Comvita CEO Brett Hewlett shares his thoughts on role models, the impact of leadership on internationalisation, and whether leadership can be displayed across all levels of an organisation


Brett Hewlett, winner of the ‘KPMG Outstanding International Business Leader’ category at the 2013 New Zealand International Business Awards, shares his thoughts on role models, the impact of leadership on internationalisation, and whether leadership can be displayed across all levels of an organisation.

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Who is your top leadership role model?

Richard Branson is always top of mind for me as I find inspiration in his huge vision, but I can also identify with his rebellious, playful and passionate approach to business and life. In general terms I draw most inspiration from amazing acts of leadership from a vast array of people in everyday life, more so than having a following for a single role model – no one is perfect.

What are the top five character traits of a great leader?

Vision, passion, empathy, compassion, generosity – oh, and a good sense of humour helps. Credibility and effectiveness is what sustains great leadership. Over time you will be judged more on what you have done and less on what you have said.

How important is leadership when it comes to helping a company grow into new markets?

Doing anything ‘new’ involves elements of change and risk for an organisation. Not everyone will see it as exciting. It is also possible to be swept away by the pioneering enthusiasm of doing something new just for the sake of it. This is where empathy comes in. A good leader will attempt to understand all of the issues in a balanced way, have empathy for people’s concerns and build consensus and support for the decision.Why was it so important to spend time with Comvita’s founders when you first took up the CEO role?

I took it as a huge responsibility to step in as CEO of a company with such a rich heritage and strong and effective culture. There were however some things that needed to change if we were to continue to be successful and to grow to meet the founder’s vision. It was important therefore that I built ‘on’ and not ‘over’ the culture that was there. I had to build my credibility as a leader by acknowledging the huge achievements of the past and the desire to preserve the values and culture of the organisation that has passed into my guardianship. I then had to also build consensus for the decisions that were needed to make changes.

Can leadership be displayed across all levels of an organisation?

Leadership is absolutely a team activity. It can, and does, come from all corners of the organisation. I see this on a daily basis at Comvita and it always warms my heart to see it. What differentiates great organisations from good ones is this spreading and embracing of leadership across the organisation. It is important to distinguish Leadership from Authority here. All organisations need a level of discipline and structure otherwise chaos ensues. However, authentic leadership is about getting things done and guiding others to do the right thing towards a commonly shared vision – and this can come from anyone within the organisation.

What role does leadership play in staff engagement?

At Comvita we’re very focused on measuring and maximising the level of engagement of our staff. People who are demonstrably engaged will be motivated and committed to do the right things for the organisation. Having a culture of empowerment and authentic leadership across the organisation ultimately results in more engaged people.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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