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 Mike Jenkins, CEO & Founder of The Instillery, winner of the 2020 University of Waikato CEO of the Year.
The Westpac Waikato Business Awards 2020 announced Mike Jenkins, founder and CEO of The Instillery, as chief executive of the year, at an awards ceremony in Hamilton last month.
The Waikato Business Awards celebrate exceptional New Zealand businesses and business leaders, and aim to recognise talent and innovation within the thriving Waikato business community.
Judges commended Mike’s high levels of commitment, foresight and agility to transform The Instillery from a start-up to becoming New Zealand's leading cloud and security technology service provider generating $44M of annual revenue in just seven years.
Mike founded The Instillery in 2013 as a place for business and technology leaders to bring their toughest challenges to and create a new trusted technology partner that would provide Kiwi customers a genuine choice. The founding vision was to enable and empower organisations to innovate, scale and grow through cloud technology. The Instillery strives to provide access to the best tech talent in New Zealand.
The Instillery’s growth has skyrocketed in the past few years with market-wide recognition, including being confirmed as the fastest growing Maori registered technology business, the fastest growing privately owned business in the TIN200 and one of the 10 companies to watch in the 2020 Technology Investment awards held in November, alongside its recognition as cloud service provider of the year at the NZ ICT Industry Awards - ARN Reseller.
In the past 12 months, Mike's exceptional leadership has been crucial in navigating through a global pandemic, supporting a team of 180-plus, all the while delivering continued growth for the company.
The services provided by The Instillery were fundamental for many New Zealand companies and essential services to survive during the unprecedented Covid-19 landscape. Considered as true business partners and confidants, The Instillery delivered trusted support for organisations such as Waikato District Health Board, NZ Rugby, NZTA, Ultrafast Fibre, Livestock Improvement, TSB Bank, Hamilton City Council, and Auckland City Council.
That care is continued through to the way Mike leads and supports his team. Throughout lockdown, Mike ensured his employees not only had the resources to work remotely and adequate financial support, but also mental health support. Mike developed the app ‘Tuakana’ to enable staff to check in anonymously to talk openly about how they were coping during lockdown, and if there was anything the leadership team could do to help. Recognising the importance of staying in touch with your people during these times, he then took the initiative one step further, publishing the app and making it available free of charge to all Kiwi businesses wanting to follow suit.
Mike's approach to mental health extends well before Covid-19, extending the practice of mindfulness meditation to staff in the mornings to help them cope with their busy IT lifestyles.
This focus on The Instillery whanau and people has always been important to Mike. To him it is equally as important as his business success to give back to the community and be a champion for social good. Bringing exposure to these causes is a key part of The Instillery’s vision for both Hamilton and Aotearoa’s future.
“I believe we have a collective responsibility to lead a movement in this industry to support diversity and inclusion and to create equitable outcomes for Kiwis and Kiwi businesses. Whether that’s removing obstacles, creating awareness, all the way to lobbying for the recently established social procurement targets for government agencies. Alongside other business leaders, we founded Elevating Aotearoa’s Future which is about creating equitable opportunities for Maori and Pasifika youth to access digital apprenticeships in the NZ tech industry and we’d love to see more Waikato and Kiwi businesses get behind it.”
2020 was The Instillery’s first foray into the Westpac Waikato Business Awards and during the intensive interview process it was a chance for Mike and his team at The Instillery to reflect on the lessons learnt over the last few years of rapid growth.
“The process was very enlightening. We’ve had a hectic couple years of crazy growth with our mergers and acquisitions and this was an opportunity to think about how much we’ve achieved as one whanau. Winning this award has added mana to The Instillery brand and reinforced that we are the #1 Kiwi owned Tech leadership team in the country. The connections we made off the back of these nominations, both through the judging, at the awards ceremony and afterwards are a testament to the high quality of the people nominated and we were blown away to secure the win for CEO of the year.”
For Mike Jenkins being named CEO of the Year was a deeply humbling experience, but recognition that the risk he took in founding his own business is paying off in spades. Prior to founding The Instillery, Mike spent a decade learning from and working for powerhouses of the Global IT & Networking world, however despite so many mentors and lessons he credits to his success today, he became somewhat disillusioned due to the constant conflict between outcomes he was incentivised to deliver and what was best for his clients’ interests or put simply - the right thing to do.
“I can vividly remember the day I made the call to call time on my corporate career; I was on a telepresence meeting with a senior VP out of San Francisco, a cast of thousands from across the USA, Europe and Australia and the CEO of one of my long term clients here in Aotearoa, nearing the conclusion of the meeting, I was asked directly by my client whether based on what I know, did I supported the position tabled by my exec and I simply couldn’t do it - I knew right then and there that this big corporate was not the place for me.”
To any other aspiring young entrepreneurs that may be inspired by his success Mike has nothing but encouragement.
“So many people I have met have amazing ideas but are simply too afraid to act on them. Go and find your tribe, surround yourself with a well-balanced and diverse network that will both support and challenge you for the right reasons. It’s a sad fact but Aotearoa is still rife with tall poppy syndrome. So I'd also encourage you all to stop putting so much weight into the ‘advice’ or ‘critique’ of people that have NOT been there or done it. If the hunger and hustle is real, nail your strategy, work closely with foundation customers, get laser focussed and execute. Believe in the art of the possible. A great line I always use courtesy of my son Kobe – I think it might have originally been via Dr Seuss – is why fit in when you can stand out. So be brave, do not be afraid to forge your own path and go get it!”
Rather than a move to Auckland or Wellington, Mike preferred to headquarter his tech business in the Waikato for one reason: the people. After all, building a business, a community and most importantly a legacy, takes a village.
“Having spent most of my life here and coming through local schools Southwell and St Pauls, I’ve always believed in the fire, capability and calibre of the people in the Waikato - not to mention the no drama, get it done nature of the great humans here - so it made sense to headquarter The Instillery right here at home in Chiefs country. It’s a great city and region to do business in! With the world class innovations being delivered out of the Waikato, connections to local world class educators such as Waikato Uni, Wintech and Te Wananga - as well as the opportunity to be as close as possible to some of our top customers such as LIC, Dairy NZ, Hamilton City Council and Waikato District Health Board, while also enabling our team to have a real balance between work and whanau.”
Mike is among many of Hamilton’s passionate, hungry, determined pioneers of the tech world who are starting a revolution from right here in the Waikato to establish the region as Aotearoa’s true heart of digital.
(Those interested in learning more about Elevating Aotearoa’s Future please visit www.eaf.kiwi)