Honorary Consul for Malaysia
Business and Law / BCom, 1984
Investing In Communities.
The common thread throughout Mark Stewart’s life and career is a desire to give back. From establishing the Hororata Highland Games to chairing the New Zealand Football Foundation and the Antarctica Heritage Trust, to investing in New Zealand pet food company Ziwi, Mark looks for opportunities to build communities and foster a sense of pride and achievement. “Trying to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things is the challenge. When you achieve that, it's very satisfying.”
Tell us about what you do.
I do a whole range of things. Business-wise, I run a family investment company. We invest in a range of different industries having been involved in the electrical, healthcare, packaging, and export manufacturing sectors. I'm also an investor and director of a pet nutrition company, Ziwi, which exports all around the world. In a volunteer capacity I also do a number of things as well. I’m the Honorary Consul for Malaysia. I also Chair the Antarctic Heritage Trust and previously I have Chaired the New Zealand Football Foundation, Mainland Football, and have been a board member of New Zealand Football, Export New Zealand and the Canterbury Manufacturers Association. I am currently a trustee of the Hororata Community Trust where I helped start the successful Hororata Highland Games. So I have a whole lot of different roles!
What did you take at UC, and how did it influence where you are today?
I did a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in business administration, starting at UC back in 1981. Those were great days. It didn't cost a lot to attend and it was a great maturity exercise. I was the first member of my family to attend university so it was a big deal for us. At the time my family owned the largest electrical company in New Zealand, PDL. A university degree was extra important to me as it was something that only my hard work could achieve.
How did your UC experience help you to grow as a person?
I met a lot of people. In business I’ve learned that it's who you know, not what you know. Your contacts are everything. UC gave me good grounds for growing that network. You never know where the people you befriend at school are going to end up in 20 years’ time. Many of my friends from UC are in great places now!
Do you still maintain a connection to UC?
I do. Both of my parents have been awarded honorary doctorates from UC so apart from my own degree, as a family we’ve always had a natural connection to the university. Currently I help sponsor a program intended to attract foreign students, which I fund personally. I'm also in touch with the UC Foundation and have been asked to help set up an alumni network in Auckland. If I can help out I will.
What do you think UC offers students today that they couldn't get elsewhere?
It offers Canterbury! For students coming from Auckland or out of town UC offers something new and different and gives them a chance to live away from home. I think the earthquakes have ultimately been a good thing for UC. The administration have done an excellent job of refocusing and rebuilding the university, and they've created strong linkages between academic staff and people in the industry. That’s hugely important.
Reflecting back on your career, what are you most proud of having achieved?
Community building. I’ve spent a lifetime involved in community projects and met a lot of interesting people along the way. Trying to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things is the challenge. When you achieve that, it's very satisfying. A good example is what we’ve done with the Highland Games in Hororata. After the earthquake destroyed the town's key buildings, a bunch of us got together to figure out how to raise money to rebuild. We got the idea to start the Hororata Highland Games and manage to attract over 10,000 people annually to a small village of 300 residents. It's an event that makes a whole community feel proud.
What legacy would you like to leave?
If you’re successful, I think you've got a duty to give something back. There are givers and takers in the world. At the end of my career, I’d like people to say, “He was a giver.”
Any advice for those just starting out on their journeys?
Be flexible in your thinking. Where you think you want to go might not be where you end up. Doors open and doors close and you’ve got to know when to walk through, and when not to. Sometimes you find yourself going down a completely different path to what you expected. My involvement in the Antarctica Heritage Trust started with an interesting article in the paper about some whisky found under an historic hut. Next minute I've made contact with the people responsible, become a trustee and then Chair of the Trust, have been to Antarctica and travel around the world on Antarctic matters. Don't get hung up on your thoughts of where you think you ought to be. Just keep learning and keep your eyes open. You have to be able to adapt to be happy.