‘Leaders are built, not born’ – Tony Clifford, Managing Director, Pan Pac Forest Products Ltd

‘Get comfortable with being uncomfortable’ – Stephanie Rotarangi, CE, Napier City Council

 Guests were met with a sprawling grazing table as they filled the foyer of the Hawke’s Bay Business Hub on Tuesday 7th June for the first of Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce’s new ‘Meet the CEO’ Series.

This relaxed and informal event is a way to gain insight into our local leaders, learn about their journey and how they became the leaders they are today.

Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce CEO, Karla Lee, opened the evening with a warm welcome and introduced the first guest speaker, Tony Clifford – Managing Director, Pan Pac Forest Products Ltd.

Tony’s first lessons in leadership came from an early age when he attended Napier Boys High School. His parents have continuously inspired Tony through his mother’s passion and career in music and his father’s ability to critically analyse problems.

Tony studied Engineering at the University of Canterbury and climbed the leadership ladder from here. Tony’s first big break was in 1995 with Alcoa, where he managed their largest capital project to date. While Tony worked hard, organised the team, and worked through getting the project across the line under enormous pressure, he quotes his most significant achievement as the sense of camaraderie the team built.

Team environments define Tony’s career in leadership roles. Working with a group of people who all have different values and motivations and knowing how to tap into those motivations is a defining characteristic of a great leader.

As a leader in a commercial environment, Tony challenges himself with managing risk, learning that recognising and mitigating risks is critical to success as a leader.

Tony shared his advice to anyone wanting to make it as a leader, “there’s a lot of uncertainty in a leadership role, not to mention the latency. Leadership is a slow-burning process, and you must be prepared for that... leadership is a continuum. To be an effective leader, focus on having an effective team first.”

Karla then introduced our second guest speaker of the series, Stephanie Rotarangi – CE, Napier City Council.

Steph reflected on her journey, which was a challenging but valuable process. Like Tony, Steph was influenced by hard-working parents, a mother ahead of her time with well-being and a firefighting father.

Steph wasn’t always sure what she wanted to do when she “grew up”. A brief foray into forestry awakened a love of animals, leading to a determination to train a search and rescue dog. Steph trained hard for two years, only to have her dog dart off to chase a rabbit at the start of the assessment, leaving Steph to pick up the pieces of her dreams. This pivotal moment in Steph’s life led to her becoming a founding member of Urban Search and Rescue in NZ (where there would be no rabbits to chase).

Along with a love for animals, Steph learned that she had a deep connection to and passion for community. Humans inspire Steph. She feels privileged to “work with people [who are] amazing, tenacious, with care and attention when it really matters.”

As her confidence grew, Steph became a stronger leader. Always leading with heart and soul. Steph flew up the ranks of various fire services in NZ and Australia, ultimately becoming the first female leader of Country Firefighting Authority in Victoria.

Along with a rise to the top came a flood of publicity, and profiling, which was difficult to digest.

Steph fought for recognition on the merit of her achievements as a leader instead of her existence as a woman in a male-dominated field. Steph was able to leverage publicity by using her voice to protect and fight for communities.

With a pandemic and a family illness on her mind, Steph made the tough call to leave Australia and her firefighting career behind. The time came to step up to governance and make a difference to Napier City Council as Chief Executive.

Steph’s journey in leadership roles has taught her to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”.

The evening was engaging and captivating. It is not every day we are able to sit down and speak with our leaders, ask burning questions and truly understand where they started and where they are today. We are grateful to both Tony and Steph for allowing us the time to get to know them better and for all their sage advice about the merits and perils of leadership.