Leader profile: Fiona Mackenzie

Fiona Mackenzie 220615

Fiona Mackenzie has an impressive track record – currently Head of Investments at NZ Superannuation Fund, she’s had stints at Deloitte’s, Credit Suisse in New York, Morgan Stanley in San Francisco and here she’s headed up markets and strategy at the NZX.

Global Women got inside Mackenzie’s head for Leadership Week 2015 to find out what makes her tick as a leader.

ROLE MODELS?

“Firstly, my dad.” Graham Mackenzie was boss of Formica and then of Formica’s parent company in the UK. A self-taught leader with no formal qualifications himself, he encouraged his daughter to invest in education so that she could go even further than him.

Then in her 20s, her cousin’s investment banker husband Hugh Paton pushed her to think bigger. “As a New Zealander I thought I had got as far as I was going to get when I reached London,” she says. He influenced her decision to tackle Columbia Graduate School of Business in the US for an MBA – and the rest is history.

CAREER-DEFINING MOMENT – LEARNING IS LIFE-LONG

The moment Mackenzie learned her biggest lesson came when she joined the trading floor at Morgan Stanley in New York. She had just turned 30 and had recently graduated from Colombia with an MBA: life was sorted.

“I remember naively thinking this was it, that I was arriving as a ‘fully-fledged person’,” she says.

But when her manager told her team it takes two years to become a good salesperson – minimum – the bombshell hit.

“Apparently my face completely sank. I thought, ‘Holy smokes, I haven’t finished studying and learning and growing!?’ The lesson I learnt was that we are constantly on a journey of learning and improving and evolving. The sooner you figure that out, the better you are able to operate in this rapidly evolving context.

“In the last few years, whole sectors of the economy have disappeared or come into being, so unless you are comfortable with the idea of pushing yourself to evolve, your risk of becoming a dinosaur at some point in your career is really high. The only way to bake flexibility into your career is to keep pushing yourself to learn and evolve.”

ENSURING SHE GROWS AS A LEADER – BY KNOWING HER EMPLOYEES

Aside from formal leadership programmes within the organisation, Mackenzie says she mentors graduates and those early in their careers. She learns just as much from them as they do her, in terms of the best style of leadership.

“It exposes me to their perspectives. A 22-year-old has grown up in quite a different world to me, and mentoring is one of the ways to understand how they see the world, how they approach their careers. For example, I hadn’t full appreciated how important a sense of community and social cohesiveness is to that young generation of 20-24 year-olds. They’re much more focused on it than we were at that age. This comes from exposure to social media – they operate in a more connected way than we did.”

MOST IMPORTANT ATTRIBUTE IN A LEADER?

Mental flexibility.

“Without that, it doesn’t matter how amazing you are as a leader, if you can’t help support your team or company [by being flexible in your role], then I think you are dead in the water to be honest.”

ATTRIBUTE MOST LIKELY TO UNDERMINE A LEADER?

Mackenzie says arrogance, because it means you’re not open to other people’s perspectives.

“Thinking your perspective is somehow always the right one – with an inability to see things from people’s perspectives – is to me a real deal breaker.”

SAGE ADVICE? BUILDING OUT YOUR SUPPORT CREW

A message drummed into her at Columbia, Mackenzie advises young leaders to network and build their “personal board of directors” from an early stage in their career.

“This group can change over time, and it can be a combination of mentors, coaches and just people whose advice and thinking you really respect,” she says.

She likes Claudia Batten’s idea that careers generally don’t move in straight lines but squiggly ones, so a personal board of directors is important for ideas and multiple perspectives of advice – or just to talk to when needed.

SOMETHING EXCITING SHE’S INVOLVED WITH NOW?

For a year now Mackenzie has chaired the investment committee at the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. It challenges her from a leadership perspective to tap the ideas of a group of “incredibly talented and experienced people” from diverse backgrounds, all with different strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s about how we can use multiple perspectives that that group represents to inform great investment decision making. It’s basically a case study in how do you make diversity work,” she says.

“Diversity 1.0 was about getting diverse people in the room, Diversity 2.0 is actually helping diverse people work together effectively.”

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