Ex-finance boss now focuses on the people side of business.

Making sense of the dollars at brewing giant Lion was once the bottom line for Robin Davies.

These days the former finance manager is more likely to be talking leadership, diversity and values as Lion's people and culture director, but that doesn't mean she's taken her eye off the numbers.

"Culture goes hand in hand with the success of us as a business from a marketplace perspective," says Davies, 43.

So while it might seem like the career equivalent of an avowed beer drinker giving up the pints in favour of a cheeky chardonnay, Davies says her nearly two decades in accounting and finance, first at Ernst & Young before moving to Lion in 2003, is more complementary to her current people-focused role than it may appear.


"When I'm talking about culture and engagement in our people and the need for diversity or the need to have great people in our business, whatever it may be, whatever I'm working on or contributing in this role, it allows me to be mindful of that 'for what purpose?'"

Davies says her finance back story also gives her a unique understanding of how the packages and policies she is implementing might affect people in operational roles, the commercial pressures they're under and the general peaks and troughs of business cycles.

Throughout her finance career, Davies says she always had an interest in the people side of business. "I was always the person who put up my hand to support with the graduate programme or do interviewing.

"Even when I was at Ernst & Young, I was the person who always looked out for people or wanted to lead people."

She got her first big leadership role as a 30-year-old in charge of about 30 people.

"It was a huge step-up, development opportunity for me, which was fabulous."

It was during this time, leading through a period of change and challenging times, that Davies first flagged that she would like to move into the people and culture side of the business.

"I was open about it [and] quite courageous, I think, to put that forward because it was quite an unusual move."

Her exit from finance came a couple of years ago, when she gradually shifted roles to the people side of the business, culminating in her appointment to the New Zealand executive team 18 months ago.

Unsurprisingly, Davies is a big advocate for functional moves across the organisation, saying the career cross-pollination enhances collaboration and opens up different perspectives on the business.

We can all get really busy in our roles and I've been much more conscious recently to make sure that I am taking the time to get out there, talk to people ...


Davies describes herself as the steward of the culture at Lion, an organisation that employs 850 permanent staff across a number of sites including its East Tamaki manufacturing facility, The Pride, and the Liquor King chain of 40 stores.

"We really have clearly defined values and behaviours that we absolutely live."

It's not enough to be getting good results; it has to be backed by constructive values and behaviour, particularly at leadership level, she says.

"That's why it helps to have [values and behaviour] so well defined.

"We can pick them up and point to them and talk to them, and we're very focused on that."

The challenge with culture is that it can't be changed overnight, she says, and you need senior leaders who are absolutely committed to it and lead by their own example for the long term.

"As you know, people will take their lead from senior leaders, including myself, and if we aren't being authentic, so aren't walking the walk, or aren't behaving as we say we all should, then that's where we're very mindful of catching that."

Diversity has become an important subset of her work at Lion, and one she is very passionate about.

"It's really important when we're talking about diversity, it's about diversity of thought and perspective.

"We've got to be just very conscious that we keep coming back to that higher level."

Davies says thinking more diversely requires a high degree of trust - something that underpins the culture at Lion - because it means pushing boundaries and challenging established perspectives.

Often there are untapped opportunities to get different perspectives from staff already in the business, she says.

One of the best conversations she had recently was a 10-minute taxi ride with some recent graduates, which gave her the chance to pick their brains about their thoughts on Lion's culture.

"We can all get really busy in our roles and I've been much more conscious recently to make sure that I am taking the time to get out there, talk to people, seek out different perspectives, and get away from my desk.

"Those have been the couple of things that I have been really mindful to do so that I can bring other perspectives."

Davies does admit to missing the finance side of the business but is also thrilled to have taken her career in a different direction.

"Every day I come into work now I think I am so glad that I came to understand that this is what I wanted to do, and talked about it and kept looking for opportunities, because I feel like I've got the best job in the world.

"I feel like I can really make a difference here - I love it."