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MBA programme opens new doors for Air NZ engineer

28 March 2024

After almost two decades as a mechanical engineer, a growing interest in leadership led Kayne Davis to UC’s MBA programme and a step change in his career.


This month, Kayne (Kāi Tahu/Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha) will graduate from Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Completing the MBA was Kayne’s first experience of university life, having previously taken a trades career path. He says for years he had put academia on a pedestal, and it wasn't until his grandmother’s tangi five years ago that his perspective changed.

“I saw thousands of people from Ngāi Tahu come to pay their respects for her lifetime of leadership, and I thought ‘I have a place in the world for that; what am I going to do?’ At the same time, after 17 years as a mechanical engineer at Air New Zealand, I was just starting to get an understanding of what leadership meant.

“With a diverse team, I was particularly interested in how we can lever the concept of belonging to bring teams together to work more productively.”

As part of his MBA, Kayne completed a consulting project: Whakapapa: Navigating Identity, Culture, and Purpose in the workplace, which addressed the challenges of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within Air New Zealand, and how it contributes to a broader narrative of positive change and cultural celebration in Aotearoa.

“Whakapapa, identity, and belonging are fundamental in building effective teams,” Kayne explains.

“If you really want high performing teams, and people feeling comfortable to be themselves in the workplace, you’ve got to be authentic with your identity and understand the whakapapa of your people.

“For centuries Māori have used whakapapa as a narrative tool for outlining the behaviours and values on which their social systems were based, and today is no different. Air New Zealand has an opportunity to understand the authenticity of its whakapapa, and through this weave this into the fabric of New Zealand.”

Two years ago, Air New Zealand advertised for a cohort of Agile coaches to support their ‘Full Potential’ transformations, a role Kayne says was perfect in combining his work and life experiences, with the skills he developed through UC’s MBA programme.

“The Agile Coach role aligned with a lot of my values, particularly the aspect of building better relationships within the team, and the concept of belonging. While I enjoyed my engineering job, I didn’t want to finish my MBA and keep doing the same thing.”

Kayne says a key takeaway from the MBA for him, was understanding he was capable of more than he realised.

“It opened my mind to innovation and creativity, and the idea of doing something completely different. It also enabled me to translate my critical thinking skills, leadership capabilities, engineering background and my understanding of te ao Māori into my role as a coach.

“I’m really enjoying my new role and feel well-equipped to consider more opportunities in the future. Professionally and personally, it’s changed everything. It’s been an accelerator.”

Kayne says embarking on a course of part-time study while working full-time, with a young family at home, was a challenge.

“Fitting it all in, especially around small children, was difficult, so I am very thankful for the support of my wife and family, MBA supervisor Dr Christian Walsh and the UC Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, and Air New Zealand project sponsor Chief People Officer Nikki Dines.”

Read more of our graduate success stories here.

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