The renewable energy firm Matt Ward leads has installed more solar systems in Kiwi homes and enterprises than any other company in New Zealand – helping the country to run on sunshine, as he puts it. The University of Auckland graduate (BCom/LLB) became CEO at solarZero in March after three years as chief financial officer and chief operations officer. Before that, he was CFO of Oceania, the retirement living and aged-care provider, for 11 and a half years. A born and bred Aucklander, he still lives in the City of Sails with his wife and three children. 

When I was five, I wanted to be a professional footballer. I used to love watching the English Premier League on TV One on a Sunday. And I loved watching Nottingham Forest back in the early eighties. I played for the Eastern Suburbs club in East Auckland and my team was called "Nottingham Forest" because we were all named after the EPL sides at the time. 

I've actually got a Nottingham Forest shirt that I proudly wear to football training. On the back, it's got the number 14 – the number I've worn since I was 15 or so – and my name. Wearing the shirt is as close as I'll ever get to playing professionally – although I had a dream a few years ago about getting a call-up to play right wing or back for the All Whites. But that didn’t quite materialise.

was a June baby, so throughout my school years, I was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, in the class. I was lucky to be blessed with a decent IQ, although most of my teachers would probably have described me as smart, but cheeky.  

I studied Russian in high school. And when I was doing my degree, I kept up with the Russian and did it right through to stage three as I had always wanted to live in Russia. After university, I worked in Moscow for almost nine months in 2004, which was amazing.

There's a lot of beauty and hidden places in Moscow, and a really good example of that is the subway. The metro system, with all the mosaics and the Soviet-era art, is stunning. You can sit in some of the stations, like Kievsky Station, and you could be in an art gallery. It’s insane.

Another favourite thing about Russia is that the language itself is beautiful. I loved being in an environment where you're forced to use it day in and day out. And the Russian culture has real depth. 

After Russia, I went back to London and there met my now-wife. 

When I came back to NZ, I was a lawyer for a year before I realised that law wasn't really for me.

I ended up working for Macquarie as part of their private equity team and I just loved the pace of the environment and the level of trust and empowerment that you got, and also how high the standards were.

It was hard because I married when I was 26 and we had kids relatively early. So it was by no means an easy time to juggle raising a family and working the kind of hours I was. But the discipline, the high standards, and the attention to detail were things that have definitely held me in good stead.

Holidays with the family are a special joy. (Image: Supplied)       

I've got two daughters, 16 and 14, and our son is nine. The girls keep us on our toes and busy being their part-time taxi drivers. My daughter Sophie plays football; I coached her team for about five or six years when she was younger, which I loved.

With football, it doesn't matter what you do in your day job, you all come together for quite a simple purpose – to beat the opposition and have fun. And that's what I love about it. 

I still play football, and in my team, I've got cops and teachers and bankers and sparkies, you name it – all sorts of people from many other walks of life that you might not cross paths with otherwise.

There's something special about sport. It's the simplicity of it, and the humility of being on a team, that's quite beautiful. That's one of the goals I have as a chief executive, to try to bring that sort of unity, simplicity, and drive into the work environment.

I haven’t been back to Russia since that nine-month stint but my wife and I want to do the Trans-Siberian Railway and I really want to take her to St Petersburg. 

Travel is one of the things we do when we have the time, and we love it. That’s why we try to invest our disposable income in travel rather than in cars and clothes and all that sort of stuff – for the experiences.

My favourite place I’ve travelled to with my family is Sri Lanka. We were there for about 10 days in 2019. The wildlife was amazing, as were the food and culture. We had a great driver who took us around and whom we still keep in touch with on Facebook.

Effectively, what I got out of my family upbringing is grit. My father had a career not too dissimilar to mine in terms of being a CFO, then a CEO, and he was highly disciplined and hardworking. And you learn that what you put in is what you get out. 

My mum, she's more of a creative type. She was a teacher at school and a music teacher.

 Ward spent a decade performing gigs with his band before fatherhood spurred a re-evaluation of priorities. (Image: Supplied)          

I learnt piano at a young age and music became a massive part of my life. I ended up being in bands and musicals while at school, and afterwards was in a band with a few mates from school for a decade or so, until the kids came along.

The band produced a couple of EPs and we did lots of gigs at places like the King's Arms in Newton. If you asked me when I was 15 what I wanted to be, I would absolutely have said a musician. There's no better buzz than being in a band. We used to practise in a barn out in Takanini, with guitar and vocals.

When you're writing your own stuff and it just comes together and you could be playing at Wembley or you could be playing here, it doesn't matter. When you're all in step and time and you're feeding off each other, it's a cool feeling.

I really, really cherish those times, but my kids do take the piss out of me when they listen to some of the music we wrote. I think that when the kids leave, I'll definitely be converting one of the rooms to a soundproof music room.

I've kept my guitars, but unfortunately, some of the boys have spread far and wide with their careers. But I still know a few drummers and bass players.

I think that’ll be something I will gravitate towards, maybe after I'm 50.

As told to Ella Somers.
My Net Worth interviews may be edited for clarity.