From the CEO

tk67-arihia-bennettChief Executive Officer,
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu,
Arihia Bennett

The Social Worker and the CEO

As you get older they say that time doesn’t stand still, in fact it seems to move faster. I can confirm that there is some truth in this, as I note it’s now four years since I accepted the position as CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. For a moment I have paused to ask myself, “How on earth did this happen?” Was this a career goal right at the outset? Did I deliberately undertake an academic pathway that would assist to climb the corporate ladder, or was it serendipity? Here is a snapshot of how I got to be in the right place at the right time…

Although I can attest to the Virgo obsessions of being a planner and an organiser, my answer isn’t that straightforward. You see my first fixation was working alongside young people in a residential care setting, assisting in their growth and development. Given we all go through teenage years I thought this couldn’t be that bad. Little did I know there would be many roller-coaster challenges in this work and that it would actually lay the foundation for my career ahead.

I based my practice on a “follow your head and heart” model and there were three things that guided my approach to working alongside young people. First: my own upbringing, second: a belief that every child and young person has untapped potential, and third: always being prepared to reflect on your actions, and seek out wisdom from a credible, experienced mentor.

Consolidating my practice experience with academic learning was fulfilling. A sharp pivot into the tourism industry leading teams and living on-site with staff in several remote locations was my next step. Managing a business operation during the day and counselling the trials and tribulations of staff social and relationship issues at night took me to a new level. For someone who was only used to balancing a cheque book, a crash course in building my business acumen became a priority.

With these experiences under my belt, it was then a hop and skip into managing a couple of social service and early child care organisations, before I made the leap into the role of CEO at Te Rūnanga. This career journey may sound like a straight line from one role to another, but when I reflect, I didn’t have a long-term plan up my sleeve. Instead, I motivated myself to step away from sameness and try different challenges as they arose. Over these four years I have learnt that a CEO needs to be visionary, and that I need to be courageous and exercise good judgement with the business and with our people. Staying silent is a time waster.

So all that said, I know the roles of Social Worker and CEO are both deeply ingrained in my make up, and I am both proud and happy with this way of being. If you are starting a career, midway, or moving towards a change, choose something that brings you happiness. Lost time can never be retrieved, so be courageous, be visionary, and challenge yourself beyond that rigid square.