Pulse, a community-owned consumer energy retailer serving more than 80,000 homes, has been Sharnie Warren's place of work in Auckland for more than a decade. In October 2021, she was promoted to CEO, having been instrumental in establishing the company’s Pay It Forward programme to address energy hardship. The scheme grew out of the covid pandemic, and until March 31, Pulse is matching every contribution dollar for dollar. 

When I was really young, I'd tell people I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. Seeing dolphins while out on the water many times with my family could have been why, and also, I've always loved swimming. I think, too, that I was inspired by movies I had seen. 

When I got older, I’d say I wanted to be a manager. My dad was a manager, at Telecom (now Spark). I never actually got as far as deciding what I'd be managing, or where. It was lucky no one asked me, because I would have said I just wanted to be a manager. I love that.

I grew up in Hamilton and lived there until I left school. I applied to a gap-year programme where, if you were accepted, you were allocated to a school. I got assigned, with four other New Zealanders, to Eastbourne in England. 

We went there for a year to basically be teacher aides. I was doing swimming and netball coaching. It was wonderful. The school had a 25m indoor pool and we really lucky to have free range of the school facilities after hours and at weekends. I really enjoyed my year off between school and university.

Like many people who go to uni, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be passionate about. I started looking at management and even, at one stage, law, but realised that law wasn't for me. I ended up doing a commerce degree, majoring in marketing. I really enjoyed the marketing part of it, which was part of the reason I decided to do fourth-year honours.

After university, I went back to the UK. It was quite a challenging time as it was around the global financial crisis. I got a role with a boutique information security recruitment company in London. It was obviously not what I thought I would be doing, but it was an incredible experience. It was a sales role in an area I’d never been in before – national security.

When I moved back to NZ after just over a year, the market was a bit crazy. So I returned to IT recruitment for a few years before I made the transition into a more sales management marketing role. I stayed there for two or three years before I started at Pulse Energy. 

I've been at Pulse for over 10 years. I started as a channel manager and have had five or six other roles since then – from marketing and sales and customer experience, to now being the chief executive. 

Of all the roles I’ve held at Pulse, being the general manager of customer experience has probably been my favourite. I was able to be across the most important part of the business, which is looking after the customers. 

The biggest business success I can think of came about in the last lockdown. Everyone from our front line to our customer-care teams was noticing that a lot of customers were struggling to pay their bills as many had reduced hours or lost their jobs.    

We sat down as a team and thought about what we could do to help, and came up with our Pay It Forward programme. This lets customers add as little as $2 to their bill each month to support someone, or a family, experiencing energy hardship.

Initially, we weren’t sure if the concept was going to take off. But we've now got about 2,400 customers contributing every single month. Pulse committed $150,000 for the first year, but now it's an ongoing programme for us and we contribute probably more than that every year. 

I celebrate success with my friends and family and sometimes a glass of champagne, depending on the success. 

The best advice I’ve ever been given is to be open to new ideas. Sometimes the best ideas come from an unexpected place. Particularly in my new role, I need to be like a sponge and suck up ideas and filter them from all different angles.

I do my best to find balance in my life. I should probably manage my stress by doing a little bit more exercise, but I sometimes either don't take the time or don't make the time. 

More recently, I've been listening to some guided sleep meditation – it's quite relaxing. 

I'm quite an active relaxer, so if I'm feeling stressed, I go out and do something to take my mind off it.

Sharnie Warren says she likes to have action-packed weekends with her sons. (Image: Supplied)

Weekends are always spent with the kids. I've got two young boys and we're always out on a bike ride or at the beach. I spend a lot of time in the garden with the kids as well. At the moment, we're watching the cherry tomatoes grow.

We like to have action-packed weekends. We've learned not to let the weather faze us too much; we just put on our raincoats and get out there.

I'm trying to find the right balance between being a mum and wife and also doing really well in my role. I've been CEO for just over a year now. I'd say I'm still finding that balance. If I can find it, I'd be happy.

As told to Ella Somers. This interview has been edited for clarity.