand, particularly at the time of Covid as it diversified our funding. I was lucky to have a great finance team around me that made that possible."
The judges acknowledged his deep commitment to Ryman and its culture. He shows "…a deep understanding of the business and empathy for the core customers. David demonstrates a strong commercial will and focus on delivering outcomes. He impressed with his innovative approach to project control with Ryman's build programme and new payment model for aged care."
Bennett studied Commerce and Accounting at Lincoln University. He joined Deloitte as a graduate in the audit team before travelling to London where he spent time working as a consultant for Lloyds TSB, one of the large high street banks in the UK.
On his return to New Zealand he went back to Deloitte, this time in a more senior audit role. After four years in his job, Bennett decided to change direction and switch to a corporate financial controller role.
Bennett spent a few months at Westland before he was shoulder-tapped for the job at Ryman. When the then chief financial officer stepped up to the CEO position at Ryman, Bennett was offered the position.
Finalist: Jonti Rhodes — Fisher and Paykel Healthcare
Jonti Rhodes grew up on a farm in the Bay of Islands. He always thought he would end up running a farm like his family until his school maths teacher talked him into studying engineering at University. It paid off. Today he is the General Manager — Supply Chain, Facilities & Sustainability at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.
It's a role he loves that has taken on a new importance since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic which has seen a doubling in the demand for the medical equipment his company supplies along with unprecedented disruption to worldwide supply chains.
Rhodes tackled the challenge by setting up a product supply control room and daily 10am meetings allowing his team to respond fast to rapidly changing circumstances.
Judges for the Young Executive of the Year award commented "His leadership of supply chain management has been critical over the past 18 months… Jonti's focus on outcomes has helped to ensure such demands could be met."
Said Rhodes: "I've been taught since I was a kid, it doesn't matter who you are, what your title is, if there's a job that needs to be done, you roll up the sleeves and get down there, and you give them a hand. I've spent nights in distribution centres working with teams when there aren't people available, I have a forklift licence, so I can drive a forklift and help the guys out. It's just part of how I was raised by my old man: Never be too big for anything, just be a human."
Rhodes has spent his entire working life with Fisher & Paykel. The judges see this as showing a strong commitment to the business. His people skills and ability to lead from the front caught the judges' eyes. They said: "Jonti takes a collaborative approach to leadership and develops strong connections to frontline employees, taking time to get to know them personally. While he's been focused on short-term imperatives lately, he remains very committed to a long-term infrastructure plan and sustainability policy for Fisher & Paykel."