Uniquely, while Mark Stewart was the first in his family to gain a university degree, he will not be the first person – or even the second – in his family to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Canterbury. He is the son of the late manufacturing pioneer Sir Robertson Stewart, who received an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering from the University of Canterbury in 2000, and Dame Adrienne Stewart, who was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters in 2011.
“I was destined for a career in the family business, and I easily could’ve had a job straight out of school, but there was no doubt I would go on to the University of Canterbury,” he says.
“I wanted to go to university – it was something I could earn myself, which wasn’t ‘the boss’s son being anointed,’ so to speak. For me, it was a great maturity exercise. I was like many typical students, especially in those times, who had a great social time. You come out of university with a lifelong set of friends that you grew up with and matured with. They’re quite formative years – especially when you’ve come out of an all-boys boarding school. You’re learning through that period, not only about academia but about life, about people and about what you want to do.
“I had a great experience at the University, I managed to get a degree which I was hugely proud of. To me it was important, and it gave me enough breathing space to start work.”
Stewart recalls he wanted to take the summer off after his final exams, but that wasn’t going to happen, he says.
“I remember my final exam was a Friday in early November and I was going to take off until the end of January and then start working for the family business. My dad said to me: ‘Sorry son, you start on Monday’. So literally the weekend off and straight into work, and I don’t think I’ve ever stopped working since.”
Stewart left New Zealand in 1985 at age 22 to work in Malaysia. “Those were the days before cellphones and the fax machine had only just been invented.”
He has served as Honorary Consul for Malaysia and received a PJN (Distinguished Order of Meritorious Service) honour from Malaysia bestowing him the title of Datuk, the equivalent of a knighthood from the Malaysian King, for outstanding service to the country.
Over a 40-year commercial career, Stewart has been a director of a number of publicly listed companies and, through his family investment company Masthead Ltd, has extensive investments across a range of different industries.
“When you get something like an honorary doctorate, you look back and realise you don’t have to be the brightest guy in the class, you’ve just got to work hard and take the opportunities as they come,” Stewart says.
A common thread throughout Stewart’s life and career is a desire to give back. In 2016 he generously supported UC students by funding a US Study Abroad programme and provided support for the UC Business School’s 21-Day Challenge. This challenge gathered teams of students from across the University to solve a problem in a Pacific nation, giving UC students the opportunity to make a real impact on helping international communities in need. He was named the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme – Canterbury Mentor of the Year in 2006 and was also a mentor for the UC 21-Day Challenge programme in 2015.
“I’m a great believer in giving back to the community, especially if you’re successful. It’s been instilled in me my entire life – my parents were like that and as a family we like to do that. For me, I could have done other things in the business world, but I’ve applied myself in the last 20 years to a lot of community ventures.”
Stewart established the Hororata Community Trust in 2010, which created the Hororata Highland Games and Hororata Night Glow Balloon Festival as a way of fundraising for the local community after the September 2010 earthquake hit the district hard.
Stewart is currently the Chair of the Antarctic Heritage Trust as well as the ChristChurch Cathedral Reinstatement project and of TAB NZ Ltd. He is the Honorary Consul for Malaysia and is a trustee of the NZ Olympic Foundation, as well as of the Hororata Community Trust and the NZ Dementia Prevention Trust.
Stewart was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2018 for services to sport and the community, having held major governance roles in football. Stewart has been the Chair of Mainland Football Limited, a board member of New Zealand Football, Chair of the NZ Football Foundation and was on the organising committee for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup held in New Zealand in 2015.
He has been the National President of the NZ Malaysian Business Council, a Board member of Export New Zealand and Canterbury Branch President, was Chair of the St Andrew’s College Foundation and was a Board member of the fundraising team for the Christchurch City Mission. He was a review committee member for NZ Rugby League. Stewart was recently a government appointee for an organisational review of Sport NZ and High Performance Sport NZ.
Stewart was made a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Management in 2001, received the Sir Richard Hadlee Sports Trust award for Most Outstanding Voluntary Administrator in 2010, received an outstanding Service Award from both Sport Canterbury in 2010 and NZ Rugby League in 2000.
April 2023 UC Graduation celebrations include:
Tuesday 4 April, 10am
- 150th Anniversary Graduation Week Street parade
Tuesday 4 April, 1.30pm
- Qualifications in the Faculty of Engineering
Thursday 6 April, 10am
- Qualifications in the UC Business School
- Qualifications in the Faculty of Science
Thursday 6 April 2023, 2pm
- Qualifications in the Faculty of Arts
- Qualifications in the Faculty of Education
- Qualifications in the Faculty of Health
- Qualifications in the Faculty of Law