Jane Hastings – Big Vision

As the CEO of Event Hospitality & Entertainment, JANE Hastings runs a company that operates 60 HOTELS, 150+ CINEMAs, employs 8,000+ people and more than $1bn annual REVENUE, but these diverse industries are linked by a focus on customer experience. Jane is no stranger to finding the commonalties across industries though.

In her prior role as CEO of NZME, Jane merged APN, TRN aND GrabOne; 3 very different brands into one entity with a singular focus on audience. Her best piece of advice is never stop starting.

Is there a standard breakfast for you in the morning?

There is no standard breakfast for me, actually there’s pretty much no standard day for me at all! I’m quite segmented in my day. I’m mum in the morning and so my breakfast becomes whatever they’re having before becoming ‘work Jane’ for the rest of the day. The very first thing I do is to get exercise in to clear my head for the day.

In the vein of stupid questions as well, is there an average day for you?

I would love an average day, but I don’t expect one. So every day’s different in terms of challenges that you face and what you focus on.
You can always structure your weeks and your days, but I think that an average day is one that comes with many surprises. So it’s important to have the ability to tailor your day to fit that.

Is that the nature of life as a CEO in general? Or is that more the nature of the industry or a business which has multiple aspects of it?

That’s a good question. I think it’s partially the nature of me, but it is also part of life as a CEO. Your job is to set the direction and then be there for people to make sure that the right decisions are made. It’s also definitely part of running a company with multiple divisions. So if you love flexibility and you like being agile and you like change, then you won’t have a regular day.

Do you think that fits your nature?

Yes, it definitely fits my nature. I like always being on the go, I like things that keep moving and keep evolving and growing. It’s why I choose to spend a lot of my life working.
Because life’s a choice, right? You can do whatever you want to do with your time, theoretically. So make it the best you can possibly make it.

Is there an overarching purpose to what you’re doing that motivates you and allows you to deal with the craziness?

It makes me happy. I like change and what I do. I like to feel I’m achieving.
I love people and I love developing people, so I guess this makes me happy. Even if I have a holiday, I’m the sort of person that likes staying in touch, connected and involved. So I think that’s why I am like I am.

Is it something that you work towards in terms of having a work/life balance? Does that exist?

Work/life balance, I don’t remember when that phrase first started and everyone started challenging themselves because they were failing at it.
Balance to me is when I’m with my family, I’m 100% with my family and when I’m at work, I’m 100% at work. And by doing that I find balance. So I know what’s really important is to make sure that I can stay on top of the game, and I prioritise those things to find balance.

My “you time” is coming home and being with the kids. I love coming home and the fact that I can get out of my work clothes, pull my hair back and be me.

I’ve taught myself that balance is the ability to compartmentalise and be totally present at work and then be totally present at home. I try and find ways not to blur those things, because you can’t go, ‘Well I’m going to take the weekend off ’. You’ve got to go ‘Actually, I’m going to carve time to make sure that I can do the things that are important.’ It’s important not to stress about the fact that it might be more hours at work this month and less hours at home.

I think work/life balance in its original form was actually that, trying to structure things. And I think that earlier on when I was starting my career, I used to beat myself up for not being able to do both well. I would think, ‘Oh that’s not the answer, the answer is about being your best in the moment where you are.’

How would you define a good CEO?

My view of a good CEO is one that ensures clarity of direction; it’s got to be crystal clear. You’ve got to paint a picture of where growth is coming from and where you’re heading to. You’ve got to over communicate it. Because as a CEO, everybody in the organisation is playing a part in getting you in the direction that you set, and if it’s not clear or it’s slightly grey or they don’t know the timeframe that we’re working within, teams don’t come together.
It’s also important to have the confidence to be an empowering leader because you must be able to let go. I’m overall accountable, but I back my team to get the job done, and I also support my team to make the right decisions.

I’m also a big believer in consequential thinking. Because you never really know when a plan is going to go to plan. Also whether all the elements you think are going to happen in the right time are going to happen in the right time. And if teams enter those scenarios feeling it’s going to work that way, they’ll often get disappointed.

When you’re dealing with large organisations, you’re dealing with people, and people don’t always consider, act and operate in the same way. So always questioning what if, what if, what if, what if? What would we do? What could we do? Always think like the customer. So get out in front, be the customer. Walk into any business and spend time with the frontline. Ask them; What’s happening? What’s selling? What’s not? What’s working? And then make decisions.

Enable people to see that they can have a conversation with you. They can raise issues and can get action to move on, and that creates momentum. But if you’re relying on reports or you’re stuck in an office, you get half the info you need. Reports give you the baseline but being absolutely connected and wanting to be out of the office and out in front is really, really, really important.

When you talk about having a clear vision, are there times when you actually just need to change tact?

Always. So for me a direction is just that, it’s a direction. The goals are broad goals, but the ‘how’ constantly changes. Being agile is part of what running a company is about. A good example is a team saying; ‘Jane we’ve got A sorted’. ‘Great let’s have have a discussion on that’, and in that discussion you can find that there’s a B and a C, so we should look at that.
Sometimes, you can see teams go, ‘Oh, thought we’d decided A’, and I respond with, ‘We’ve just had a discussion, there’s merit in B and C so let’s add that in, let’s adjust the timeline, do it a little bit better and get a better result’. So building teams that are always looking and wanting to actually take that plan and look for ways to make it better, not take that plan and just stick to that plan. How can you handle different technology or market factors changing, or a new competitive initiative if your plan is rigid?

So a direction is just a journey, that’s where we’re heading to. The goals are what we’ve got to do, but the ‘how’ just has to keep evolving.

When you are running a company which has over 100 years of legacy and employs thousands of people, is there a weight of resonsibilty that comes with that that you don’t have with a newer, smaller start up?

I don’t think there’s a weight. You feel honoured to have the opportunity, because it does have that history. All of the leaders before me were entrepreneurial and innovative.

So it is about understanding the DNA of the past so that you can build the next chapter.

It’s not about complying with the way things have always been done, it’s actually about understanding the dynamics of the company. The company that I’m leading has gone through all matters of disruption and always found a way forward, because it’s had the spirit of continuing to innovate.
Therefore legacy becomes quite liberating.

So there’s no sort of compromise in that DNA of legacy in terms of agility?

No, because to have legacy they had to be agile to get to where they are today. If they had actually stayed put, they wouldn’t be who they are today.
A good example is NZME. We had the Herald, now that’s a legacy brand, but we had to decide what the future was for it. What does it need to be so that it continues for the next 100 years? How does it need to adapt?’
I actually think that the concept of legacy does quite the reverse. It helps you to think ahead and innovate and it gives you the confidence that we’ve been through tough times before and we know how to gear up and we will gear up to face those challenges.

Talking of NZME, and the different DNAs that you’ve brought together, that must have been a crazy process.

There’s no doubt it’s going to be a career highlight because we were three separate companies who became one. Each company was entrenched in their channel which limited the future.

APN was a newspaper company. TRN was a radio company, so they were experts in their respective channel.

So bringing it together meant we had to set a direction. We were a company with people passionate about news, sport and entertainment. We were a content company.

People are not going to wake up tomorrow and not want news, sport and entertainment, so the only job we had was to stay relevant with what they were good at. It’s quite clear we were a news, sport and entertainment company; constantly evolving to make sure that we were across all channels. We were about building audiences.

The biggest challenge was culture. For years, they were competitors and they had spent their life defining their differences, so bringing them together was about showing them what they had in common. Content.
The Newstalk ZB, and the New Zealand Herald teams love telling stories about New Zealanders. The radio sport and news sports teams shared the same passion, as did the entertainment brands across radio and the various Herald titles focused on entertainment.

So yeah challenging, but amazing. Because there were people that didn’t think it could happen. But my specific team that I brought in, were united. We understood it could. We had clear vision and purpose and we were not going to stop until we made it happen.

How do you back yourself to have the clarity of vision and the purpose to drive it through?

I always go through a process. And that’s in all my roles. I spend time in the business and I watch and I observe and I talk to people that are actually out there. The best insights come from the people who are actually right in front of the customer.

They know what’s working or not working. An NZME example was time talking to the journalists, the people who drop off the newspapers, out in a ZM Black Thunder van handing out product at a skateboard park – you have to understand how the business really works and talk to those interacting with the customers and suppliers.

So you go through a process of forming a strategy and that builds your confidence.

Because you ask questions and you answer them, and you ask questions and you answer them and then the strategy becomes clear.

Then I test it. Does it seem right? Does it make sense? Challenge this. So I like people that challenge thinking. Then you get to a point where that’s the best answer and there’s no other direction, so you go for it.

You back yourself and I’m a big believer in if I say I’m going to do it, I do it. If I get bits wrong, I change them. It’s all good. But I back myself to know that that’s a starting point, and you’ve just got to get started; my dad taught me that.

Because as you gain momentum, you can adapt and change and build along the way. I’m so confident in that process. I’m confident in forming a plan and getting started, and then just evolve and be open and listen and keep developing that plan to get the outcome.

We have been talking about diversity before through a number of issues.Is that a conversation that will be happening when my daughter is going into the workforce? Do you see change in that respect?

Yes. With the new generation coming through, it’s different. You look at the content they consume, you look at their openness to the world, you look at what they’re focused on. My children are so much more worldly and accepting and open and it’s completely different. So as this is coming through, they’re going to force change.

You just try and not be diverse, it would just be crazy. I mean over 50% of my current workforce is between 18 to 30. I don’t even think the word ‘diverse’ will exist hopefully soon. We need to get to a point where we are saying, why do you have to call it something? It’s actually just the way it is. And we will all be a heck of a lot better off for it.

Do you think that there are still hurdles at the moment in terms of opportunity at the top businesses in New Zealand and Australia?

The number one thing that people should be thinking is diversity is required because your customers are diverse. If you have a leadership team and they’re all cut from the same mould and you have a diverse customer base, I don’t think you’re making the best decisions for the company.

So if you’re thinking of shareholders and you’re entire gambit is to grow more customers and the profitability of the company, then your team needs to know who those customers are so therefore they need to be diverse. I suppose I look at it as you can’t not be, but I do understand some companies are still struggling with it, but that’s the culture of that company, which ultimately is the responsibility of the board and the CEO.

I think what would be great is more balance of recognition of the companies that really are embracing diversity. Celebrate the successes. And diversity is not just gender, it’s ethnicity, age, it’s everything. It’s who’s my customer base? Do I have people in the business making decisions for those customers that reflect who they are?

And in terms of current business, are you excited about anything in particular?

Really excited. I’m in a great space. We’re on the cusp of so much progress in all of our businesses. So for cinemas, we’re designing Cinema of the Future, which is cutting edge. We’re currently trialling this and will roll it out in different parts across New Zealand and Australia.

What is Cinema of the Future?

Cinema of the Future is an entertainment complex; behind every door is a different experience.

They’re not just the same looking at the same screen.

We’ve introduced 4DX, which is a 4DX sensory cinema in George Street [Sydney]. And with that, if someone’s putting marmalade on the toast you experience the scent of the marmalade, there’s a sprinkler of rain, the seats move, and it’s an amazing sensory experience.

There are different seating types which are coming out, including full daybeds.

There are cinemas designed for young kids.We know kids wriggle, so now they can get up and move around the cinema. Lights are up a little bit, they get intermission to go to the bathroom, there are toys at the front. You’re allowed to be noisy. It’s about taking cinema from the silent space to really recognising that kids need to have fun.

And QT, oh my gosh, QT is very exciting. QT Auckland, which will hopefully open towards the end of next year, I can’t wait especially being a Kiwi CEO, to bring the Australian brand to Auckland. QT Wellington and Queenstown are working so well.

Speaking of QT, now there’s a brand that doesn’t need to use the word diversity.

It’s all about unexpected, unrequested.

Everyone in that team is from all walks of life, because that brand celebrates the individual in every individual.

QT is full of creativity and it’s flying in each of the destinations. So opening Auckland’s really exciting. We’ve got lots of exciting projects for Rydges too and developing the Rydges brand. Thredbo, our ski resort, lots of progress there also.

Over the next few years we’re rolling out a really exciting plan including a gondola to enhance the overall Thredbo experience. And it’s already the number one ski resort in Australia, but we’ve got a lot more in the pipeline.
As I mentioned earlier, it all comes down to a clear vision, strong pipeline for growth and we’re just working through pulling those plans together and making it happen.

You talk about these really big concepts and developments and growth across sectors but it seems to come back to individual experience.

Always. It always comes back to experience, when the customers come, what are they doing, how can we make that better and what could we add to that?

Finding growth is simple if you always come back to customer experiences.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Just get started. Take the first step and opportunities will unfold. Expect negativity but use this as a fuel to move forward. Never stop starting.