Doctor, scholar, and political advisor. Corporate powerhouse, famous rugby player, and top businessman.
At 55, David Kirk has achieved infinitely more than most of us do in a lifetime. Earlier this week he paid a visit to NZMA Sylvia Park to inspire students with his incredible journey. Not surprisingly, a lot of it revolved around change.
“Change has been a vital part of my life, and my success. Change is a big one,” David told the students.
“I have chosen to change my career many times in my life. I trained as a doctor and spent a couple of years working as a resident doctor in Auckland hospitals. At the same time I was playing for the All Blacks, and was captain when we won the inaugural Rugby World Cup back in 1987. I retired from the All Blacks when I was just 26 and went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar to study philosophy, politics and economics. I went on to work for management consultants in London before returning to New Zealand and working for the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger for four years.”
By that time David was in his early 30’s with two kids and a third on the way. He decided “it was time to do something that resembled a career”!
He got a job with Fletcher Challenge, and spent a couple of years as chairman of Maui Development.
“It took a while for me to get used to the idea that I was responsible for 70% of New Zealand’s gas!”
A move from energy, to pulp and paper saw David head to Australia, where he still lives today. In 2005 he was appointed the chief executive of media giant, Fairfax.
“That was the peak of my corporate career!”
Eventually though David decided to move out of the corporate world and start up his own business - something he says he didn't have the courage or focus to do when he was younger. He co-founded Bailador Investment Management, an organisation which provides capital for already-established technology companies looking to expand and develop internationally. Just over a year ago it was listed it on the stock exchange and by the end of next month its fund will be worth over $100 million.
As well as the serious business of investing, David is board chairman for Kathmandu, Trade Me and a bunch of other organisations. Describing him as busy is an understatement! But as he pointed out, it doesn’t matter whether you’re at the pinnacle of your career, or just starting out – the same attributes are necessary at every stage of the journey.
“I have never been afraid to change, and do something I am passionate about. You need to be decisive, ambitious and resilient. You need to back yourself. Be prepared to do the hard yards – you've got to work hard and keep learning.
“I think it’s fantastic that you are all here learning the disciplines you need. In fact it’s crucial because you have to learn the basics before you can move up. But don’t think that your training finishes after this course and don’t think you have to go in a straight line to get to where you want to go. In fact you may not even know where you want to go yet, and that’s OK! Sometimes you need to go sideways in order to go forward. By going sideways you the develop skills and experience you need to go forward again.”
Although knowledge and skills are vital ingredients to success, David said building relationships was also critical.
“Never underestimate the importance of building a great network of friends and acquaintances – this is important not just for your career, but also for your life.”