Roger Nutall

roger nutall

It was a pleasure to talk to Roger Nuttall about leadership. He is someone that has been a guiding light for me in my life as he is a very driven man that shares our passion for values based leadership, and importantly, he’s someone that acts on that passion. I’ve talked to him often on the subject of leadership over the years and he has recommended more books than I have the time to read. As with so many of these interviews, we could have talked for hours.  

Roger is the Head of Group Finance and Treasury at Ryman Healthcare, which specialises in retirement housing provision in retirement villages throughout New Zealand and Australia. He is responsible, amongst other things, for financial compliance and risk management. Ryman Healthcare is a company with a total income of around £500 million, employs c. 6,000 people and has c. 13,500 residents.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

There are two books I recommend most often. Both are part inspiration, part practical guide to creating a culture of psychological safety.

The Fearless Organization by Amy C. Edmondson and Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia.

I’m a person that likes to work in an environment where ideas, innovations and improvements are at the forefront. A work culture where people are able to speak up, where people are more than happy to share their ideas, where they’re valued as individuals and treated with respect. 

An environment where people are listened to is one in which people can to some extent self manage and when you are harnessing ideas and expertise on the ground, it gives you a feedback mechanism., so you can see when things need to be improved, or opportunities that need to be seized upon.

The opposite is a dictatorial environment, which is not only unpleasant to work in, but is less effective and efficient. A management team or leadership team that doesn’t foster a fearless culture ends up with surprises hitting them in the face. This is because if people don’t feel they can feed back problems and criticisms to the team that set the plans or systems in place, the leadership team only gets the feedback when the shit has hit the fan and the problem is so big it’s hitting newspapers.

A company the size of  Ryman Healthcare, spread across 45 villages and 16 sites under construction, simply can’t be managed by a small dictatorial group of people sitting in a room hundreds of miles away. It has to have buy- in into its mission and it has to listen to its people. 


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

A book called, How Not to Die by Gene Stone and Michael Greger. It’s an evidence-based book that tells you the up to date science on exactly what the title suggests.

It has fundamentally changed my life. I’m predominantly vegan now and I am unquestionably much healthier for it. Given the challenges of the last two years, that book has helped come through it much healthier than I would have otherwise.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

Not that I haven’t had any failures in my life, but I have been very lucky in my career, so as I thought about this, what came to my mind was the death of my mum, who died when I was 25,  just when I was starting out in my real adult life.

Having someone there that cares about you and loves you no matter what is very powerful and I think I would have done better in dealing with my life decisions if I’d had that sounding board, because my mum always would give me an honest answer.

I also feel like I lost that connection to my family life. All the communication with my parents came through my mum, so now (especially since we moved to New Zealand) it’s meant that I don’t have much of a relationship with my dad. 

As tough as it was and has been, going through that adversity has helped me learn to make the best of the situations and the challenges I have faced since.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

“Don’t be a dick.”

Basically, just be a nice person. If you want to succeed, be decent to others, be kind. 

Particularly when we are tired or too busy, it can be a challenge. It’s easy to bitch and moan and be negative, but it’s in those times you have to go back to your principles. If I find myself in conversations like that, I try to extract myself from them.

If I feel someone else is failing to be decent to others I’ll be proactive about it and call them on it. It’s important to call it out when principles and values are undermined, and to model behaviour correctly. Having children opened my eyes to how parenting and leadership are basically the same thing.

I believe people like Donald Trump and Elon Musk, basically bullying, white males, are going to be a thing of the past. They’re not strong people, they’re dealing with insecurities somehow. They don’t have all the answers or ideas.


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Paddle boards.

We have four paddle boards, one for each member of our family. They’re brilliant. We all love being on water and of course there’s no phone in our hands (they have to be away in a dry bag), it’s exercise, but not too hard and we’re outside in nature, which where we are in NZ can be amazing (recently we all looked down to see what looked like the ground moving under the water, but turned out to be stingrays). We get out on them most weekends when the conditions are right.


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love? 

I’m a vegan, but I love cheese (I mean I really love cheese). I don’t eat it anymore.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? 

So again, it’s moving to a plant based diet. Apart from the health benefits, it is also great for the environment. Eventually, vertical farming will produce all of our food and we’ll be giving land back to wilderness because we won’t need all the space to produce our food.

The other thing is that I’ve started to be more chilled out about striving to achieve more;

Firstly, it isn’t realistic to be the one person to change the world. Perhaps there have been just 50 individual geniuses out of billions that have really made a huge difference. The truth is, we all individually don’t know that much, but together when we work collectively in the right system, it’s then that we achieve great things.  

Secondly, having a modest house that is warm and dry, a car to get me from A to B, a family I love and time to spend with them, that’s enough.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”

Push against the boundaries. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s probably a good thing, it means you’re learning and challenging yourself. You’ll make mistakes as you do, but don’t dwell on them (push yourself but don’t break yourself).


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

I’ve got a thing about KPIs. I find quite often KPIs are in conflict with each other and can incentivise perverse outcomes. As an example, a person might get a bonus for achieving X or Y, but it’s not the number, but the quality of X or Y and how it improves overall organisational importance is what really matters. 

I prefer a value and vision based way of working, where everyone knows what we are trying to achieve collectively, in the Jim Collins, Good to Great, hedgehog concept way, and they interpret their role within that, understanding how they can contribute to that mission.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

We have to work incredibly hard to differentiate from the market. There are a lot of players in our market and we’re all seen as the same, even when we’re not. There are a lot of grey areas, and our competitors can capitalise on that. 

Perhaps we simply need to do better at communicating how we are different and the benefits that living in a Ryman village can bring..


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips? 

I’ve worked hard on being more balanced in my thinking. Using the wisdom I’ve gained in life. I have a better perspective now, I back myself more, I have the courage to call people out when they do the wrong thing, I know what I can and can’t achieve. 

My younger self took things to heart and dwelled on things. But now I sleep better at night. I recognise tomorrow is another day. For a while I did some mindfulness meditation and if I do ever struggle to sleep I’ll use those techniques.

Humans are a result of our experiences. I’m fortunate enough to have had relationships which have helped me grow. Really, I believe it’s simply experience that helped me. So get as much experience as possible and build a toolkit, because not everything is going to be rosy, it’s not all gonna go your way.

There’s no coincidence that elders were old, they had experienced everything themselves, or seen it done by others. 


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life? 

Not the one I’ve currently got! 

My dad was a milkman. He always worked extremely hard and worked long hours and I have both that tendency and the ability to do that too. I can always always work more and so I often work longer hours than I should. 

I like the work that I do, I enjoy it, but it can be to the detriment of other things in my life. I do have boundaries in place, I never work weekends and I’m committed to making that family time, but getting home late during the week compromises that balance. I do need to focus myself on myself more and also the team at home.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?) 

I struggled with answering this, because as I said earlier, I can just work and work and I don’t tend to lose focus. If ever it does drift, I have a sit down/stand up desk and just changing from one to the other is enough.


What does leadership mean to you?

Setting out the mission, wearing your mistakes, having humility, creating opportunities, letting people grow, fostering a culture where there’s no blame.

I think it was Brendan McCullen (former New Zealand captain that has been appointed as the head coach of England’s Test cricket team) that recently said to his team,  “If we win, you front the media, but if we lose, I’ll front the media”. That’s great leadership.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

My dad has guided me. I’m not sure if by design or just as an output of who he is and how he is, but through him, as a child, he gave me a lot of experiences that were good for my development.

Working with him on his milk round, he would expect me to go and talk to customers and collect the money, and at a young age I think that forced me to develop emotional intelligence which has served me well since. But it was also that he let me get on with it, didn’t walk me to the door, but trusted me to go and do a job and make it work. It made me independent and focused. It was the same when I was learning to drive, he would get in the car and fall asleep and let me get on with it. I always drove better with him than if my mum tried to help and would worry and try to give me too much instruction.

He also gave me a set of values and morality and I’ve carried them since. I’m not sure he discussed them really, but it was just something we somehow knew at home. He just modelled a set of behaviours.

It’s not that I aspire to be like him necessarily, he is not the best communicator for example. I’ve not had many in-depth conversations with my dad, and we rarely speak on the phone now because I don’t think he likes it. But I can take the good things and add in others that I want my children to experience. Ultimately we want our kids to be happy and independent and ready for life’s challenges.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

To me principles are the guide, they are the standard. They set the guardrails for what you should or shouldn’t do in certain situations. If you have a set of principles that you believe in you will not need to think what to do because – your principles will guide you to the right answer. 


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

“When did you know you had made it as a leader”. 

It is my view that you are on a constant journey, developing your leadership over time and therefore there are always things to learn and areas to improve. In posing this question I would be intrigued by the range of responses.


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

I could perhaps delegate more. I like what I do and therefore I have a tendency to just get on and do things. However delegating more could free up my time to get some balance back and also give my team more opportunities.


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

I have been fortunate enough to work with a coach for a number of years. She is wonderful at providing alternative perspectives, reminding me of my values and principles, and being the voice of reason. A trusted coach and mentor is an invaluable independent resource for any leader.

Topic: 50 in 50