by Divina Paredes

Claire Govier: From liberal arts to information technology

Nov 23, 2015
Big DataCareersInnovation

A liberal arts background led Claire Govier to jobs in services, sales and marketing and public relations, the ‘front end of businesses’.

“How I got into IT is actually really unconventional,” says Claire Govier, who has a degree in English literature from the Victoria University of Wellington.

This liberal arts background led her to jobs in services, sales and marketing and public relations, the “front end of businesses”, says Govier, who is now head of transformation, strategy and architecture at Kiwibank.

She has also held CIO roles at healthAlliance and Vodafone New Zealand.

Related: ‘IT is a people game’ – Claire Govier

Her first job out of university was with the New Zealand Post (the parent company of Kiwibank). She then went on her OE (overseas experience) and worked for the UK Post. She worked in the financial product area for 22,000 post shops across the UK.

This was in the late 1980s, she explains of the scale involved in setting up bank within the postal system. She went back to New Zealand and worked on the strategy team at AMP, where she also got to work in her second bank startup, joining the team that started Ergo.

She says this stint provided her with great training and mentoring. She then moved to Ernst Young in the late 1990s. She considered her six-year stint at Ernst Young as equivalent to getting a post-graduate business degree. The consulting giant sent her to an executive course run by faculty members from Darden School. “It was a mini-MBA.”

She also worked in the CRM strategy for Commonwealth Bank of Australia. From there, she moved back to New Zealand, joining Westpac as head of strategy. It was during this time she was asked to work on the IT strategy component of the bank and execute it.

Related: Gartner to CIOs: Flip IT leadership from legacy first to digital first

“That’s where I started to do more work inside the IT shop. In all of these jobs, technology was the anchor for change. I was often the business owner, the business sponsor, driving change into customer services or sales. And technology as always one of the key things to drive execution.” She counts her stint at Vodafone as particularly useful. “It’s always fascinating to be on the inside of how some of your key suppliers operate,” she says, particularly at healthAlliance which has a huge dependence on networks, telephony and mobility. “Understanding how that operating environment works is actually very valuable. It’s very useful not just for my own knowledge but also navigating those sorts of organisations as a customer is very useful.”

Instant management and when things go wrong is always a good test of the kind of character and agility of a team.Claire Govier, Kiwibank

She sees the similarity of challenges faced by healthcare and telcos in an “always on environment”. ‘Insight moments’ “Instant management and when things go wrong is always a good test of the kind of character and agility of a team,” she says.

“You have a problem on New Year’s Eve at 10 o’clock at night and you’re on skeleton staff. It’s a holiday. But it happens – every shop has one of those. And it’s those sorts of moments of truth when you really get a good flavour of how committed your team are and how well they collaborate with customers, and their willingness and goodwill to work together.” She calls these “insight moments” she draws lessons from. “It’s the kind of ‘sniff test’ to know how well this is going.”

Related: How I became a CIO: Jason Millett and Kevin Angland share their journey

Claire Govier at the 2014 CIO100 event

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