Exit interview: Mainfreight CIO shares tech insights before signing off

In his 35-year career, Kevin Drinkwater has seen tremendous change and many fads. Here, he shares the lessons of his career with CIOs everywhere.

Kevin Drinkwater
Divina Paredes/IDG

It’s the end of the road at Mainfreight for CIO Kevin Drinkwater, who officially retires on 31 December 2020. Having clocked almost 35 years, his tenure at one of New Zealand’s most successful global companies has been a long one. During that time the business has expanded its operation into 26 countries and its staff count has grown from 80 to 8,600.

Drinkwater started at Mainfreight in 1986 as its financial controller, and he has held several roles, including in sales and warehousing in New Zealand and the US. In 2001, Mainfreight’s management decided that technology needed a global role, and Drinkwater became CIO. Reporting directly to the CEO—first to founder Bruce Plested, and then to Don Braid—he has been involved in every milestone of a business that has largely grown through acquisition.

During the first lockdown in March 2020 when COVID-19 was set to rage across New Zealand and mass unemployment was expected if the economy crashed, he wondered if it was time to give someone else a go at Mainfreight.

Fortunately, the pandemic has been kept at bay in New Zealand and the economy hasn’t taken a dive, but Drinkwater’s decision to retire from Mainfreight prevailed. He will officially leave the business at the end of this year and his successor, John Eshuis, who has held finance and IT roles at Mainfreight since 2002, has been named his successor.

With Christmas looming, Drinkwater is looking forward to taking some time out, project-managing his family’s new house build in Russell, and getting to grips with the drone he’s been given. He hasn’t made any plans beyond the summer other than continuing as chair of Duffy Books in Homes, but he will be looking at new opportunities that crop up.

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