Introducing Mark Ward: the NZVA's new CEO
Tuesday, 31 January 2017
Mark Ward wants to expand the role and purpose of the veterinary profession. As seen in February VetScript, Bette Flagler profiles the NZVA’s commercially minded and adaptable new chief executive.
It reads a bit like a novel. Mark Ward, the new NZVA Chief Executive, grew up as the son of missionaries. Even though he was born in Wellington, he lived until the age of 18 in India and Singapore.
“I went to the local schools and that meant becoming a local. I didn’t see myself as anything other than Asian, because you take on their values and mentality. Even though I dreamed of New Zealand – I had heard stories and seen photographs – I was essentially an Asian until I arrived in Auckland and discovered that I was very, very strange to my fellow Kiwis."
Living with diverse people and having empathy for different values and cultures shaped Ward as a leader. When the recruiter contacted him with the results of a personality profile done as part of the CEO selection process, she told him, “You are resoundingly an adjuster”.
One of the strengths of being an adjuster, he says, is adaptability. “That will be useful for me in the veterinary profession, where there are so many different business models, a lot of career options and many different personality types. There’s almost a schism in the profession between the older, mainly male practitioners, and the younger, mainly female new graduates. Additionally, we have two very different markets: companion animals and production animals. The veterinary profession is really quite fragmented, and I think it helps if the CEO has a very strong level of adaptability and empathy."
Core strengths for a new challenge
He may be adaptable, but staying true to values is not negotiable.
“Whatever the NZVA does should be win-win and based on integrity. I believe in collaboration, even when it hurts, even when you’re sitting opposite a competitor in business. Why go hard out competing with your neighbour when the real prize is to lift the game for everyone and take on the big opportunities that can only be taken on and won through unity, vision and application?
Another value, he says, is transparency and honesty.
“Even though I’m a good salesman and I’m really good at communicating and inspiring, I’m very careful to be 100% honest. I don’t feel I have to tell people everything, but I do make sure that what I say is absolutely accurate.”
Ward is aware there was pressure among some factions of the profession to hire a veterinarian for the chief executive role. To those who are concerned, he offers this: “Don’t worry, I am adaptable. I learn really fast, and I listen very hard.”
He comes to the job with eyes wide open. “There’s a change in the demographic of the profession, and that’s a healthy thing. There’s rapid corporatisation and that’s healthy, too, because it’s profit and efficiency driven. Nevertheless, it’s a challenge, because it’s change.
“We have the two big customer bases, and they have very different markets and economic drivers. And we have society as a key stakeholder. For example, it wasn’t vets who got sows out of crates, it was vegans. So society – understanding the deep drivers of the consumer – is another challenge for the profession.”
A career of food and animal health
Ward, who has a BSc in biochemistry and an MSc in cell biology from the University of Auckland, earned his MBA from Deakin University. His career began after his MSc, working in medical registration and technical aspects for GSK. He then worked for Lactose NZ, marketing to the global pharmaceutical industry.
For six years he worked for AgResearch, New Zealand’s then largest Crown research institute (CRI). During that time he was general manager for Food and Animal Health, which included the animal welfare group. One of his projects was to transfer people from Wallaceville to Hopkirk, on the Massey campus.
“The decision was to co-locate animal health and welfare to Massey. It gave me a great deal of insight into animal health research that AgResearch was involved with, particularly parasitology, mastitis, bovine TB and Johne's disease. It always amazed me that there was never a vet in the room, because so much of the research we did at AgResearch had direct applications to the farmer. We need to get the vets up to the table to help deliver, apply and explain that research.”
After AgResearch, Ward became the CEO of Crop and Food Research, another CRI. During his tenure, he initiated and led its merger with HortResearch to form what is now Plant & Food Research. From there, he worked as COO for Canterbury based Cropmark Seeds, where he was tasked with leading and growing the business to a point where the founder could sell it.
Ward was then general manager of the Riddet Institute, New Zealand’s national Centre of Research Excellence in food and nutrition. Riddet is a joint venture between Massey, Auckland and Otago universities, AgResearch and Plant & Food Research, and brings together New Zealand’s best scientists in functional and future foods. In his role, Ward provided strategic leadership and built relationships with many players in the global food industry.
While at Riddet, Ward was seconded to MPI as a principal advisor to the Strategy, Science and Systems Directorate, where his job was to conduct analysis, engage with companies, and synthesise strategies to double the value of New Zealand’s primary exports to $64 billion by 2025.
In 2013 Ward was shoulder-tapped to set up FoodHQ, which provides innovation support and advice to the food and beverage industry. As founding programme director, he reported to a board comprising the heads of Massey, start-up company BCC, AgResearch, Plant& Food Research, ESR, Fonterra, the Riddet Institute, AsureQuality, Cawthron Institute, Palmerston North City Council and Manawatu District Council. Through this role he became a director of Te Puna Whakatipu, the Massey group that supports university-level projects in agrifood.
“My wife Cynthia is a resource management policy planner. Our careers have given us the opportunity to live in Manawatū, Taranaki, Waikato and Canterbury – great dairy, deer, sheep and beef producing regions.
“I have also lived in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and while I love big cities, I am even more passionate about rural communities and their resilience. I hope to see the veterinary profession make an even greater impact on regional New Zealand for the good of the country, socially, economically and environmentally.”
Ward says he was attracted to the NZVA job for many reasons, not least being his belief that while veterinarians are highly regarded, they are not necessarily recognised for every contribution they can make.
“I want to change that. Being CEO gives me an opportunity to help develop the broader identity of the profession and expand its purpose on behalf of its members, and for the wellbeing of the country. I will also be able to leverage the experience and connections I have in the farming and food industries for the benefit of the profession.”
One of his interests is healthy, balanced nutrition for people and animals.
“I believe this is not only fundamentally important, but is also of great economic import for our nation. New Zealand must be sought after as the most sustainable provider of trusted and healthy food for discerning consumers and their animals."
It's time to hit the ground running
Ward is ready to hit the ground running. “The NZVA has to get back to surplus to be sustainable and to invest in key projects. This is something I’m determined to accomplish – and in a very short period of time. Of course, we need to make sure that we’re spending wisely.
“But just as importantly, we need to look for other funding mechanisms, and that’s where I’ve been strong in my career. I’ve always been very commercial, and I outlined to the board opportunities I see for third-party funding and investment.”
He’s also keen to pick up the momentum on the strategy and make it relevant to all stakeholders. “That will be my day job, every day. People will lose interest and become negative if it doesn’t roll out soon.
“I really believe the business-as-usual services can be improved through innovation, and I also believe we should be promoting things that enhance the wellbeing of members as central to our strategy.”