10 June, 2020
Honour recipient Justine Smyth encourages diversity
“You can be, and do, anything if you really want to,” is the message business high-flyer Justine Smyth wants to impress on young women.
The Milford resident of 16 years backs this up by being a strong voice telling companies they should tap into more diverse talent to help them thrive.
Smyth – chair of the board of Spark and of the Breast Cancer Foundation – rose through the corporate ranks herself, and has become a leading advocate and mentor for other women to gain leadership roles.
That work saw her made a Companion of the Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Her citation “for services to governance and women” is one she wishes she could have shared with her parents who both passed away during the last few years. “I thought of how proud they would have been.”
Smyth grew up in South Auckland as one of six children.
“My parents spent their lives committing to the community as volunteers,” she recalls. Her mother helped at Plunket for 30 years and treasured a Queen’s Service Medal she was awarded. “She was incredibly proud of that. She was a royalist.” Smyth’s father was involved in Jaycees and the church.
Smyth’s own work with the Breast Cancer Foundation is another link to her mother, who was a breast cancer survivor. First invited to join the volunteer board 24 years ago because of her financial ability, 54-year-old Smyth has been its chair for 10 years. She is passionate about the organisation and how its work can and does save lives.
Covid-19 has been challenging with cancellation of the foundation’s annual Pink Ribbon fundraising breakfasts, normally held in May. It hopes to reschedule the nationwide events to help bankroll its work in education, welfare, research and lobbying for the likes of new cancer drugs.
Another pandemic effect that Smyth doesn’t want to see is corporate business reverting to status-quo thinking. “We have come a long way,” she says of the rise of women into board positions, compared with 15 years ago when she took up her first directorship at NZ Post. “The story isn’t so good for CEOs and board chairs. That’s the next focus.”
Smyth herself went from Papatoetoe High School to the University of Auckland for a Bachelor of Commerce degree. She then joined Deloitte, where she rose to tax partner. A stint as group finance director at Lion Nathan followed, along with a few years in Australia.
Moving onto being a professional director, including for Auckland Airport, allowed more family-friendly flexibility. Smyth has launched two businesses of her own on the North Shore: CSL Traffic and Lingerie Brands. She is also an investor in tech-payments company Ivenco.
Prompting change in listed companies wasn’t just about getting competent women around the board table, she said, but also encouraged more diverse thinking.
A favourite quote is: “Diversity is the antidote to group think.”
At Spark (which has that rare thing, a female CEO), Smyth says encouraging more diverse and customer-focused thinking has helped transform the business and its culture.
Lockdown and working from home proved the value of digital technology. But it also confirmed the personal appeal of living on the North Shore, where her supportive husband Paul Lockey grew up. Having the beach on one side and the Milford shops a walk away meant “I didn’t hop in my car for seven weeks,” said Smyth. “If you’re going to live anywhere in Auckland, I just don’t see why you’d live anywhere else.”
Lockey, now retired, was a professional director like his wife. He now serves on the board of Kristin School which the couple’s 15-year-old daughter Mikayla attends. The family has a holiday home in Queenstown and Mikayla took to skiing from a young age. Her mother puts her own abilities in the “try hard” category.
Mikayla, who is already a New Zealand age-group champion in ski-racing and has won races internationally, last year received an AIMES scholarship from the North Harbour Club. She hopes to one day compete at the Winter Olympics.
This article originally appeared in the 7 July 2020 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.
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