Leading the way through disruptive times

25 May 2022

Business leader and University of Waikato alumnus Kevin Kenrick has had a common theme throughout his illustrious career - he gravitates towards disruptive industries. 

Kevin Kenrick, director and former CEO of TVNZ.

 Kevin has had a varied career across several industries, leading the transformation of established businesses undergoing significant disruption including telecommunications, travel and more recently the media sector as the CEO of TVNZ.

After moving to Hamilton from Rotorua, Kevin enrolled in a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) at the University of Waikato with the intention of a career in accounting or finance. However, with such a broad range of papers offered during the first few years of the degree, it wasn’t long before he realised that marketing was his future.

“The variety of areas we got exposure to and the practical experience we got throughout the BMS degree were points of difference in the Waikato management degree,” says Kevin.

His education was key but the social side of University and the friendships were highlights. It was also where he met fellow management students and his future wife, Sara.

He fondly remembers his involvement in the infamous 'capping revues' and stunts. The student revue would perform comedic sketches and musical numbers focusing on current and not so current affairs.

Kevin says a particular capping stunt protesting the removal of a tree in central Hamilton resulted in mainstream media coverage.

“Any chance we got to be disruptive and get coverage for it, we were in,” says Kevin. This attitude paved the way for Kevin’s career to come.

After graduating, Kevin took on marketing roles for Carter Holt Harvey and Lion Nathan, before moving into executive roles at Telecom, House of Travel and TVNZ.

A pivotal moment in his leadership development was the shift from a functional manager to a business division leader with Telecom.

Kevin credits his studies at the University of Waikato as helping him through this journey. “Looking back, we had a great grounding in the theory of business leadership at University and I was able to complement this by observing the behaviours and skills from the many great leaders I was fortunate to work with.”

In 2012 Kevin took on his most high-profile role to date as the chief executive of the state-owned broadcaster, TVNZ, leading it through a significant period of digital evolution.

“When I joined TVNZ it was very much a TV company and was confronting its Kodak moment with the undeniable decline in TV viewership. I’ve always believed that change creates opportunities and it was an exciting time to be a part of the team that refocused the business around the dynamically changing audience needs - TV may have been in decline but the digital consumption of content was growing exponentially,” says Kevin.

Kevin’s marketing background has set him in good stead to keep customers' wants and needs top of mind.

“With two million Kiwis watching TVNZ content every day, there was no shortage of opinions about the choice of programming on offer, how news stories were covered, and the merits of on screen presenters. This level of engagement combined with TVNZ’s Government ownership lead viewers to feel a strong sense of ownership.”

Kevin says the best way to cope with that level of scrutiny as a leader was to embrace the fact that people cared about what the business did and how it did things. “I’d rather have people care than not. The wealth of feedback also ensured you had plenty of insights into what customers wanted.”

Early on in his career Kevin was given a useful tip that helped shape his career progression. Since 1999 he has taken an extended break every 10 years to reflect and refresh. Kevin left TVNZ in March 2022 and is currently on his third extended break.

“I’ve found that if I take a long enough break it gives me an opportunity to recharge, reflect, and open my mind to future possibilities. Each time I’ve ended up doing something completely different but have always returned with a renewed sense of focus and energy."

Kevin has an obvious passion for learning about new industries including his governance roles.

Being a director on the BNZ board has provided deep insights into the New Zealand economy while his role as the Chair of Good George Brewing, a Hamilton brewery with a quirky attitude to marketing, offers him the opportunity to support the company as it grows.

Kevin’s advice to young leaders is to adopt a curious mindset and constantly seek out opportunities to learn.

“Apply for roles that provide a balance between what you can contribute and what you can learn. If you’ve already got 90% of the skills required for the role you’ll learn a lot less than one we you only have 50% of the skills when applying.”

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