Rob McLeod: Why He's Not What You Expect: Why Do Expectations Play Such a Big Part in Rob McLeod's Life? Vicki Jayne Talks to the Man Who Heads the NZ Business Roundtable and Can Count Some of New Zealand's Wealthiest Individuals Amongst His Clientele

By Jayne, Vicki | New Zealand Management, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Rob McLeod: Why He's Not What You Expect: Why Do Expectations Play Such a Big Part in Rob McLeod's Life? Vicki Jayne Talks to the Man Who Heads the NZ Business Roundtable and Can Count Some of New Zealand's Wealthiest Individuals Amongst His Clientele


Jayne, Vicki, New Zealand Management


It says something about Rob McLeod that some time after an hour-long interview tape has run out, we're still talking. He's not the easiest chap to get hold of--a swag of directorships, consultancy roles and clients around the country keep him well occupied. But once pinned down, he is generous with both his time and his thoughts.

It's unexpected.

Stereotyping might suggest that a barrister and tax specialist who is former chair of Ernst & Young, adviser to governmental taskforces and chair of the NZ Business Roundtable might be a bit buttoned down--professionally distant, personally diffident.

Not in the least. McLeod likes to engage. It is, he says, a feature of what could be called his management style that both work and client relationships are generally predicated around friendship.

"I've always tended to run a senior management team as friends--I have this theory that friendship equals effectiveness. Even in a professional advisory capacity to clients, I've sought friendship as opposed to having a relationship like that with a dentist."

He reckons it creates a better platform for group discussion or problem resolution. But he's also happy to admit his approach is less managerial technique than natural tendency.

"If I went looking for reasons why I operate that way then I'd say it's turned out by accident, that it worked and gave rise to more effective outcomes. The main reason is more to do with my personal makeup--of what I am and who I am."

You could look to his whanau for clues.

McLeod is the youngest of five siblings born and raised on the East Coast near Gisborne. Of Ngati Porou and Scottish descent, he also has strong links to the Tuhoe people through his nanny, spending a lot of marae-based holidays with her in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

He is clear that family influences have played a large part in his life: in his attitudes toward education, for starters. That four kids from his family ended up with a university education was not the norm--particularly in the 1960s when his oldest sister went, says McLeod. This he attributes to the influence of his father (now 93).

"He had a thing about education--my theory is it's because he missed out on senior high school. He was at Te Aute College and would have been due to matriculate when Hawkes Bay was hit by the earthquake in 1931. He got pulled out of the system having done really well up to that point. So he lectured us kids about it and the McLeod family was quite unique in the broader whanau that so many of us went on to university."

His older siblings set high standards both in sporting and academic achievements. McLeod says he was the family's black sheep in the sense that he rather drifted through the school system--tagging behind a sister who was a shining example of achievement.

"When my parents went to the school they'd get completely different reports, one glowing and the other ... well, he's a bit of a chore. My father even said when I got married--'Rob exceeded our expectations in terms of how he got on in later life'. But I did discover that when I developed a keen interest in something, I was able to differentiate myself, to perform."

There is, says McLeod, a story about expectations around all this. It's something he is hot about.

"I've observed that when people are put into positions of responsibility, they have a reasonable prospect of rising to it. But there's a whole lot of conditioning that goes on in your environment--to a large extent you do what you're conditioned to do in terms of the expectations that are developed around you.

"It's a theme of mine in Business Roundtable terms that expectations are so crucial in human development. They have a huge conditioning force and effect and sometimes, if we get that wrong as a community, we can sub-optimise outcomes."

It's also something he talks about in relation to Maoridom and why, as a people, as families, they should aim high. …

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