Time spent with Kevin Roberts in New York almost 10 years ago is largely responsible for the path taken by the newly appointed chairman of the New Zealand Exchange. Three simple, yet life-changing questions posed by the former ad man saw lawyer Andrew Harmos return home, move jobs and re-examine longer-term goals.
The son of Hungarian immigrants, Harmos was born in Auckland and, 12 months in New York aside, has lived here all his life. He bypassed the traditional OE and joined law firm Russell McVeagh in 1981 straight out of university (he became a partner in 1986 and left in 2002) and has worked in Auckland ever since--except for that year in New York in 1999 with his wife and four kids.
"That had a big influence on us because I spent quite a lot of time with Kevin Roberts who I admire enormously. We were talking about the future and where to next, and Kevin said 'ask yourself three questions to determine where you want to go, it'll take you six months to answer them'. And it took me basically six months to the day to do that."
The three questions were 'when are you at your best', 'what will you never do', and 'where do you want to be in five years' time'.
The answer to those questions prompted a return to New Zealand and formation of his own firm, Harmos Horton Lusk. "After I came back I put another two years into Russell McVeagh, then formed HHL in 2002," Harmos says.
In the same year he was asked to join the board of about to demutualise NZSE (now NZX). It was a busy 12 months for Harmos who grew up with Hungarian as his first language. His father, like many new immigrants, initially drove taxis for a living while putting himself through night school to gain an accounting qualification, which he then used for a career in teaching. The go-getting gene is evident in Harmos' willingness to step outside his comfort zone to take on his current role as NZX chair.
"The board asked me to" is his straight and simple answer when asked why he wanted to take on the challenging role. "And having been around the board table for five or six years, I had my own ideas about the direction the board ought to take in support of the organisation and the CEO."
While he has been on a number of boards, he concedes this was definitely a step up but one that is very much in line with his life goals.
"Personally I'm very motivated about doing the right thing for New Zealand Inc, New Zealand and NZX. I've certainly got some ideas and vision for where I want to help take the organisation. I talked it through very carefully with my partners here and they were very supportive. We've always believed in putting something back into the community."
The country, he says, faces some key economic challenges. These include:
* Cementing our place in the world as an influential economic force in spite of scale;
* Ensuring the savings and investment environment is optimal for maximum New Zealand investor participation; and
* Ensuring New Zealand has a vision, and a plan against which policy, opportunity and decision making can be benchmarked.
And he has strong views on the role the Exchange should play in the national economy, saying a strong capital market is the heart of a strong economy.
"NZX forms the core of our markets and sees its role as participating in the drive to ensure New Zealand enhances its competitiveness--and ultimately its relevance--in the global economy."
While we have reason for optimism in terms of listings growth, Harmos says we are dramatically under-represented on our market by the things that actually drive the economy. "Our markets don't reflect the strength of our rural sector or the strength and opportunities inherent in our infrastructure sector."
He believes that being involved with other organisations and helping shape broader policy is one of the most critical roles NZX has to play. …