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Alumna, CEO of REINZ explains what makes her tick

10 February 2022

Jen Baird
University of Waikato alumna Jen Baird

When Jen Baird is asked what makes her tick, she describes it simply – “I’m a striver.”

The CEO of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) says it’s a trait that has served her well. “It’s something I developed early, my parents encouraged me to go after things; I always plan to move forward and make change.”

It’s a trait that carried her through a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) at the University of Waikato, where she graduated in 1998 with first class honours. “When I was invited to do honours, I didn’t want to attempt it unless I could achieve it with first class. I went for a walk with my Mum and we broke the idea down to see if I was prepared to do what was needed. By the end of the walk I decided I could do it, and I did. That achievement is my proudest because I busted my gut for it.”

Jen’s choice of majors for her BMS were Chinese, Marketing and International Management, an uncommon combination at the time. The decision to study Chinese was made during her final year at Hamilton’s Hillcrest High School after she attended a recruitment speech by Waikato student Patrick English, who went on to become Consul General, Trade Commissioner for China. “He explained the importance of the Chinese market and that by learning Chinese, doors would open.”

During her BMS studies she was able to travel to China twice. “That was a time of huge personal growth. It was the first time I had been outside New Zealand. There was no internet and only one phone at our accommodation. It was two weeks before I phoned home and I told my parents, ‘Don’t worry, we know how to get food now.’” By the time she completed her degree, she was one of the few people coming out of university with a business degree in Chinese. “It was too early, businesses weren’t ready for it. You think about what that market looks like now, it’s quite different.”

After leaving university, Jen worked in a series of marketing roles in New Zealand and abroad including as Chief Marketing Officer for real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson, a role that gave her the industry knowledge she uses in her role now.

She returned to her Waikato roots in 2017 and was the General Manager, City Growth at Hamilton City Council for four years, heading the city’s planning, growth funding and safety and Civil Defense functions. At the beginning of 2021, she decided it was time for her next career step. “I thought about the kind of organisation that would enable me to take that step and what I could bring to the table for them. Shortly after that, a friend sent me a link about the REINZ CEO role and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s good timing.’”

Jen started at REINZ in July 2021. The institute represents more than 16,000 real estate professionals in New Zealand; providing education, data and digital services and advocacy to support the sector to deliver for New Zealanders.. She applied a structured approach to her own onboarding. “I take a wide approach to learning. The first few months in a role are about understanding the organisation, considering the appropriate future strategy while establishing the things that need immediate attention. I can then focus on both the burning issues and the long-term strategies.”

There were several burning issues that Jen had to deal with. Just five weeks into the job, the Auckland lockdown started and she had to help an industry adapt to new regulations and restrictions while also preparing an updated strategy for the company. “The board wanted a revised strategy within three months and we had to workshop, present and iterate it online. It was challenging, given the restrictions, but I was proud of what our team managed to deliver in a new way.”

Delivering in a new way has been common place for the real estate profession, which has seen massive changes since the pandemic. “Things really changed for the profession with significant investment required in technology and a new way of engaging with customers. There is constant tweaking, changing and then strong communicating to make sure that 16,000 real estate professionals know what’s going on.”

Alongside the impact of the pandemic, the real estate sector has seen considerable change over the last year: “There’s been a series of changes including those aimed at investors, changes to healthy homes regulation, recent impacts from changes to the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act (CCCFA) alongside strong demand for real estate which has seen prices rise across New Zealand by 21% in the last year alone. There’s never a dull moment.”

It’s clear Jen enjoys working at a fast pace and giving her all to roles she feels passionate about.


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