Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular feature on the lives and motivations of our top businesspeople, in their own words.
Blair Turnbull has had more than 25 years’ experience in the financial services industry, predominantly in insurance, in New Zealand, the Asia-Pacific region and Britain. Before being shoulder-tapped to take up the role at Tower, he spent six years with insurance and fund-management giant Aviva Group in London looking after more than 15 million customers as head of its digital, retail and innovation operations. He is also a former executive general manager (wealth and insurance) at ASB Bank.
I went to Southland Boys’ High School, which is quite a traditional school, but if you were sporty, it was the right place, and I love sport. I did running, rugby, football, tennis, squash. I tried my hand at sailing, too – I wasn't very good at that.
My teachers would probably say I was a very energetic student who loves sport. I did okay and made some good friends.
I went to Otago Uni to do a commerce degree majoring in accounting, finance and marketing. I became a scarfie. That was really, really good fun.
I was lucky enough while working on my postgraduate thesis on retirement to meet Sir Eion Edgar from Forsyth Barr. I did a piece of work for him on retirement savings, which led into insurance.
I got a reference from Sir Eion to do some work for KPMG. After 10 months, I realised I wasn't designed to be an auditor, but it did lead on to the role at the ASB Bank, in insurance and savings, which was fantastic. It was there I met CEO Barbara Chapman; she was my boss, and I worked with her a number of times.
I first did my OE as a ski bum and tourist to Canada, and later went to South America, where I ran out of money completely. So, with my tail between my legs, I went back to what I knew – which was insurance.
The second time around, I was lucky enough to meet my future wife. And she wanted to travel as well. So the next time we did our OEs, we did the paid version.
We lived in Hong Kong for seven years, then Singapore for four years, and absolutely loved it. I love culture. I'm a very curious person. I deeply believe that to develop and grow, you need to want to learn more, be empowered, curious. My three boys were born in Asia.
We had some brilliant weekends. We travelled a lot. If you leave Singapore at five o'clock on a Friday night you can be in Thailand by the pool by eight o’clock.
In London I worked for Aviva, which was right in the square mile downtown. This was the heart of the insurance industry. It had sprung out of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then developed into merchant coverage. I love history – the history of the UK and how they approach things.
I was spotted in New Zealand. I was here for a holiday about a year ago and someone asked me if I would like to have a chat to [Tower chairman] Michael Stiassny. I turned up in a T-shirt and, I think, shorts. I’m pretty sure he had on shorts as well. That’s Michael, you know; he’s got a wonderful reputation.
My truth is I love building businesses and being with customers. And I like being on that side of the fence, as opposed to going along and checking on businesses.
With 20-plus years’ experience and having worked for some of the leading insurance companies in the world, my biggest concern is not delivering. I guess it’s not wanting to let people down.
The people that I really aspire to be like include Barbara Chapman. She's been a coach and mentor to me for a long time. She's very patient as I run around with my curiosity and making mistakes.
Work-life balance is a daily challenge. And I'm not saying I’m anywhere close to mastering it. But I do have a very patient wife who tells me when I don't get the balance right.
I like to spend the weekends with kids watching them play rugby or football, or getting out on a bike, or going for a run, or a glass of wine with friends.
I like all sports but I got caught up in ultra-running. A group of us would get together and have a Wednesday-night run through the hills in Hong Kong.
This is a bit embarrassing, but the last books I read were Code Name Bananas and Bad Dad, by David Walliams. I read with my 10-year-old.
Everything else I read is on a tablet. I just hoover up social media and news.
The most valuable thing I own are experiences – great adventures, great holidays. My wife and I fell in love with Vietnam, especially the art. I love Asian furniture, traditional cabinets and things like that, so we dragged quite a lot of that home.
The last thing we splurged on was a black electric Mini. It was a family decision – mostly the kids, actually. They decided what car Dad was going to drive.
As told to Victoria Young.
This interview has been edited for clarity.