Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular feature on the lives and motivations of our top businesspeople, in their own words.
Justine Smyth developed a love of maths and accounting while at Papatoetoe High School, and later earned a bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Auckland. She has had extensive experience since in finance and management, including as a partner at Deloitte – a rank she attained at just 29 years of age – and as group finance director at Lion Nathan headquarters in Sydney. She has been on the board of Spark New Zealand since December 2011 and chair since 2017. In 2019, with the appointment of Jolie Hodson as CEO, Spark became the first NZX-listed company to be led by two women. Smyth has been on the board of the Breast Cancer Foundation since 1996 and chair since 2009. She is also a director of Auckland International Airport Ltd. In the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, she was made a companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to governance and women.
I grew up in South Auckland. It was a very humble upbringing. My father, Ransom, was a farmer in Redoubt Rd, when it was still countryside. I was the fourth of six children, and the first to go to university.
Both my parents did years of volunteer work and that's one of the things that's really shaped my life. The kind of work ethos and giving back that I witnessed have shaped a lot of what I've done. I’ve been with the Breast Cancer Foundation for 25 years now.
My mum, Anne, was diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-40s, and she was a survivor. Her experience is one of the reasons I am so involved now. When she was diagnosed, we were told to tell no one; you know, you don't speak of it, it’s a private matter.
At the very first Breast Cancer Foundation function I spoke at, I had to get permission – “Mum, is it OK? I want to talk about why I’m involved” – as it was taboo. These days, though, it’s all about awareness and education.
From a young age I've always just worked really, really hard but I’ve never sat down and said, “I’m going to be that.” It’s just transpired that way.
What makes me content now is enjoying time with friends and people I love. When I was partner at Deloitte, I was working 12 hours a day. Now I'm very particular about what I choose to do so that I have a significant amount of time to spend with my husband, Paul Lockey, and daughter Mikayla and her dream, ski racing.
Making partner at Deloitte at a very young age was a huge achievement. But I think financially my biggest achievements have been from me and my husband running our own businesses. Financially, it’s what really set us up.
When I look back, what I think I'm most happy about is the preparedness to take risks, because that's where I've been able to fulfil learning and have the lifestyle that I have now.
I take learnings from people who are heart-led in what they do, who walk the talk, who are genuine.
I love being the chair of Spark. Why wouldn’t you? It’s such a cool company, with a cool CEO. So, I’ll probably wait till they kick me out.
I think certain organisations have made amazing progress around diversity and I’ll call out Spark as I happen to chair it. There’s a culture in this place where people feel they can bring their whole selves to work, which is a lot of the stuff that Simon Moutter did when he was here as managing director. You can call out behaviour that isn’t acceptable. Before you were empowered to do that, people just left; they didn’t call out behaviour if they were on the receiving end.
We are dominated by male CEOs, so we need pipelines and that comes down to education because girls, they don’t necessarily do the jobs that lead. “You can’t be what you can’t see” – there’s so much truth in that.
My best piece of business advice is to be authentic. At the end of the day, to lead, you have to be authentic.
The positive I take out of covid is the different ways of working. I’m a strong advocate for diversity and so much of breaking down those barriers is about flexible ways of working. It used to be that having different hours or needing that flexibility, you were seen as the person with difficult needs, or the difficult group.
I like to keep fit, so we spend a lot of time on the ski fields as leisure when my daughter is training. I have a group of girls I meet three times a week and we run. I do Pilates and stuff like that.
The last thing I splurged on for myself was a gorgeous Prada handbag. We also renovated the kitchen, so I bought a very expensive tap. You wouldn't believe that a tap that has sparkling water and hot water is basically the price of a small car.
My dog Fleur is one of the most valuable things to me. Any happiness you need you can get from a dog. We live on the beach and I walk her twice a day – 8km in total.
As told to Henry Burrell
This interview has been edited for clarity.