Q&A with Nick Walton: Country Managing Director, New Zealand

Slalom General Manager Nick Walton.

Nick Walton shines a light on his goals for the next five years, the importance of smiling, and why success is all about hiring the right people. 

What makes the New Zealand business community unique?

The New Zealand [NZ] business community is innovative, creative, and highly resourceful. Historically New Zealand’s remoteness meant Kiwis needed to come up with creative fixes and solutions to problems. Resources, for example spare parts, would take months to come by sea. In the last 20 years, through technology, the world is smaller and NZ is much better connected, but this resourcefulness lives on as something we refer to as “Kiwi ingenuity”!

Secondly, doing business in New Zealand is fun and collaborative. There’s a very high degree of trust and Kiwis are always looking to help each other out. We take work seriously but don’t take ourselves too seriously. There’s almost always time to smile and have a laugh!

That sounds like incredible energy to have around. A real people-first environment?

Absolutely. I also love the diversity of people and ideas that’s characteristic of the New Zealand business community today. There are amazing female leaders across the New Zealand business landscape and a growing number of Māori Pacifica leaders who are having an impact. 

Then there’s a great mix of local and international talent across both traditional companies and innovative technology companies.  

Don’t underestimate the power of a word of encouragement.

As you think about the next five years here in New Zealand, what are your goals? What are you most excited about?

Have fun. That’s my entire answer.

But seriously though, I believe Slalom’s global experience combined with our local presence will position us to help customers in New Zealand to leverage the very latest in cloud and emerging technologies.  I think in general NZ has been slower to adopt technologies like cloud and advanced analytics than some other global markets. This presents fast follower opportunities in many cases as New Zealand companies will have the opportunity to jump a full generation to the very latest thinking and technologies in these areas. That means Kiwi customers can get maximum benefit and cost savings from the very best capabilities. 

What have you been hearing from Slalom’s customers lately?

Market conditions are pretty tough right now with some segments of the economy facing headwinds. That’s put a strong focus on managing costs and an emphasis on return on investment.  Projects are still going ahead but there’s also a lot of rethinking business models. Our more progressive customers are making strategic investments that not only better position them in the short term but will also help them thrive when market conditions improve … which they inevitably willSlalom has a role to play across customers however they are responding but especially those who are looking to innovate through adversity.

Which Slalom core value speaks to you the most, and why?

Stay humble and curious is my favorite of Slalom’s core values. Thinking you have all the answers is a sure-fire way to achieve irrelevance, especially with the pace of change in business and technology today. I always try to challenge myself and my thinking and catch myself when I get too attached to ideas and beliefs asking – but what if I’m wrong and what if my assumptions no longer hold true?

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice at the beginning of your career, what would you say to young Nick?

Earlier in my career I was much more focused on business ideas or delivering an outcome. Naively, I thought the best way of achieving results was to do it yourself. As I’ve built more experience, I’ve learned that you can of course do much, much more for customers by creating and empowering high performing client focused teams. In my opinion helping team members grow and develop and building and contributing to high performing teams is the most important thing in business. Now that I have a bit more career experience building high performance teams is what I am most passionate about. 

So how would you sum up your leadership style now?

That’s easy. Hire great people and create the right conditions for them to do amazing work.

 The thing I am most proud of in my career so far is the teams I’ve been a part of and had an opportunity to contribute to. Another highlight is seeing great people I’ve hired develop, take on big challenges and achieve amazing things. I’m proud if I’ve played a small role in helping them achieve things they didn’t think possible. 

I believe in hiring for culture, then making culture an integral part of what we do and how we do it. That’s what makes a company thrive. 

What’s a challenging but important thing to do as a leader?

Challenging yourself and others—sometimes customers, sometimes internal teams—to go faster than I or they think is possible. A deadline can be a powerful thing in helping to challenge assumptions and think of faster ways of getting things done with both quality and speed. 

Okay, enough business talk. What does life outside of work look like?

 I spend time with my family—my wife Hannah and kids Frank [7 yrs], Harry [11 yrs], and Georgia [13 yrs] and (of course!) our dog, Winnie. My kids are pretty keen on sports especially football [soccer] for the boys and field hockey for Georgia so I enjoy spending a bit of time on the sideline supporting them. I also love catching up with good friends and having a laugh!

I have recently taken up wing foiling. I love the freedom of being out on the water in the Hauraki gulf of Auckland. There’s nothing like it.

nick walton gm new zealand

That sounds adventurous! How else do you like to recharge?

I love listening to music and the way a great song can make you feel. Music can be relaxing, it can be energizing, it can be emotive, and it can bring back great memories. My favorite band of all time is the Beastie Boys. I’m very passionate about music across lots of genre’s from hip hop, techno and indie rock! 

What’s something about you that would surprise us?

As a child I was acutely shy—I was scared of my own shadow! As I got older I built more confidence and I now love meeting and getting to know new people. I even get a buzz from presenting to large groups most of the time. More recently I’ve come to recognize that I’m an extroverted introvert which has been a helpful learning. I’m comfortable in my own company but I also get energy from interacting with others. 

What books or thought leaders have influenced you most, or most recently?

I loved The Tools by Phil Stutz & Barry Michels. It’s all about using your problems as levers to propel you into action. Basically, obstacles can become new chances to find your courage, creativity, and willpower.

What’s a rule that you live by?

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch as they might hatch into ostriches and kick the fowl house down.” 

Okay, okay. Kidding again! 

But seriously … 

“Don’t underestimate the power of a word of encouragement.” I can think of a few pivotal times in my career when I’ve been faced with challenges and had self-doubt. At these times, I’ve been lucky to have great managers and/or mentors who have encouraged me, helped me focus on the positives to help push forward and overcome these challenges. In general, I do not think we are encouraging enough!

The Auckland skyline as seen on a pleasant day from the harbor.
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