Jon Macdonald

CEO, Trade Me Group
Electrical Engineering, 1997

Jon MacDonald

Leading Trade Me Into The Future.

Jon Macdonald, CEO of over 600 staff at Trade Me Group, has always been inspired by a sense of creativity and progress – whether in technology, business or the people he leads. As CEO, he strives to connect people and empower them to achieve. Jon also believes leadership will need to adapt to meet the challenges of the future. “The traditional 9-5 work structure is becoming less prevalent, and leadership needs to cater to that. It’s about being fluid and flexible, but still actively providing a clear vision and direction.”

Tell us about being CEO of Trade Me!

These days we’re a group of just over 600 people. My job is to support them and ensure they have what they need to provide the best possible offering to New Zealanders. It's what I call an ‘everything and nothing job’. Ultimately, you’re responsible for everything and it's on my shoulders to lead the business. But equally, you're looking to the people around you to get things done.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your role?

There are so many! We have a fabulous relationship with the New Zealand public, but we’re not a young start-up anymore. There are more and more things vying for people's attention online. Our challenge is to stay useful and to genuinely improve people's lives. If we can do that, we'll be around forever.

Favourite aspect of what you do?

For me, it's the chance to be creative and make things better. With Trade Me we can do that at scale for the New Zealand public. We might make an improvement to our website or app, and when we put it out it’ll be used by half a million people that day. It gives me a real kick. I think that's why I originally did engineering. I like building things and having a creative outlet.

How did you get from engineering to where you are today?

I studied electrical engineering at UC. When I graduated I was inspired by the rapid advancements in IT and technology, so I decided to go into that. I started at a consulting firm and then went overseas where I did project management at a big investment bank. Eventually I decided to come home. At that point Trade Me was about 15 people, and Sam Morgan was looking for someone to run the technology team. I thought it sounded really interesting, so that's how I started!

What motivated you to go into leadership roles?

It wasn't a particularly deliberate thing on my part. I just found myself in situations with teams that needed to be led. I was asked to take the reins and I was happy to do so. I like the fact that you can accomplish more as part of a team than you can working by yourself. I also enjoy listening, understanding and talking to people. That's the basis of what you need to lead a group – although I would still describe myself as an introvert!

What’s your view on the future of leadership?

Looking ahead, I think leading will be more about supporting and facilitating others, rather than directing. The traditional 9-5 work structure is becoming less and less prevalent, and leadership needs to cater to that. It’s about being fluid and flexible, but still actively providing a clear vision and direction.

Do you have a vision for your own future?

I like to think I'm still just getting started! Today there’s a lot of opportunity for a non-linear career. There’s more freedom, but ultimately you still have to take responsibility for yourself and find work that gives you a sense of purpose. I still have a lot of years left and I want to make the most of them both personally and professionally.

A quick look back – any favourite memories from UC?

Lots! I really enjoyed my time there. I think UC’s combination of a campus-style environment with access to a vibrant city makes for a great setting. I was from Palmerston North so I started at the halls of residence and went flatting after that. It was a great way to experience living away from home for the first time.

What advice would you give to the next generation of students coming through?

I’d say, take the time to understand what you're about and what interests you. And don't be afraid to do things that might not be along that traditional path.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

Yes, and it relates to that advice. I still would have done the engineering degree. But I would have granted myself more flexibility to try different things. I think it would have made for a more interesting experience and given me a more well rounded outlook on life. Having that breadth is attractive to employers. Increasingly, they’re looking for people who have a degree of balance and an appreciation of the world that goes beyond their core subject.