Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular feature on the lives and motivations of our top businesspeople, in their own words.
Brent Impey has had a varied career including as chief executive of MediaWorks, chair of New Zealand Rugby and of the Fred Hollows Foundation, and directorships at Yellow Pages Group, Hutchwilco, Finzsoft, Ports of Auckland and Devon Funds Management. He operates his own consultancy business. Until 1990, he practised as a lawyer, specialising in media law, and is a previous executive director of the Radio Broadcasters Association and its predecessor, the Independent Broadcasters Association. He is a former on-air host at RadioLive. In addition to rugby, yachting is a passion, and he was a director of the 1989 Fisher & Paykel and 1993 Yamaha Whitbread round-the-world race campaigns.
My childhood was terrific. I take a lot of pleasure out of the fact I grew up in Papatoetoe and was brought up to be able to socialise with the pauper or the king, to be able to relate to everybody.
I played rugby from the age of four or five until I left to go overseas when I was 24. I remember the last game. I was playing for what was then the Eastern Rugby Club; I went on with two strapped ankles and two strapped knees. I got a hamstring injury.
I was a pretty lazy student. My [Auckland] Grammar career was affectionately known as the Grammar slide.
Because I was really interested in everything else, work only started when I went to university.
My grades weren't good enough to get into law school. So, I started doing a BA. And then I thought, right, I'll do legal systems and get into law school in the next wave.
I reckon a law degree is valuable when it comes to business work, because in negotiation, you've got a basic knowledge of contract law, etc. And you know how far to go. And I think it's proved to be invaluable.
In Auckland University in the 70s, there was a party called the Values Party I was part of. I stood in the Tāmaki electorate against the prime minister at the time, Rob Muldoon. My memory is that I got 1500 votes. It didn't matter because a couple of months later, I left for my OE.
The biggest deal I’ve done was the sale of CanWest’s MediaWorks to Ironbridge in 2007. They paid far too much for it and they believed there was this massive solution in digital that I couldn’t see – still can’t. I think they stopped listening. It was a very difficult period. The business has taken 12 to 13 years to recover. So, I don't regard that as an achievement. The most difficult period of my career was in the latter part of my MediaWorks time with IronBridge.
I didn't want to work for them, and they didn't want me to work with them. When we reached the end, I mean it, we were done. Yeah. I'm not the easiest person, either – I am determined – so they had their views and I had mine, and they didn’t meet.
Within New Zealand Rugby I'm really proud of the deals that we've done to get the right amount of broadcast revenue.
Have I handled work-life balance well? No, not really. I guess in terms of the kids, I would say so. I was able to coach the boys at sport as well as spend time with my daughter. She’s a journalist.
I can get very driven and very competitive and I have to watch that – I get driven to succeed and then I’m out and about and I can’t think of what I’m going to do in the future.
I believe that unless you’re passionate – I know it’s often overused, that word – but unless you're into it, you're not going to ever get the best out of yourself in the job.
The first time I went down to the All Blacks’ dressing room, I honestly didn't know what to say, but gradually over time you get to know the guys.
Chair of NZ Rugby is a massive honour and a privilege. Very few New Zealanders get that opportunity.
It’s a completely different job than media. You have to be more dynamic, you’ve got to be making decisions really quickly. There’s a weight of expectation. This is the national sport. But you've got to treat the job incredibly seriously and do the very best you can.
I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which it looks like I’ve nailed, which is great. I learned a lot through that process, and one of the positives was even though New Zealand Rugby was incredibly difficult, with the collapse in revenue, etc, it was a marvellous distraction from the cancer.
Once I knew the cancer was curable, I was fine. I just became determined.
My “office” is Sierra Cafe on the corner of Market Place and Customs St West. I go every day for my morning coffee.
Every Sunday morning, I walk with a group of guys on Waiheke Island – there are between five and seven of us, depending on who's around. And we talk about every subject under the sun. We walk for about an hour and a half and then we go out for coffee.
I've splurged on a Tesla. I pick it up in a week or two. My Audi was stolen.
As told to Victoria Young.
This interview has been edited for clarity.