Magazine article New Zealand Management

Jon Mayson: Leading with Heart and Soul. (the Management Interview)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Jon Mayson: Leading with Heart and Soul. (the Management Interview)

Article excerpt

Even by today's informal dress standards Port of Tauranga chief executive Jon Mayson comes across as casually informal. He talks about "wearing his heart on his sleeve" but invariably there isn't a sleeve on which to display it. But make no mistake, this executive is a classy and successful leader. Why?

Jon Mayson is a kit bag of contradictions. Born of Christian pacifist parents in 1945 he learned, from an early age, that society is intolerant of difference and therefore he needed to stick up for himself. He chose difficult options and despite opposition joined the merchant navy where he acquired a host of other survival and personal skills. His keenly developed social conscience found expression in the political philosophies of the '70s-germinated Values Party. He successfully rode the party ticket on to the Bay of Plenty Harbour Board.

Mayson's pattern of personal success is consistent but definitely not cut from the traditional corporate cloth. Almost 26 years at sea, interrupted only by a short stint on the waterfront in 1972 after which he disembarked from tankers and signed on first as a tugmaster and then Tauranga's port pilot, bequeathed him weathered features and rugged good looks.

Today it is impossible to separate the Port's success from Mayson's personal rack of achievements since he stepped ashore to become the Port's assistant operations manager in 1988. From 1997 when he took over as chief executive, his career has become a classic leadership-in-action story that unfolds with each year's annual result. Mayson explains it differently. "Our story is about people. We simply let our performance speak for itself."

His management philosophy is unquestionably people, rather than systems, focused. "We allow individuals to achieve whatever they want in life and work," he adds. "I believe we are here [on earth] for a good reason and we come equipped with talents." Then it's up to individuals to explore the potential of their talents and up to employers like him to provide the opportunities.

His personal success story begins with self-belief. "I had to accept that I could make a difference by leading a team to achieve. You need a `why not' approach to life. If you are attitudinally in tune with yourself you will be in tune with others," he rationalises. His personal credo is articulated in a George Bernard Shaw quote which features on his business card: "Some men see things as they are and say `why?' I dream of things that never were and say `Why not?"'

Mayson concedes that his life got off to a testing start. His parents' Christian pacifist convictions meant he was sometimes ostracised at school. He was, for instance, forbidden to take part in military cadet training. The experience taught him "valuable life lessons". At age nine he decided that he wanted to go to sea and did. "The more people opposed me the more determined I was about it."

The merchant navy's hierarchical structure also taught him some basic leadership and management skills based on discipline, result-oriented behaviour and the need to get on with people.

He enjoyed life at sea and his stint as the Port's pilot, but in the end it wasn't sufficiently fulfilling so he "got involved in politics" and then moved in to management. "When I refocused on where I was going with my life I decided I would re-learn, go back and do some management training and apply all my efforts to a [more demanding] career." In quick succession after his career switch to management Mayson completed the NZIM'S Diploma in Management and an MBA in International Management. And he learned from his time in Values Party national and local body politics that he had "some leadership potential that others recognised". Mayson stood for the Values Party in 1975, '78 and '81. He was elected on to the local Harbour Board and, in his words, "recognised that I could stand up against those that had a different point of view". …

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