US native Bennett Medary first came to New Zealand more than three decades ago at the age of 18, on a mission to meet his birth father.
After meeting his father, Medary stayed in the country and got his university degree. Now the CEO of the Simpl Group and chair of the NZICT Board, he still thinks moving here was one of the best decisions he has ever made.
In particular, he is passionate about the South Island. “I can’t tell you how much I’m a mainlander at heart. I love everything about it, I just don’t spend enough time there,” he says. “I love water, love sailing. I love the lifestyle of New Zealand. We are very blessed here.”
Medary’s Information Systems degree from the University of Otago marked the start of a career in IT, which led to founding the Simpl Group nearly 20 years ago. The New Zealand-based company has growing business onshore and abroad - in the UK, US, Indonesia and Australia.
Although the company has expanded, there have been some tough times, says Medary. The latest recession, from which the world is only now starting to emerge, was, according to Medary, the worst crisis the company has ever faced. “We’re fit and well but the past two years have been particularly difficult,” he admits, adding that he is “quite proud of managing through difficult times. We are profitable, have no debts and we are looking forward to the future.”
The strategy of the past couple of years was to survive but from here on, according to Medary, the goal is to thrive. “It is a long and slow journey out of this. I don’t think the idea that it is going to get easier is the way to see it. We have to be fit for the competition,” he says. “There is no easy road anymore.”
Medary believes New Zealand should “urgently” pursue being a digital nation, and that means leveraging broadband powerfully. This is a core focus of his role as chair of the NZICT Board, for which he was appointed last August. Additionally, as chair of the Board, Medary wants to promote an inclusive and collaborative approach toward how technology industries can work together.
He believes modern technology and the knowledge that people have is enough to create an incremental revolution. “Not a big bang,” he explains, “but managed steps to allow massive change.”
Medary didn’t always see himself as becoming a businessman, let alone entering the IT sector. As a young boy, he imagined himself working in rural medicine and becoming a flying doctor. But he says it was easier to leverage his IT skills in order to get residency in New Zealand, and he is now putting his skills to good use in the health sector as this is a key market for Simpl. “Now, with Simpl, I’m doing the two, on a bigger scale. My vision has come full circle,” he says.
Although he has a hectic schedule at Simpl, Medary has done a lot each day by the time most of us are getting up in the morning. “I get up at 4:20am, go cycling for two hours, have a triple-shot trim latte in a bowl, do some stretching, have a spa and then go to the office,” he says.
Medary isn’t married but lives with his long-time partner, who also works at Simpl. “We met at work and we work very well together,” he says. Two of his three teenage children also still live at home. Finding time for them isn’t as complicated as it could be, considering his multiple responsibilities. “Because I own the company, I set the culture and [the work/life] balance is very important,” says Medary.
As passionate as he is about his career, he doesn’t let it interfere with his other interests – and they are many. A couple of days after being interviewed for Coffee Break, the CEO set out on a 100km bicycle ride in the Coromandel peninsula and these long rides are not uncommon for Medary. Cycling is a passion that started four years ago, as rehabilitation after back surgery, and it now plays a very important part in his daily life.
Fly-fishing, diving and sailing are some of his other hobbies. When at home, Medary also occupies a lot of his time cooking, baking and making ice cream.
His private pilot’s licence hasn’t been put to good use since he sold his plane a few years ago. It is, however, something he looks forward to using again in the future. “There was a time when air travel was very costly and it was cost-effective to fly my own plane to Wellington and back, especially if I was with someone else,” he recalls.
From the start of his career as a contractor for Unisys and ANZ, to founding his own company, Medary has observed a huge amount of change. His secret, in business as in cycling, is to keep on moving.