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Student story

James Martin

20 July 2023

"I love thinking about how people make decisions and how those individual decisions drive the world we see today..."


Bachelor of Commerce in Economics

Master of Applied Finance and Economics

Principal Risk Advisor, Managed Isolation and Quarantine, Hīkina Whakatutuki | Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment


COVID-19 has created many challenges as well as opportunities, including jobs that didn’t exist 12 months ago, such as yours. Can you tell us what your role entails? 

I work with MBIE in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, providing specialist advice to business leaders, supporting them manage their risks confidently.  

Day-to-day, this involves working with the business to identify, understand, and manage the risks that could threaten our ability to operating MIQ effectively.

That sounds like a rewarding job. What do you enjoy the most? 

I enjoy being able to put my understanding of organisational design and operations to work as part of our response to COVID-19. I am constantly surrounded by people with a very strong sense of purpose and need to make decisions based on robust information. Being part of that process is exciting and I am learning a lot about how we can mobilise multi-organisation responses to crises or major public operations in the future.

Your career has progressed quickly, what were you doing prior to moving to MBIE? 

Prior to joining MBIE I was a Senior Advisor, Investments and Governance at the Ministry of Transport (November 2020 – June 2021), and before that I was a Manager, Data Analytics, Risk Management, and Internal Audit at PwC New Zealand (February 2017 – October 2020).

What drew you to Economics and inspired you to complete your master's? 

I had a passion for Economics since I studied NCEA in high school (all thanks to the amazing teacher we had!) and so applying to study a BCom was the obvious option for me.  

I love thinking about how people make decisions individually and how those individual decisions drive the world we see today – whether that decision is deciding whether you should invest in a new tractor, where public money should be focused, or simply deciding whether to have an apple or banana for lunch. 

Near the end of my bachelor’s degree, I had heard about the MAFE programme and immediately saw the value in it. I wanted to focus on the practical elements of Economics and Finance – such as financial modelling or completing case studies – to give myself an advantage in the business world I was about to enter. Enrolling in the MAFE was one of the best decisions I have made to date.

So what value did the MAFE give you and were there any advantages? 

Completing the MAFE gave me such a large advantage moving into my graduate role at PwC New Zealand. Over the 12 months I was enrolled in the MAFE, my ability to critically think, conduct data analysis, write reports, and deliver presentations improved dramatically.  

Enrolling in the MAFE perfectly prepared me for entering the professional world. It helped me understand how to put my theoretical knowledge into practice, which was a key driver for the speed I was able to progress within PwC. This then opened opportunities like I have had at the Ministry of Transport and MBIE.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about their study options? 

Be deliberate about the degree you pursue and the courses you take throughout. When you’re deciding what to study, reflect on what you enjoy and what career would excite you. Once you have a view, even if it isn’t completely clear, work backwards to think about what skills and experience you need to get there. Build your studies around this journey – it will make life a lot easier!  

And if you’re considering the MAFE, you should know that Bob Reed [MAFE Programme Director] is an absolute legend.

Was there any particular reason for choosing UC?  

There were a few reasons why I chose UC. I knew I wanted to study in the South Island but I also needed financial support to get me through university. UC ticked both those boxes. I had also heard about the amazing club and campus culture that UC had – which made it even more appealing. 

What was it about the campus culture that stands out for you? 

I loved my time at UC and would recommend it to other prospective students. It was a great environment to learn in and provided me with everything I needed. However, the best part was the clubs. There is something special about 200 or so students volunteering their time to run clubs (which are effectively small businesses!) to provide students with such a great experience – whether that is industry connection, tutorials, or one of the many great social events hosted throughout the year. The clubs are UC’s biggest asset.

You were heavily involved with UCom, tell us about that.  

Throughout my time at UC I held a variety of positions with the UC Commerce Society (UCom). In my second year I was a Junior Officer, in my third year I was the Treasurer, and in my final (MAFE) year I was the President. This experience was critical in so many ways. It helped me understand how a small business works and the importance of planning and supporting your team. 

Aside from my roles within UCom, I was an avid member of many other clubs. I was a rower for UC Rowing, played rugby for Captain Bens, and always got amongst ENSOC, LAWSOC, GC, BYC, and OpSoc events throughout the year.

You’ve done a lot in a small space of time, so what does the future hold? 

I always love answering this question because I have given it some thought (in line with my advice above). My long-term goal is to be involved in public leadership. Whether that is being on a board of directors, pursuing politics, or being a great community member – I don’t know yet. But I do know that I want to represent, advocate, and stand up for others’ interests.

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