Jessica Fearnley

Over the coming weeks The Chamber of Commerce is sitting down with each of the major award winners from the recent Westpac Waikato Business Awards to find out what they did to stand out from the crowd. This weeks “Winners Insights” is with Jessica Fearnley, business improvement manager at Mitre 10 Mega Ruakara and winner of the 2020 Success Group Emerging Leader award.

In Mitre 10 Mega Ruakura there is a saying for when you need to celebrate a personal achievement. It’s called ‘doing a Jess’ and involves shouting out an enthusiastic yes and giving yourself a resounding high-five. It is this fun, self-confident and infectiously positive attitude that exemplifies Jessica Fearnley’s approach to business and leadership and is a key reason she was crowned the Success Group Emerging Leader at the 2020 Westpac Waikato Business Awards. 

Jessica started in the human resources department at Mitre 10 in 2007, fresh from studying a double degree at Victoria University. She accredits Mitre 10’s willingness to let her explore new departments and areas as a core contributor to her growth as a leader. 

“Mitre 10 has given me a massive amount of opportunities. I started in their payroll/HR department but since then have spent time in multiple departments. They’ve given me the opportunity to show my skillset and the chance to try new things and continuously do that. They’ve allowed me to add new portfolios to my responsibilities and have supported me along the way. They’ve also supported me to find my own path because they just want me to succeed and have given me all the tools to do so during my time with them.”

In 2019 Jessica was the first person in Westpac Waikato Business Award history to  receive a highly recommended award in her category from the judges. It is a testament to her determination and self-belief in her abilities as a leader that she persevered and entered again in 2020, this time much more successfully.

“It means a lot to win the award this time around. It’s one of those things that are quite hard to put yourself into the fold. It requires a little bit of personal encouragement but I think even if you don’t come away a winner doing the process is a massive accomplishment in itself. To then have all the hard work you’ve been doing recognised by your peers and everyone else in the industry was an awesome feeling and I am really proud of what I have achieved.

“I’ve had a number of mentors over the years that have all played a part in getting me here and I want to recognise their input. Thanks to our current CEO Clifford Buchler who has been mentoring and developing me over the last three years both personally and professionally and his profound leadership style has been very beneficial. Lynne and Terry Wilson alongside Myles Witcher have also given me the freedom to test myself and develop new leadership skills during my time working with them. Gary Cornwall has also been massively helpful to me over my 13 years working with him as a sounding board for ideas and someone to talk and vent to.”

Jessica is the kind of leader who knows how to set an example for her team, whether that be staying late to help on the checkouts on a busy day or staying humble and available for her team to talk to, whenever they need.

“I’ve always modelled myself as an approachable leader, someone who can have a laugh and a joke and be able to connect to people from all levels of the business, someone who my team can feel confident and comfortable coming to talk to. I don’t believe anyone in the team is more important than anyone else, no matter their position in business. It is so important to treat every employee as an individual and not a number in order to build a culture that encourages teamwork and communication.”

2020 was certainly a year of challenges and opportunities for Jessica. Coming into her own as a leader during the lockdown and learning how to navigate a business landscape in a world altered by strict regulations and decimated supply chains taught her invaluable lessons on what it really means to be a leader. What really stuck out to her was her responsibilities to her team and the level of empathy needed to lead during what was a stressful year for all. 

“As a leader, Covid-19 really helped me see that in times of crisis it’s really about the bigger picture. It showed me that it’s not just about the business, but it’s about the people, about what’s happening with their families and in their world. It showed me that empathetic leadership is something that is really needed right now and it is vital to prove to your team that you care about them on a personal level.

“From a business perspective I learnt how important it is to stay agile and flexible because we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. On a more personal level, rediscovering the importance of the simple things like playing cards with the kids for hours, was really rewarding and reminding me sometimes that a simple life is just as good as a busy life.”

Leadership is a pathway that Jessica continues to see herself travelling down. Her aspirations  to eventually become a CEO herself is a goal she has worked to her entire professional career.

“I’ve always aspired to be a CEO and that is something I want to continue working towards, hopefully that is with Mitre 10 or somewhere different. Who knows at this point. I am also up to any sort of challenge. I’m someone who always wants to stay open minded and try different things in order to grow as a leader and a person.”

To young leaders across the country embarking on their first leadership role, Jessica knows how intimidating it can be and encourages them to find people they can trust and whose experiences they can draw from.

“It’s really important to find your person, a mentor that you can bounce ideas off and ask for advice. You are not expected to know everything straight away and you are allowed to ask for help from those who have done it before. Also surround yourself with a network of people with different backgrounds and experiences. Being able to tap into a wide range of perspectives and ideas is incredibly helpful in order to approach problems in a different light.”

Jessica highly recommends entering the Westpac Waikato Business Awards, whether for an individual award like herself, or as a business. The opportunity to have an honest, fresh perspective on your business direction and procedures is incredibly beneficial.

“I really encourage anyone to apply and if you have and haven’t won, then apply again. It is a really humbling process to be a part of and the feedback you receive is invaluable to grow, both for yourself and your business. Anyone who is considering it should jump in full noise. The Chamber, the judges, the awards are incredible and I encourage everyone to embrace the opportunity to be involved.”


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