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. 

After graduating with an honours degree in chemistry from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Justin Gray worked first as a scientist for the Australian Government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, then spent more than 21 years with global IT and services company Accenture, eventually becoming managing director in New Zealand. In March 2020, he moved to Datacom as head of the firm’s New Zealand public sector (government services) group, and eight months later became MD of technology services across both the public and private sectors. 

I grew up on the other side of the ditch, although I'm a New Zealand citizen now. I came from a family of a couple of cultures. Mum was from a very working-class Australian family. My dad is from Sri Lanka and moved to Australia when he was 17. For us, Sunday lunch was a curry at one grandparents’ house, and then it was a roast dinner at another grandparents’ house.

I think there were elements where dad and the family tried to subdue some of the Sri Lankan side to fit in. It's always easy to look back, but I think I missed some of the opportunity to embrace it as much as I did when I was a bit older. It’s an important part of me. 

One of my happiest childhood memories is of this little town on the south coast of New South Wales. One year, my grandparents were driving through it, towing their caravan, and they broke down. The caravan got left there and that became the place we went for our holidays every Christmas and Easter. I still take my kids to that part of the world when we're in Australia. 

My parents taught me my work ethic. When I was a kid, my dad worked in an insurance office. Then he’d wait until everyone went home and he cleaned the office at night. He had the cleaning contract for the building. He did that so we’d have enough money to go on holiday.

One thing that sticks in my mind is my mum saying, “There are no degrees of honesty.” I repeat that phrase all the time.

Justin Gray on his first visit to New Zealand in 1994, posing with former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick. 

For the longest time I wanted to be a marine biologist but I realised it meant you would dedicate your life to investigating the reproduction of a sea slug or something, so I ended up going into chemistry instead.

What drives me is curiosity. I like to unpack how things work. I started my career working for the CSIRO in Australia. I was developing biodegradable plastics. There were elements of that I really loved but I struggled with the slow pace of it. But if I could, I’d still be a mad scientist.

When I look back at my career, at some of the people I may have helped in some way to build a skill or to find a path, or even given them a chance to do something that was a step up for them, that’s what I’m proud of. I love that opportunity to do that. 

I think my biggest mistake was that for a decent amount of my career, I always looked up at people and felt like there was something I needed and something I was missing. Because it's easy to look at people who have more material things or have a bigger role. I felt that I needed to strive for that. And I think that was a big mistake.  I realised I didn’t need a big house by the water, I don't need a fancy car, and I'm really at peace with that. 

My best business advice is to be open-minded, to have the curiosity and flexibility to take an opportunity that pops up. 

It's rare that I'll lose sleep over something. I try to keep perspective. My sister is an intensive care nurse. If I've got something going on in my life that's really stressful, it generally pales into insignificance when I compare it to what she does on a day-to-day basis. It puts my problems in a pretty small box. 

I get up every morning and ride my bike to the gym, do functional training, or F45, and ride my bike back home. It switches my mind on and I'm energised for the day. I'm pretty regimented about it.

We've got a little property on the coast, and on weekends, I love doing practical things. I bought a Bobcat skid-steer loader and I drive it around and pick stuff up and move dirt. I like that because it's so different from what I do in my day job. 

My secret passion is drones. I used to carry this big suitcase around when they first came out, but they’ve got progressively smaller. It probably ties back to the curiosity thing and seeing the world from a different perspective. I’ve got my eye on a new one that came out about a week ago. I always want to fly the flashiest, fastest one that can go the highest.

As told to Jacqui Loates-Haver.
This interview has been edited for clarity.