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University of Auckland Alumni Leadership Fellowship

2017 Fellow | Nicky Smith

Congratulations to Nicky Smith, the 2017 recipient of the NZLI and University of Auckland Alumni Leadership Fellowship.  Nicky was selected from a talented pool of applicants and receives a fully-funded place on NZLI’s Leadership Mindset Programme. 

Nicky is a Chartered Professional Engineer who has been working in the road construction and maintenance sector for over 20 years. For the past three years, she has held the role of Maintenance Operations Manager for HEB Construction. In this national role, Nicky oversees the delivery of HEB’s road maintenance business, which takes her to a range of communities across New Zealand, from the busy inner Auckland suburbs to the remote rural areas of Marlborough.

Nicky completed a Diploma in Engineering in the early 1990’s, and after 8 years managing a range of construction projects she moved into consulting work, during which time she also completed a Masters of Engineering Studies in Transportation through the University of Auckland. She returned to the construction industry 5 years ago and is passionate about recruiting and advancing more women through the industry. This motivated her to start her PhD through the University of Auckland, with a focus on the retention of women in engineering.

After spending all of her career in technical roles, Nicky is delighted to have the opportunity to develop her leadership capability. “I am so grateful to the University of Auckland Alumni Relations and the New Zealand Leadership Institute for providing this opportunity to focus on building a leadership mindset. My role increasingly requires me to take a more strategic view and I am really excited about embarking on this programme to develop new thinking and practices that will support me in this work”.


Previous fellowship recipients are L-R Nathaniel Wilson (2014), Esther Harrop (2016) and Phil Light (2015).


2016 Fellow | Lieutenant Colonel Esther Harrop

The 2016 recipient Lieutenant Colonel Esther Harrop (pictured) joined the Army after graduating from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Commerce. Esther has been in many roles during her 22 years in service and applied for the alumni fellowship “to develop a different leadership paradigm – learning from those who have leadership experience outside of a military organisation.”

Esther is one of the New Zealand Army’s senior women, and currently deployed to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, where she is currently working with New Zealander David Shearer, who runs the 15,000 strong mission as the Special Representative of the Secretary General.

Esther says “my experience in UNMISS for the past 6 months has definitely been enhanced by the Leadership Mindset Programme and is really testing me in the ‘work of leadership’ and ‘leadership from within’ rather than the traditional model of leading from the front. I’m loving it”. The UN mission in South Sudan is helping protect civilians and support humanitarian assistance in the war torn country where thousands have died, and famine has just been declared.

2015 Fellow | Phil Light

Framing Leadership Differently

In 2015 Phil Light was awarded the University of Auckland Alumni Leadership Fellowship to participate in the NZLI Leadership Mindset Progamme.

Phil applied for the Fellowship because by undertaking the leadership programme, he could see huge potential for his organisation to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and was determined to make it happen.

“It has opened my eyes and mind to the capacity to learn and grow. The programme framed leadership in a different way; that leadership is a collective capacity and that people from across a team or organisation can contribute” says Phil. The programme “re-energised” his desire to learn and develop.

Phil works as Manager, Tamariki Outcomes Initiatives, National Hauora Coalition. He and his team of clinicians and health professionals deliver health care services to 24,000 children across 61 schools in South Auckland. He believes the organisation is innovative, highly-skilled and passionate.

“However, I can see that smart people, technical expertise and good ideas don’t necessarily equate to great outcomes. It requires strong leadership to harness collective talent and effort from across a range of key stakeholders – funders, service providers, communities and whanau.”

Phil says that the programme has given him confidence to confront issues and challenges. He now has a different perspective on how to do leadership work: “Leadership is really about changing the status quo. I’m much more attuned to the fact that effecting change and sustaining it is very much a non-linear and discontinuous process. I’m more inclined to view challenges that previously might have felt insurmountable as works in progress.”

One aspect of the programme that he found especially valuable was hearing the perspectives of the other participants, who were from a diverse range of disciplines and backgrounds.

“Hearing first-hand about the leadership challenges of these smart and engaging leaders was hugely insightful.”