Joan Withers is chair of The Warehouse Group, a director of ANZ NZ and Sky Network Television. Here, she recalls her first job, hopes for strong retail spending in the festive season and calls for a world without coffee machines.
Q: How would you describe 2019 for your business?
A: For The Warehouse Group, we have had a year where the transformation we started three years ago has really started to gain traction. Winning the Most Improved Company of the Year at the recent Deloitte Top 200 Awards was a genuine highlight. But trading over the Christmas, Boxing Day and Back to School periods is critically important so I am hoping New Zealanders take the opportunity to capitalise on the wonderful seasonal retail offerings.
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Q: What do you think 2020 will bring?
A: 2020 is an election year and that always dials in a level of uncertainty as polling day draws closer. But I am a perennial optimist.
Generally, I think New Zealand business balance sheets are in pretty good shape and there is a great deal of confidence that mortgage interest rates and the cost of borrowing will stay low for some time, which puts additional money in the hands of many Kiwis.
On the global stage hopefully, there will be greater certainty over trading relationships and it will be interesting to see what opportunities Brexit presents for us if it finally happens.
In work, I am involved with Counties Manukau District Health Board and The Tindall Foundation. We are seeing real improvements in academic achievement through the implementation of health/science academies in low decile schools. Solving this problem will assist in reducing unemployment and help these students reach their full potential.
The climate change denial rhetoric needs to be faced into. I am not generally a proponent of subsidies but getting more people into electric vehicles is one of the most powerful ways of reducing emissions we can deploy. I have done nearly 100,000km in my plug-in hybrid and there is no compromise in terms of comfort, utility or safety. It's a no brainer at the equivalent of 30c per litre.
Q: What was your favourite corporate stoush of the year?
A: I don't have a favourite corporate stoush because very frequently, the issues I see in the business headlines elicit a "there but for the grace of God" response. Fletcher Building has had a tough year with the Ihumātao protest and the fire at the convention centre. At ANZ NZ, we have had a number of challenges to deal with. All of these issues present learning opportunities and seeing the good, the bad and the ugly of corporate responses to crises is instructive.
Q: What should be uninvented in 2020?
A: Coffee machines should be uninvented because I would hate to think how many cups I have consumed this year to sustain me as I have ploughed through tens of thousands of pages of board papers.
Q: What do you want to fix in 2020?
A: I am hoping in 2020 that the Southern Motorway upgrades will be completed. This has been an interminable project and there should be mass canonisation of everyone commuting from south of Manukau. The fact that drivers have largely remained patient and tolerant in the face of sometimes two-hour journeys to and from the central city is incredible.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was in the BNZ in Queen St as a 16-year-old. I remember my bank smock was very short and I wore false eyelashes most days. I was put on the head ledger counter so I had to stamp customers' cheques before they walked across to the tellers to cash them.
Q: What was your worst job?
A: I haven't really had a job I didn't enjoy. Gaining the independence that having a job gave me when I left school was something I will never forget.
Q: If you could change one thing about the workplace, what would it be?
A: I think workplaces have been transformed during the last 30 years. Generally, they are much safer, more inclusive, less hierarchical environments where people feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work. But there are still instances of bullying and harassment that come to light and we need to ensure those behaviours are never tolerated.
Q: How do you stop yourself working during the holiday period?
A: I don't need to persuade myself to stop working during the holidays. I have always been able to compartmentalise and I won't be tempted to compromise my break, unless something really urgent crops up.