Six Lessons For Navigating A 21C Career

Matt Crockett, CEO of Fletcher Building’s Building Products division, shares his top 6 learnings for graduates on how to thrive in a 21C career. It’s a very authentic, compassionate insight into what really matters.

 Matt Crockett

Matt Crockett

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Congratulations to you and to the people who’ve supported you to get here.

It’s an honour to be asked to speak with you today. It’s fortunate timing: my wife and I just last week attended our Oxford graduation ceremony 21 years late with our 16 year old daughter in attendance! I have to say I had a genuine sense of closure I wasn’t expecting – I hope you’re all feeling that sense of pride and achievement today; you’ve earned it.

It was also a great opportunity to reflect on what we’d achieved and learnt together in those 21 years since we left, things that might have been helpful to understand back when we graduated. If you’ll indulge me I’d like to share some of my key learnings and experiences with you today.


Passion and resilience trump talent

My first key learning is that passion and resilience are much more important than raw talent.

Reflecting on my own experience and reading the findings of recent research, it’s become clear that while talent has a part to play, it is not the defining feature of the people who make great leaders who have real impact in the world. Much more important is a combination of the person’s genuine passion for what they are doing, and their resilience in dealing with the multitude of challenges they face as they pursue their passion.

So, don’t stress if you haven’t been the natural athlete or genius, as it turns out these gifts aren’t as important as people think after all!

For me, what I’m passionate about is New Zealand and its people – it’s why I’m excited to be here with you today. For full disclosure I was originally an Aussie, but my wife now calls me the “born again Kiwi” – I even support the All Blacks now. I simply love this place and its people.

I’ve chosen to make my contribution through business. I’m at Fletcher Building because it’s a really important company for New Zealand both as one of the few big companies operating globally that controls its destiny from New Zealand, because we are such a big employer right across New Zealand, and because we have a key role to play in addressing some of our most pressing issues in New Zealand – notably our housing and infrastructure crisis.

I’m sure you will have noticed of late we aren’t without our challenges at Fletcher Building and I can assure you we’ve needed plenty of resilience of late to deal with this! We need passionate and resilient people so please consider a career with us!


Risk and experiment

My second learning is the importance of being flexible, experimenting, and taking risks as it may take a while to uncover what you are both passionate about and can build a career around.

On one hand, I wish I’d thought more about what I was genuinely passionate about earlier in my career; on the other hand, I think it’s too hard to know until you get out there and explore and experience.

So keep an open mind to new and different opportunities and embrace what comes your way, even if it’s not exactly what you were looking for. People notice people who embrace new opportunities and make the most of them.

People ask me if I had my career planned out right from the start and I have to say, absolutely not. I’ve been thoughtful about the kinds of things I want to do but completely flexible on the specific opportunities that have come along … that’s how I’ve ended up working in so many different industries. If I am honest I am still not sure where my career is going to take me but I have my passion firmly in mind!

I’d also encourage you to take risks, especially early in your career. For example, on reflection I really wish I’d had a crack at starting a business while I was in my 20s.

Whatever you do, own your choices; it’s really unhelpful if you slip into a victim mindset, and I have to admit I’ve been guilty of that from time to time.


Future-focused skills

My third learning is that the world is changing so fast that you really need to be thoughtful about building the skills that will matter most during the rest of the 21st century.

Established organisations, what’s traditionally been valued, and those currently in power aren’t necessarily the best guides here. For example, I have to say Oxford is an impressive institution but it is one I believe spends too much time looking backwards. AUT is one of the more forward looking tertiary institutions in New Zealand, so you’ve chosen well.

21C Skills Lab, a venture co-founded by my wife Justine Munro, has identified the skills that are going to matter most as we move forward, which are:

  • Knowing the new basics in areas like digital and global networking, design and entrepreneurship.

  • An ability to use that knowledge to achieve results, through creative and critical thinking, working collaboratively to solve problems and communicate results.

  • Being curious, tenacious, organised, emotionally resilient and a team player, and

  • Having a growth mindset that keeps you learning, unlearning and relearning.


Embrace our humanity

My fourth learning is that all human organisations are dysfunctional - accept and embrace this.

I spent a lot of my early corporate career frustrated with the dysfunctional organisational behaviours I saw in the companies where I worked. At Telecom I thought it was caused by the massive disruptions the company was facing through technological and regulatory change so I hungered for an early stage growth experience on the right side of disruption. When I got there I found out that early stage high growth tech businesses are just as dysfunctional, just in different ways!

It really helped me when the penny finally dropped that all human institutions – from a marriage to a massive company – are inherently dysfunctional, and that’s OK. Learn to embrace it - working with other people to achieve things, especially leading large groups of them, is the hardest, but most important, thing you can to do. Take pride in living with and overcoming dysfunction!


A marathon not a sprint

My fifth learning is that life’s a marathon, not a sprint

I recently read a book titled The 100 Year Life  which was quite an eye opener. Fact – a child born in New Zealand today has a greater than 50% chance of living to be more than 100 years old. This means we need to fundamentally challenge and reconceive the way we think about life.

Traditionally the mindset has been that life has three key stages – education then work then retirement as three very clearly defined, separate and sequential stages.  When you are likely to live to 100 this simply doesn’t work anymore – economically if nothing else. We (individuals, employers, governments) need to be much more flexible and non-linear in our thinking to deal with this – work, take a break, re-learn, take on a new career etc - and we aren’t there yet.  

I have to admit I find it personally confronting that as someone in my late 40s in all likelihood I’m not even through the first half of my career yet. That’s depressing and exciting at the same time!


He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

My sixth and final learning is that throughout it all, it is the people who matter most.

Even 100 years isn’t all that long. It’s the people you touch and help that will take things forward – your whānau, your workmates, other members of your communities.

I really like an analogy that I believe the native American Indians use, that your community is like a rope that flows through time. You really want the strand that you add to the rope to be a good and strong one, and to have helped the people you have touched to make their strands good and strong as well. One could argue this is the purpose of life.

Closer to home, the Māori saying is:

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is the people, the people, the people.
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

Thank you, and I wish you all the best for wherever your careers and lives take you from here.

We are grateful to Matt for permission to reprint his speech to the AUT Faculty of Business, Law and Economics graduates in July 2017.