Fonterra Ventures general manager Komal Mistry has a "high bias to action" which has resulted in strong commercial returns from the innovative programme she leads at New Zealand's largest company.
Mistry has beem named the Eagle Technology & IMNZ Young Executive of the Year at the Deloitte Top 200 awards for 2017.
Mistry, 30, started working at Fonterra almost seven years ago in a corporate accounting role — a very different job to what she does now.
"I had a few different roles in finance, and in and around the co-op before I took on ventures. I was in the branded business for five years, about four of those years were in finance," she says.
She has been a key driving influence in the success of Fonterra's internal innovation programme Disrupt which is dedicated to finding innovative ideas to benefit the dairy giant and its customers.
"We've taken the model from a mere pilot to global in 12 months," Mistry says.
"It's essentially a platform where any of our people can come up with business concepts and we second them into bringing them to life."
The Disrupt programme had four key objectives: generating future revenue streams through new business models; providing a platform to achieve results through diversity and inclusion; building entrepreneurial innovative capability and culture through the organisation; and identifying and developling a talent pipeline.
As leader of Fonterra Ventures, Mistry is responsible for a direct team of 13.
The programme is now global and across 30 of Fonterra's markets and available for any of the 22,000 employees to take part in.
"We have had over 200-plus business model ideas, 1300 people through the programme, two hackathons where finalists competed for investments, over 40 of our people have been seconded through a three month incubator programme and four new ventures invested into," says Mistry.
Disrupt is forecast to contribute $70 million in revenue to Fonterra this year.
The team at Fonterra Ventures is what Mistry most enjoys about her job.
"People I work with I'd say are number one. And then working on something that I'm absolutely passionate about — getting up every day and wanting to go to work because what we do is pretty exciting."
Mistry describes her management style as an "enabler".
A qualified lawyer and accountant, Mistry studied both law and commerce at Waikato University. She started her career at Deloitte in the UK, as an associate then as a senior analyst before joining Fonterra in 2011. Earlier this year Mistry attended a two-month long executive leadership course at Stanford University in the US, funded by Fonterra.
"What gets me most excited is seeing people reach their potential and seeing my team achieve things that they thought that they couldn't achieve. And equally, us together as a team, achieving results," she says.
"When I started out in my career it was all around technical expertise, content and domain knowledge, and specialisation which is what finance is about and essentially what law is all about, too."
The judging panel for the Young Executive of the Year award applauded Mistry's achievements.
IMNZ chief executive Steven Naude says "Komal combines great intellect with energy and determination."
"She has taken on the challenge to ensure Fonterra remains relevant for generations to come by adding new products, services and ventures to the already broad offering.
"Her new initiatives have been implemented on an international scale and there are many more exciting opportunities waiting in the wings."
Eagle Technology chief executive Mark Allan says Mistry has "exceptional strategic insight combined with superior execution skills."
Adds ASB's James Bergin: "Komal presented an exciting approach to developing new business and exploring innovative operating models. She has already exhibited great potential in her leadership style and approach to encouraging diversity of thought within her team and the broader business.
Her varied background and non-traditional path into her current role definitely paves the way to future executive success.
"In addition, she understands how to leverage and harness broadly based organisational talent in her own team as well as multiple virtual global teams across a complex organisation and business environment."
For Mistry, resilience is about preparing for the next tidal wave of innovation.
"We have built a culture within Fonterra Ventures where we embrace new things, complete trials, learn, fail and keep moving forward," she says.
"Failure is key part of the process for us to deliver our results. Learning is celebrated in our team and is evident in everything we do. We have a supportive, collaborative environment and failing is not seen as a negative — it's a necessary part of our journey to achieve future revenue streams for Fonterra."
Finalist: Ed Hyde, Spark Ventures
Spark Ventures chief executive Ed Hyde has the experience, technical skills and personal grit to lead in a fast-changing and highly disrupted market place — according to the judges of the Young Executive of the Year award.
Since its formation in 2013, Hyde has been a key executive with Spark Ventures, which has been responsible for building, development and investment in 10 new businesses ranging from Skinny and Lightbox, through to Qrious and a recent move into the Internet of Things.
He led the formation of NZ's leading big data and analytics business Qrious where he served as CEO for the first two years, before stepping up to head Spark Ventures and join Simon Moutter's senior leadership team.
Key wins since Hyde became CEO include the creation of a $36 million fund which is committed to investing in early stage NZ start-ups including MyCare, homes.co.nz, Putti and Jupl.
Spark Ventures has also created over half a million new service relationships with total revenues from these new lines of business in excess of $50m annually. It has set a goal of achieving $150m pa revenue by 2020.
For Hyde and Spark, resilience is a big topic. "We are either involved in the building of new digital services or investing in early stage businesses. Part of the parcel of doing that is not everything we invest in and focus on will be successful," he says.
"A big part of my role, which is both a challenge and where resilience comes in, is investments or projects where we're investing a lot of time, effort and emotion.
"At some stage for some of those businesses, you have to say enough is enough, 'actually we've given it a really good try but we're not seeing the traction, things are not unfolding how we would like them to', and ultimately, you have to be comfortable making the tough calls to stop ventures or redirect them."
Hyde is also looking to integrate offerings that will add the most value for Spark and its customers.
The judges say it was no surprise Spark chose Hyde to lead their new ventures in a highly competitive arena. "His team is driving value for Spark's customers and achieving some very impressive numbers."
Judge Steven Naude says the "calm exterior" Hyde presents belies the strategic thinking he has demonstrated.
"He has a crystal clear understanding of his industry, and, his vision of what telecommunications can deliver to society makes him a leader of great significance."
Finalist: Sasha Lockley, Avanti Finance
Sasha Lockley, head of operations at Avanti Finance, has been with the firm for two years and in that time has planted seeds of success which she is now seeing flourish.
Lockley, who was a finalist for the same award last year, describes herself as "a visionary leader", with a huge passion for people.
Judge Steven Naude says Sasha uses enthusiasm and heaps of people skills to ensure Avanti Finance is transformed into a forward-thinking, mould-breaking organisation.
"Stepping into a traditional, male-dominated industry, she has rattled the foundations of the business and implemented systems and processes that have been radical, but hugely successful for the well-established company."
At Avanti Finance, Lockley is responsible for the engine room and has had a significant influence over its culture through leading nearly 70 per cent of the staff.
Lockley says the strategies she introduced are now part of Avanti's DNA. Judge Mark Allan agrees, saying Lockley's personal vision, motivation and people values strongly align with Avanti's business mission.
Her teams have achieved a 53 per cent growth in the loans book over a year; improved operational delivery with a 30 per cent reduction in the time it takes to respond to customers and scored a 30 per cent increase in net profit.
"My motivation and reason for being on this planet is to help people to be the best they can be," Lockley says. "My leadership style is that we all choose to take one step at a time, together ... I make sure that there is an environment in which people feel comfortable to be themselves, and feel comfortable to take one step for our journey and for themselves."
The judges recognised her achievements, saying Lockley brings a confidence and passion to her leadership that is truly inspiring.
"She cares deeply about her team and her organisation, and exhibits an incredible amount of strength and managerial courage.
She will no doubt continue to be an agent for positive cultural change within her organisation and the country as she continues her executive career."
"Her huge range of skills are supported by a drive to keep developing and a determination to succeed which makes her a very valuable leader."