Magazine article New Zealand Management

Rob Fenwick: Weaving Green Threads: Rob Fenwick Recently Added the Role of Chancellor of the Order of St John to His Already Impressive List of Responsibilities. Tying Them Together Is a Desire to Mesh Environmental, Socially Sustainable and Business Goals. So How Does a "Keeper of the Long View" Work in a Commercial World of Short-Term Fixes?

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Rob Fenwick: Weaving Green Threads: Rob Fenwick Recently Added the Role of Chancellor of the Order of St John to His Already Impressive List of Responsibilities. Tying Them Together Is a Desire to Mesh Environmental, Socially Sustainable and Business Goals. So How Does a "Keeper of the Long View" Work in a Commercial World of Short-Term Fixes?

Article excerpt

Perhaps it was all the past photos of him wearing shades of green. Plus his impeccable eco-friendly track record. Strange as it sounds, I couldn't imagine Rob Fenwick living in anything other than a treehouse. So when the founder of Living Earth and chair of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development invited me to talk with him in his downtown Auckland apartment, the idea of a sophisticated metropolitan living space seemed a little incongruous. Crossing the threshold, I blurt out this rather strange train of thought to Fenwick who tells me apartment living is a bit of a surprise to him as well.

The family deserted the "leafy suburbs" only last year, he tells me, after giving the move considerable thought. Apartment living is, he says, very gentle on the earth, consolidating density of population in one place and is a "sensible" option in a city the size of Auckland. I immediately feel slightly guilty about my leafy Mt Albert suburb-dwelling propensities.

And, anyway, there's always the family home on a sprawling 300-hectare property on Waiheke Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. lust before I leave he shows me a nine-page spread in the second issue of new publication NZ Life & Leisure. It shows the Fenwick family in idyllic rural surroundings living the usual glossy magazine lifestyle: traipsing in togs back from the beach, checking out the animals and noshing on nourishing food in dappled sunlight.

"It's a bit over the top," he laughs, and goes on to talk about how lucky he is that his family has also fallen in love with Waiheke.

Luck and fortune are recurring themes in our conversation. Fenwick says he is lucky to have his Waiheke retreat, to have had "a few adventures" or experiences in his life, and fortunate enough to have been able to take up opportunities when they crossed his path.

Sounds like more than luck, I prod, and he acknowledges that maybe he has "an optimistic disposition" that allows him to pick up and run with new challenges as they occur.

He could, after all, have followed in his father's footsteps as a family doctor and he had mentally started off down this track as a teenager until he realised he "never had the aptitude or the discipline to stick out six years of med school".

Nor could he have envisaged then, he says, how his life would have turned out so far. Instead of med school, a young Fenwick checked out Auckland University, clocked up "a couple of arts papers" and scored himself a cadetship at the Auckland Star.

With a few years at the Star and a couple of other journalism roles behind him, Fenwick hooked up with rising public relations specialist Cedric Allan to form Allan Fenwick, which later became Allan Fenwick McCully and powered his way through a 15-year stint in PR in the "heady" '70s and '80s.

After selling the business to Hill & Knowlton, Fenwick linked up with friends to set up a venture capital company, ending up with public company Metropolitan Life Insurance and establishing along the way mineral water company New Zealand Natural.

In many ways this was a turning point for Fenwick. A manufacturing and marketing organisation, NZ Natural was his first foray into a business that needed strong branding. "In terms of its export opportunities it was almost totally reliant on brand New Zealand," says Fenwick. "And that caused me to think a lot about the need to protect brand New Zealand from some of the threats that were gathering over it."

While this wasn't quite an awakening of an environmental consciousness in a younger Fenwick--that had been there all his life, he says--it underscored the economic importance of the nation's clean, green brand "and the risk of it turning out to be a lie".

"In New Zealand," he says, "we tend to see ourselves through a certain lens but the reality is that we have the fourth biggest eco-footprint in the world. We're not what we like to think of ourselves as. …

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