Introducing one of NZ’s most distinguished business and environmental leaders - Sir Rob Fenwick

World Class New Zealanders are high achieving New Zealanders who are making their mark on the world and defining NZ’s image internationally. Kea sat down with World Class New Zealander Sir Rob Fenwick for a Q&A about his life experiences, being an industry leader and what advice he has for New Zealanders going forward.

Over the course of his 30-year career, he has contributed more to the fields of environment sustainability and natural heritage, than most people can dream of; and his passion for preserving the country for current and future generations is nothing short of inspiring.

From the early 70’s to mid 80’s Sir Rob worked in journalism and public relations before shifting to business. He has placed an ongoing emphasis on the importance of making environmental responsibility a priority (and is recognised for encouraging others to do the same). He co-founded the investment company, Growthlink Holdings, the mineral water company NZ Natural Ltd and Living Earth Ltd, New Zealand’s largest organic waste composting business.

An active senior fellow of the Institute of Directors since 1995, Sir Rob has also been, at various times, the chairman of Landcare Research, Antarctica Heritage Trust,

the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Government’s Ministerial Waste Advisory Board, and the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

By the turn of the millennium, Sir Rob had become a director at Te Matuku Oysters Ltd, a distributor to top seafood restaurants throughout New Zealand.

In 2004 he was appointed Deputy Chairman of TVNZ, and in 2006, the Chancellor/Chairman of the National Board of St John’s Ambulance, the top governance role for the Order of St John and its New Zealand activities, including the ambulance and communication service. The same year he was awarded Knight of Justice, Order of St John.

In 2016, he was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame and Knighted for services to business and the environment.

He is currently the Chairman of Antarctica New Zealand, a Sustainability Advisory Group Panel Member at Air New Zealand, the Special Advisor to the Director General, an Advisory Board Member at Westpac New Zealand Limited and the Director of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Sir Rob Fenwick has done it all - the busiest man in New Zealand.

What are the biggest growth challenges and potential opportunities for New Zealand companies/businesses/SMEs?

Aside from the constant pressure of building resilience to our changing climate, New Zealand’s greatest challenge is to protect itself from homogenisation – losing our national identity both through the influence of global media and through biosecurity incursions. We must preserve the things that make us special. Our oceans and rivers, our Maori language and culture, our birds and forests and coastlines. These things set us apart and will be of inestimable value for the prosperity of future generations.

How has your New Zealand background contributed to your journey/success?

All of us kiwis or our ancestors arrived here overseas, some of us hundreds of years ago, some of us last week. My forebears arrived four or five generations ago settling all over New Zealand and from all walks of life. It’s said our personalities are the sum of our experiences. I have been lucky to have had many, many wondrous experiences with amazing people all over the country. I’ve set up businesses with Maori, I’ve led campaigns to protect our biodiversity, initiated environmental projects in Antarctica, and been cheer leader for important national organisations like St John Ambulance and the Fred Hollows Foundation.

What are some stand out failures/problems you faced on your journey and how did you overcome/learn from them?

I’ve often been frustrated by public inertia on hugely important issues like climate change; the protection of nature and waste minimisation. The most satisfying response for me has been to get on the front foot with a bright idea and gather around me like-minded people and form a movement. Whether this has been the NZ Antarctic Research Institute or Predator Free NZ, it’s been gratifying to see people change their attitudes.

What’s an important issue which needs attention in your industry?

Nothing is more important than how the world must respond to the threat of climate change. This is our greatest intergenerational challenge. In the next 50 years it will impact everyone, with the certainty of massive climate refugees; major shifts in food production; the global quest for freshwater; accelerating communicable diseases; biosecurity challenges and significant change in how and where we can live especially in countries with expansive coastlines.


How have you used global New Zealand connections/networks to help achieve what you have?

New Zealanders always look out for each other around the world. I have made good friends in China and have been impressed by the interest of the global philanthropic community in some of the unique challenges facing New Zealand and Antarctica.

What is one key lesson you want to share with New Zealand entrepreneurs/businesses/SMEs?

One lesson I’ve learnt is don’t be afraid to make an ambitious goal. A goal that, on first blush, might seem ridiculous like Predator Free NZ. This is how you make a difference. This is how we kiwis can save the things we treasure from certain extinction.

In your experience what do Kiwis excel at in the eyes of the world?

Many Kiwis have a strong sense of self of self belief. They dare to dream and have a work ethic to match so many dreams become reality.

What in your professional career or personal life are you most proud of?

Seeing these ideas come to fruition.


“Don't be afraid to make an ambitious goal...this is how you make a difference”

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