Caroline Rawlinson learnt a lot from China in the three years she was based in Shanghai as chief financial officer at Formica Asia.
Now CFO of online marketplace Trade Me, Rawlinson can appreciate the difference in cultures, management styles and the need for diversity.
Rawlinson was last night named the Eagle Technology Young Executive of the Year.
The Young Executive of the Year judges were impressed with her humility, self-awareness and strong commercial acumen.
"Caroline showed an impressive ability to adapt her leadership style to working in different sectors, including building products and consulting, as well as in different parts of the world," they acknowledged.
"Knowing that 'the ripple is more important than the splash' has enabled Caroline to lead others, quietly influence a wide variety of stakeholders, balance her demanding work and family schedule, and, champion diversity and inclusion throughout Trade Me."
At 35, Rawlinson has held six jobs at four different companies and recruited more than a dozen staff in various teams.
This year she has fronted a number of large projects at the NZX-listed company, including "Trade Me in 10 years", a three-month long look at global disruption and how Trade Me is positioned to combat the effect off global tech giants.
"We went through a strategic review with our board looking at large global trends that have the potential to disrupt our business and model — everything from what the Google's, Facebook's and Amazon's of the world are doing and how they could impact here," Rawlinson says.
"We work in a really interesting part of the sector where technology is moving so rapidly," she says.
"It was a big look at macro trends and bringing that back to what we need to be doing today as an organisation to equip ourselves for that."
Trade Me is moving to cloud-based technologies such as image recognition in its apps to streamline the listing process and using artificial intelligence in its property business to produce estimates of home values.
Rawlinson has eight direct reports and says her management style is collaborative. She started in the role of Trade Me CFO in August 2016. Before that she was CFO for Formica Asia, a division of Fletcher Building based in Shanghai, China.
Rawlinson says living and working in China was a personal development journey.
"It was amazing. I'd go back in a heartbeat," she says. "China is just so incredibly different when you're leading and working within the Asian culture. They are incredibly hierarchical and so the idea of having collaborative working relationships with them is a lot more challenging."
That was her first role leading a large culturally-diverse team of 55 people. "If you're the boss they will do what you tell them to and they're far less likely — until you've built really deep walls of trust which takes a long period of time — to challenge or offer their ideas," Rawlinson says.
"I'm a much more empathetic person now than I was going in, way more understanding and culturally aware.
"The big thing I've taken away is making sure we're tailoring leadership and company culture, and the way we do business, to ensure it's not just the loudest and most outgoing or confident person who gets promoted or whose voice gets heard."
Judge Liam Dann said: "Caroline showed an impressive ability to adapt her leadership style between two very different listed companies. She displayed a strong sense of balance between self-confidence and self-awareness."
Rawlinson started her career at PwC after she graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Commerce. From there she went into a strategy manager role at Sealord Group and on to Fletcher Building.
She worked in several roles at Fletcher over six years including head of strategy and corporate development before she was asked to take on the role of CFO at Formica Asia.
At Trade Me, Rawlinson is now focused on providing stability to the leadership and board as long-time CEO Jon MacDonald departs next month after 10 years in the role. A replacement is yet to be announced.
Trade Me takes diversity seriously, Rawlinson says, a topic she is passionate about.
The company reviews all of its pay data annually to foster pay equity, runs educational workshops to curb workplace bias and has flexible working policies.
"We have an ambition to have 50 per cent gender diversity at all levels within the organisation, right from the board down to developers cutting code."
Earlier in the year Rawlinson ran the company's unconscious bias training and was the driving influence behind Trade Me sponsoring Alexia Hilbertidou's Girl Boss Awards, an organisation which encourages women to get into STEM subjects.
Finalist: Tasha Impey, TVNZ
The Young Executive of the Year judges said Tasha Impey, head of Re: a youth video news brand operating as a start-up under the umbrella of Television New Zealand, was a disruptive thinker with an entrepreneurial streak on a mission to change the way 18 to 30 year olds engage with the media.
"Learning quickly that sharing a problem doesn't take anything away from her or her own team's successes, Tasha's fearless approach to doing things quite differently inside a Crown Entity has seen her draw upon her own experiences to continuously experiment and learn and create a new way of doing things for her tight team of multi-taskers," the judges said.
"An executive with an infectious passion combined with a focus on the future, it was exciting to see how Tasha's energy and drive has taken Re: to the edge of media innovation and positioned it to create new commercial options at TVNZ."
Impey, 32, is responsible for a team of nine and manages an operating budget of $1.1 million.
Just 14 months after launch, Re: has made more than 800 videos and amassed around 34 million views.
Impey says Re: is driving positive change within TVNZ.
"The way we drive Re: — fast, lean, decisively and bravely, has meant that not only can we achieve things for our brand and audience, but we can also change minds at TVNZ.
"Maybe heaps of meetings aren't necessary.
Maybe you can actually follow through with your idea and make it an actual thing. Just say yes and do it."
Finalist: Kayn Miller, Chorus
Kayn Miller, head of fibre connect workstream at telecommunications company Chorus, believes connecting Kiwis to better broadband will improve their overall quality of life.
"I firmly believe that the growing importance of broadband to every New Zealanders' life, makes it an essential service," he says. "Connecting all New Zealanders to good fibre, especially those who struggle to afford access to good broadband is an important social purpose."
The Young Executive judges said though the customer experience with Chorus wasn't always seen as great, a strong improvement in recent times could be attributed in part to what they described as Miller's "very clear and purposeful thinking."
"Kayn considers he is still only part way through his piece of the company's service transformation.
But the results of his 'fibre in a day' initiative impressed the judges with strong improvements in the 'one visit' metric, and a "commensurate lift in customer satisfaction," the judges said.
"Quick to share his achievements and successes with others in the wider team at Chorus, he is a young executive with a calm eye on the future and an understanding of the benefits that potential disruption and innovation may bring."
Miller leads a team of four.
The Young Executive judges
is the NZ Herald's Business Editor-at-Large and host of the influential The Economy Hub. He is a former Herald Business Editor and an award-winning journalist.
Barbara Chapman chairs Genesis Energy and is an independent director of companies such as NZME, and, Fletcher Building. Chapman was formerly CEO of ASB and a leading executive with Commonwealth Bank.
Christopher Moller chairs Meridian Energy, and formerly chaired SKYCITY Entertainment and NZ Cricket. Moller was a former CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union and inaugural deputy CEO at Fonterra.