Name: Ben Kepes
Organisation: Diversity Limited
Ben is a professional board member, a globally-recognized technology commentator, and an entrepreneur Ben has served on the boards of a number of non-profit, privately held, and listed companies in New Zealand and the UK.
He has won a number of accolades including being a recipient of the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award in 2016 and being recognized as a Chartered Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Directors in 2021.
Ben has been an investor in a large number of early-stage technology startups across three continents and has had successful exits to listed and privately held companies in Canada, the US, and the UK. He has served on the advisory boards of a number of technology startups in New Zealand, Australia, the US, and the UK.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Ben's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Not being everyone's friend. Leaders have to make hard calls and sometimes those calls aren't appreciated by others. It's sometimes lonely doing the right thing.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My career has been a big, random mix of things. A high school dropout, electrician, entrepreneur, world traveler, technologist, investor, and professional board member. Across all of these roles, I have always tried to create a legacy. I'm driven to make a dent in the universe.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I get up pretty early, generally around 5 a.m. If I'm not on an early work start I'll head out with my wife and our dog for an hour or two. Then it's emails and meetings. As a professional board member, every day is different so on days when I don't have meetings or work I'll head to my workshop where I build fine furniture as a hobby.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Don't settle. We've all heard that A players hire A players while B players hire C players. Sometimes as a leader, it's tempting to make do with B players. Don't. Always strive to build an A-grade team around you but be aware that these things take time. Play the long game but always have one eye on the big prize.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Richard Branson's autobiography. I was fortunate to meet Branson a few years ago and what struck me was his relentless positivity. I try (albeit not very successfully) to follow suit. Branson is a master marketer and while his style isn't for everyone, there is much to learn from him.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Two pieces (because I never follow instructions!) Firstly, be patient, enjoy the journey, and don't rush. Secondly, follow your passion, don't be driven by money but rather by doing what you love. If you achieve that aim you'll be happy which is much better than sad and rich.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I tend to be self-deprecating. While I'm widely published and have done lots of public speaking around the world, I prefer talking about others. Watching great leaders (from Obama to Branson to Nadella) the really great people have an uncanny ability to sound confident while still remaining humble.