The game A parent’s job can be a source of some mystery to their kids, until that is, they grow up to work in the same industry. Ahead of Father’s Day, Britt Mann spoke to five well-known Kiwis who followed in their dad’s footsteps. Dad travelled with thi
“When they climbed Everest they thought, well, everyone will go, ‘Well done,’ and then forget about it. But it was one of those iconic events. It changed the way everyone on the planet saw what our capacity was.
“Dad really felt there wasn’t a future in it for me or my sister and that we should move into fairly conventional [careers]. He thought I should become an engineer or something like that. I was born into an era where there was the development of this whole idea of ‘adventure tourism’ and sponsorships for people going on wild, exciting, daring mountaineering challenges. Basically I saw that in my father and I wanted to do much the same. “When Dad was leading his last expeditions and I was a member, I was the young, impulsive one and of course he was the experienced leader and the person who had the insight and a much cooler head. That’s a very typical difference between the generations. “The extraordinary thing about Ed Hillary was it wasn’t just in New Zealand where he was incredibly well-known. I think for a lot of people that would be more of a negative than a good thing. In the Hillary family, he took us all with him, we felt part of a team. Dad travelled with this vast contingent of family and friends, whether it was a work-related thing in the US or building a small school in the Himalayas. He engaged with the people around him, he shared it with them, and everyone felt really passionately about being part of his life and what he was doing. “I think that says a lot about him, actually, because there are other people who are very well known and there’s evidence that quite a few of them didn’t or don’t manage it that well. It’s not that they intend it that way, it’s just the way it happens. “My life, like the son or daughter of many other well-known people, does somewhat get predicated by questions about ‘the famous one’. And I know a lot of people do get sick of it – they probably get a little resentful of it. If you resented the person, it’d be a point of annoyance and frustration. “But if you felt like you were very engaged with their lives, it’s really a wonderful thing. And that’s pretty much the way I see it.”
“We’re a really close family. Growing up, we did a lot of travelling. I was born in New Zealand but when I was 2 years old we moved over to Ireland. We were there for five years.
“When I was 7, we moved to England for three years. That’s where I started playing rugby. Dad’s never coached any teams that I’ve been in. He never really wanted to.
“You’d get the odd person here and there who might say, ‘Oh you only made the team because of your last name,’ or whatever. But that can only go on so long for it to get to a point where that isn’t relevant. You see lots of stuff in the media, and lots of ups and downs with rugby. My mum says she’d like me to go into coaching as well, but I’m not too sure if I would. Players get enough ups and downs as it is but as a coach, you might as well times that by 10 – if things aren’t going well, the media can be pretty harsh.
“We moved back to New Zealand when I was 10. That’s when I got quite settled into school life here and started to play some good rugby. Dad got the Welsh job two years later, and he went back to the UK. Mum goes over there a lot to see him, we try and get over there as much as possible, but I sort of stayed and went to school and played rugby here and sort of followed in what he did – he went to Hamilton Boys’ High, so I went there. I had a few different options to go to a couple of different schools – scholarships – but I wanted to go there for the rugby and do what he did and play for Waikato. Then, obviously, I moved to Auckland, which he supported.
“There were no pressures. People might think, ‘Oh you probably just had rugby drilled into you.’ It wasn’t like that at all. He always said play whatever you want – play soccer, play cricket. It just happened to be that I loved rugby and a big part of it was his achievements and seeing his success there, wanting to have a bit of that for myself if possible. You never know at a young age – ‘cos everyone’s got that sort of dream and it’s a pretty low per cent who actually get through to doing what they really want to do – so I guess I was pretty fortunate that I haven’t done too badly so far.
“He said, “You know, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to play.” He made sure to remind me of that all the time.
“He’s really proud of what’s happened so far. If he gets the chance to watch anything I’ve done, he’ll give a tip here or there – nothing too much, but it’s really helpful.
“Especially in the position that I play – it’s just about being really dominant. No matter how old you are, ‘cos I’m still pretty young at 22, you might come into a team where there’s guys who are 30, 32 – really experienced – but you just can’t let that spook you.
“My mum always says my dad and I are crazy similar in the sorts of mannerisms that we have, whether it’s our sense of humour or the way we’re sitting on the couch watching TV. The day before game day, we’re both pretty quiet. I know some people are different – they might think we were in a bad mood – but we’re just sort of keeping to ourselves.”
“It was only a small, developing business in my early childhood. A vineyard was a nice place to live, but we only lived there ‘till I was about eight years old. I always enjoyed running around the winery and playing near the creek. When we moved away, I was busy at school and not thinking too much about Villa Maria.
“We returned to the winery for school holidays, to work. You certainly pick up on the anticipation and excitement around vintage time. As I was older and of age, I started working in the wine shop. It’d be really, really exciting if there had been a wine show and we’d picked up some gold medals or trophies and people would be coming in to purchase those wines.
“Dad was very careful not to pressure us to go into a family business. He never put any expectations on us – almost to a fault, I think.
“I did have a little bit of an overhang of not wanting to be the boss’s daughter. I was actually quite a shy, very reserved person – self-conscious. Being the boss’s daughter during the holidays didn’t always sit well. So I really needed to do my own thing first.
“Firstly I pursued my interest in psychology. Some people say my father’s almost a natural psychologist. He likes to try and work out what makes people tick, what motivates them in an organisational context. He puts a big value on people’s development. That would be a similarity of ours.
“It was only when he started to export and he was travelling a lot more that he thought, ‘If the plane goes down, what will happen? I need somebody in the family to understand what is happening in the family business.’ He went on a couple of overseas trips and gave me the keys to his filing cabinet and it must have occurred to both of us it wasn’t a good way to prepare me for any eventuality.
“I wasn’t an accountant or a winemaker or a viticulturist or a salesperson. So coming out of university and going into banking, I didn’t really see where I’d fit. But a directorship allowed me to bring the skills I’d already gained to the table. Dad was very hands-on – still is – so it enabled us to have a good separation of responsibilities.
“It came out of the blue but I could see the logic of me needing to know what was happening in the business. He talked to the directors and they agreed my banking skills were a useful addition. I had grown up with the wine business and it’s amazing what I had learnt without even realising it, just from being around Dad. I said I was happy to come and watch. He said no, you actually do need to be part of the decision-making process.
“When I first joined the board I was still in banking. Around a board table, it’s always been a sort of collaborative exercise.
“It’s been enjoyable working with my father, being able to see close up why he’s been successful and I certainly have more of an appreciation about what
“He always had a studio at home, and there was a lot of arty people around – they liked to throw parties and stuff – so the culture was a huge part of our upbringing. All my closest friends were all artists’ children, or related to the art world.
“There was never any pressure to go in a particular direction. Mum and Dad always encouraged a lot of drawing – there was always lots of pens and ink around. Dad was very particular about what he liked and didn’t like. You could see if he wasn’t impressed – he’s quite funny like that.
“My ability to communicate the visual image and get people on side with that, and being able to deliver it, has certainly come from that ability, that skill of being able to draw and visualise. That very much has come from Mum and Dad.
“I did the first CGI Energizer battery, when that first went to 3D animation. I got Dad in to help me develop the character – the expressions, the hands, the eyes. The character already existed; Dad helped us bring it to life.
“Sometimes I go to reach for something across the table and I recognise Dad’s hand or body language in mine. Voice-wise, too, we’re very similar. What Dad has is an incredible confidence in his ideas, and is prepared for them to be wrong. That’s really probably the greatest gift he has given me. I’m prepared to stand up in front of anybody and say what I think is right.
“I’m one of Dad’s biggest fans. I love his work. But I certainly don’t think it’s had much relevant bearing on any of my key, stepping stone jobs.”
“My granddad, Leo White, was a photographer, and his son, Ross – my dad – was a photographer. I eventually fell into the same industry.
“My grandfather died before I was born. My dad didn’t go into his dad’s aerial photography business – Whites Aviation. He became quite a well-known press photographer in his own right and worked for The New Zealand Herald for about 35 years.
“He would take me in to work with him at the weekends when I was about 5 or 6 and I’d sit up on the developing table and just watch him developing images. That was pretty cool, seeing pictures take shape in a dish.
“Occasionally he’d take us out on assignments. He did a big thing about back country byroads of New Zealand. We went along for three weeks, photographing all these places. I didn’t want to go – I was 14 at the time.
“It was the golden era of press photography – back in the 70s, where budgets were large, advertisers were all over the place, and photographers got sent all over the country, and the world. He covered the royal wedding – Charles and Di. I think he really enjoyed that.
“I never really took much notice of his job, really. It never initially appealed to me. [But] when you see your parents in that kind of work I guess deep down you’re sorta like, ‘Well that’s not such a bad way to make a living.’ Maybe he was working on me already at that stage.
“When I left school I was an apprentice butcher, then became an apprentice carpenter for I think six months.
“I wasn’t quite ready for full-time work. So I went back to school, resat the sixth form, studied photography and decided I’d give it a go.
“I think my dad was secretly reasonably happy that I was going to follow in the same field. He provided the names and numbers of all the pictures editors in the country I could get in contact with, to send my CV, which I did.
“Ross – my dad – was never into flash photography. He was the only guy at the Herald that would never use a flash on any job, and he’d still come back with really good, strong images. As much as I can, I try not to use flash or studio lighting. Dad actually said that using artificial light is like using a condom.
“I started at the Northern Advocate in ‘88, then moved to Sydney. I’ve learnt later on he’d talk to other people about me and how well I was doing overseas, but he never said that to me. It’s just a generational thing.
“Everybody who was anybody had a Whites Aviation aerial of their farm on their wall. They’re collectors’ items now. You go into a fish and chip shop sometimes, or an office in town, and see a big Whites Aviation on the wall. As a teenager you’re not that interested in that kind of thing. But now I look back and it’s pretty cool. If I’m with the kids somewhere and we see one we’ll go up and have a look at it.”