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.
Lisa King’s belief that hunger prevents schoolchildren from learning properly – and often from even attending school at all – spurred her to found Eat My Lunch in 2015, initially operating from her home kitchen in Auckland. EML’s business model is that for every food offering it sells – including breakfasts, lunches, platters, picnic and gift boxes – it gives a healthy lunch to a child in need. As a result, several thousand meals are delivered to youngsters at nearly 90 schools every weekday in Auckland and Wellington.
Before launching Eat My Lunch in partnership with top chef Michael Meredith, King worked in senior marketing roles for Cadbury’s, Bluebird Foods and Heinz Wattie's in New Zealand, as European brand development manager for Unilever in London, and for the Dairy Board/Fonterra here and in the Philippines.
In March 2020, she was named MYOB Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, which gave her the opportunity to outline the Eat My Lunch philosophy to an audience of 1500 in Paris. Three months later, she was awarded US$30,000 as a runner-up fellow – out of 1200 nominations worldwide – in the 2020 Cartier Women’s Initiative, a programme funded by the French luxury goods house to support female business entrepreneurs who strive to have a strong and sustainable social and/or environmental impact.
Also in 2020, King established AF Drinks with the aim of creating new beverages to give people a sophisticated adult alternative to alcohol.
My family immigrated here from Hong Kong when I was about two years old. My parents didn't speak English when they got to Auckland. They opened up a Chinese restaurant, even though neither of them was a chef. They were very entrepreneurial.
My Chinese name is Hoi Yung. The first character, which my sisters have, too, means sea and the second character means calm or kindness. Lisa was chosen at random from an English names book.
I remember not understanding anything in primary school. I was incredibly shy. The language thing was a barrier. When they did the roll call in the morning, I wouldn't say yes, or say my name. But I was very studious and very independent, because my parents worked and they didn't come home until one or two in the morning.
When I was 16, my mum offered to buy me my own business. And I was, like, absolutely not.
I wanted to go to university and have a corporate career. After university, I worked at the New Zealand Dairy Board as a graduate, before it became Fonterra. After two years, I was posted to the Philippines.
We were living in these beautiful towers with maids and drivers and you looked out your window and there were shacks along the street. The sense of injustice and inequality really got to me. I think 70% of the population there lives below the poverty line.
I’m really proud of Eat My Lunch. When the government announced they were going to implement the school lunches programme, I felt like we had contributed to that policy being made. Seeing that business can influence actual policy change, I never thought we wouldn't be able to do that.
I'm not a super-reflective person. I am very futuristic. I’m constantly moving forward and there's always something else that needs to be done.
One of my strengths as a leader is that I make decisions fast. I think the inability to move forward is where so many companies fall over or come unstuck. Even if it's the wrong decision, at least you’re moving.
My stress tolerance is incredibly high, and things are going wrong all the time. You've got a million fires. After about four years on Eat My Lunch, I did feel quite burnt out and I didn't recognise that early enough. So now I'm trying to be a little bit more aware because it's so easy to be on an adrenaline rush the whole time.
My partner and I have a reconnection time at 5pm where we sit down just to chat and get things out. I love cooking, so that's my de-stress at the end of the day.
I don't like networking events. Even now, walking into a room where you don't know anyone, that takes effort. I don't like small talk. I like one-on-one conversations with small groups. It’s a lot easier than standing in front of hundreds of people talking. It’s a learned skill over the years rather than something I naturally love.
I have these moments when I'm, like, am I doing enough and making the most of this life? I live with a real sense of urgency. My dad passed away when he was only 50. It's about making the most of it.
I'm really driven by inequality and injustice. That just fires me up, and if I see something is not right, I want to go in and fix it – particularly when it's something really basic, like food and people not having access to it. There are a few big industries that need a bit of a shake-up and I've got a few ideas around that.
I love eating out. It's probably where I spend most of my money. I often think if I didn't need a real job, I would love to be a food critic or a Michelin Guide inspector.
As told to Jacqui Loates-Haver.
This interview has been edited for clarity.