Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people in their own words.
Earl Gasparich became chief executive of Swedish-owned Metlifecare, New Zealand’s third-largest retirement village operator, in June 2021, and within five months was announcing an agreement to purchase six Selwyn Foundation properties in Whangārei, Auckland, Hamilton, Cambridge and Wellington. The deal lifted the number of Metlifecare villages in the North Island to 32, providing homes for almost 7000 residents. Before joining Metlifecare, he spent nearly seven years as CEO of rival Oceania Healthcare, which he took from a private company to being listed on the stock exchange through a share float. His entry into the retirement village sector had come through his role as chief financial officer of Qualcare for three years from 2008. Gasparich has also served as chief operating officer of EnviroWaste Services, CFO of Excell Corporation, an associate director of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and an accountant with Arthur Andersen in Auckland and London. Outside of work, Gasparich – who has law and commerce degrees from the University of Auckland – volunteers on the boards of a number of charities and public-sector entities involved in the provision of community services.
I grew up in Te Atatū, West Auckland. I guess middle class is what you'd call us. We didn't ever have the best of anything, but we didn’t do without. I had a very good mother – she was loving and nurturing – and my dad was very hard working. He was very well intended in terms of trying to advance the family.
I was a pretty good boy. I was quite compliant – not an introvert, more shy and reserved. At school I was probably just middle of the road.
My parents separated when I was 21 and I stayed with my mother. We're very close, very much alike. She actually lives in one of our villages now. She moved in about eight years ago, so I was a customer and a family member before I joined the company. But it's nothing like coming into the [CEO’s] seat, where you get to see what's really going on.
I left school right on the stock-market crash in ’87 and went to Auckland University to do a law and commerce degree. I knew I was quite good at accounting and economics, but everybody was saying you had to do more than just commerce. So I fell into law that way.
I’m most proud of my family. My wife, Celia, and I have three amazing kids and we're a very close family.
There was a time in my career when I thought I was a second man as a CFO. And then I was doing well and enjoying roles and getting opportunities to expand. But there's that leap, when you become the top guy, which is a sort of lonely space. When it's your first CEO role, it takes a lot of confidence to take the plunge.
I'm a strong optimist and I think I’m very, very resilient. I live life very much glass half full – it takes a lot to knock me down. I'm constantly looking at my whole life and thinking, yes, this is challenging at the moment, but I'm able to look back and think, gosh, overall, it's gone pretty well and I'm very, very grateful for it.
Resilience is something that is built over time. You go through life and you learn by your mistakes as much as your successes. And your failures are not a bad thing, if you learn a lesson out of them, but you have to fail forward.
One of my favourite sayings is, “A leader is only a leader when they’re with the people”. So, if I'm not out among the villages and seeing managers, I'm not achieving a lot. If you don't have the right people, it's a tough road.
I've got a fairly strong faith that I wasn't born with; it wasn't part of my upbringing. I was awakened to it in my early 20s and I've been pretty committed since then. I think it enables me to look at the longer term, a total life experience, and being able to realise that you're going to get to the end of it and have scars and that is just part of life.
I was never great with exercise. I did do aerobics back in my university days; I had pink and yellow fluorescent shorts, and I even permed my hair at one stage. It's fair to say I've always struggled a little bit with my weight.
Two and half years ago, my wife read the riot act to me because, years ago, my father had a heart attack and died. Celia was doing this thing called F45 [high-intensity group workouts], and I wanted to prove to her that I could do it and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’m quite competitive, although I'm by far the oldest person in the class.
I love buying good-quality clothes. I've got a friend who's a stylist and occasionally we will have a whirlwind shopping experience, where you feel a million dollars afterwards. She'll push the boundaries and get me wearing things that I'm not immediately comfortable with, but I sort of get it. I'm always conscious of not looking like a 50-year-old teenager, but she does a really good job at striking that balance.
As told to Jacqui Loates-Haver.
This interview has been edited for clarity.