Carl Wairau

Developing Futures - Story by Sonya Bloomfield

It was at the end of a busy week that Carl and I chatted over the phone.  He enjoys travelling around to all the stores in his role as Consumer Regional Sales Manager for Spark NZ Ltd and said that he is really grateful to get paid to do what he loves. 

What transpired over the course of our conversation was a story about a man that is passionate about leading people and influencing them to better themselves.

Carl was born and bred in Napier in the Hawkes Bay and is from Ngāti Kahungunu.  It’s not too far from where his Father grew up in Nahuka, Mahia. 

Outside of his grandparents Carl didn’t have a lot of positive influences growing up. He was the youngest and smallest in his classes at school and didn’t really feel like he fitted in. He was a stubborn kid and didn’t succumb to peer pressure but he didn’t do so well at school and it was a miserable time. 

No one had any high hopes for him and the vibe around him was not to expect too much because he wouldn’t get it.  The negative comments over the years just drove an inner determination to follow his own path and make his own decisions.

After school he did nothing for a year.  All his family were working at the freezing works and eventually he got a job there. He hated it. 

“My work in between was the unemployment benefit, it was the worst and laziest time of my life.”

After a bit of soul searching he told his family he was going to get a job somewhere else.  His passion at the time was electronics and he managed to get a job at an electrical manufacturer that was steady work and was interesting.

That job led onto another and eventually he became a team leader. Not having had much leadership experience his boss sent him on a leaders course. That was the moment that Carl finally found his passion and realised this is what he wanted to do.

His Leadership Journey
The next ten years saw Carl work his way through from trainee manager to top store manager in the country at Pizza Hut. Searching for a new challenge Carl then moved on to the Warehouse and after five years there he decided he wanted to do something for himself.

After a bit of study in electronics he began his own computer repair business.  While he enjoyed being the master of his own destiny it was quite a solitary role and he really missed the people contact.  

A decision to look for a part-time job to supplement his income saw him interview for a role at what was then, Telecom. He interviewed for a Store Managers role and just missed out, but he was hooked, so talked to the Regional Manager about how he could get a job.  

The only job they had was a retail sales role. So without hesitation he sold his business and started at the bottom again with a goal of getting into management.  It didn’t take him long to work his way into a manager role. A few years later he had become a top store manager again.

It struck me that Carl never let pride get in his way and was willing to take an opportunity below where he had been before and then worked hard to be the best he could be at it.

I asked him what it was that drove him forward and he pondered this for a moment.

“I throw myself into a project every day, I see every day as it’s own project. I did everything to be a manager and I built my skills to get there.  I am never searching for the next best thing. I just like being good at the current thing then when I’m ready the next thing just comes along.” 

Carl is passionate about Spark’s journey to build the next generation of leaders and influencing people to be better at what they do. He has helped many people forge their own careers over the years and grow into leadership roles. 

He spoke of one lady in particular that he interviewed.  “She had a lack of confidence and described herself as “just a waitress”.  She had a great personality and I saw potential in her and took her on board as a part-timer.” He grew her into a full-timer, then key holder, and eventually trained her to become a regional manager.  Just as she was about to get that role she got another leadership role within Spark. 

“Sometimes people don’t even know their own potential and you need to encourage them to find that and help develop them.”
“Most people think that working in retail is about technology, but that couldn’t be farther than the truth.  It’s about people and trying to understand people. It always comes back to your personality, how you interact with people, being able to talk to people and get along. Building networks is also invaluable.”

One of the favourite parts of his role at Spark is the work they do with the students from First Foundation.  First Foundation is an educational trust founded to give young New Zealanders with plenty of talent but few financial resources a hand up to tertiary education.  “They are clever and have a lot going for them, they just need an opportunity and support. The hardest part is choosing one to support as they are all great.”

Carl is a self confessed workaholic and credits his work ethic to his grandparents. They were always working, getting whatever jobs they could and the grandchildren would go along also.  They would be out helping on vineyards, shearing sheep, on farms digging holes, all sorts of jobs.  They never moaned and just knew they needed to keep working to provide. “They have long past and the value they instilled in us was good. They were always polite, smiling and hard workers.”

“But the weekends are my time to spend with my grandchildren and family”. Back in the day he used to be a self-defense instructor was into Tae Kwan Do and has his black belt. Nowadays his sport is swimming in the masters swimming club. Now that the kids have grown up he’s caught the travelling bug and went to Europe last year with his wife and they have another big trip planned soon.

He feels very lucky to have the life that he has, and do the work that he does. Spark’s goals around growing leaders for tomorrow fits in with Carl’s passion for developing people and his dedication to the cause will go a long way towards helping them get there.


Carl Wairau