Ben Kepes

BLAKE Leader 2016

Founder, Diversity Limited.

From technology evangelist to entrepreneur, mentor to commentator, emergency volunteer to business adviser – Ben Kepes is spreading his net wide to create a legacy through leadership.

He is driven to find ways to make a positive impact on the world, either directly or by helping others to realise their own innate potential. He believes creating a legacy is the most important thing anyone can do, and that leaders have an obligation to use their position to do so.

Ben is regarded as New Zealand’s go-to guy on Cloud Computing, is one of the country’s most active mentors and is a globally respected commentator in the technology space. He is also playing a part in rebuilding his home city of Christchurch in the earthquakes’ aftermath. The diversity of Ben’s interests brings a vital balance to his life – investing in companies, sitting on commercial and not-for-profit boards, being a firefighter, running ultra-marathons and helping to raise two teenage sons.

Ben’s perspective on life and leadership has, in part, been forged by the sacrifice made by his own parents, who came to New Zealand in 1956, fleeing the aftermath of the Holocaust and the Hungarian revolution. Like many first generation children of refugees, he feels a sense of debt for the sacrifices they made, allowing him and his siblings to build “an incredible life” in New Zealand.

After leaving school early and completing an electrical apprenticeship, Ben travelled the world working with teams in settings as diverse as meat processing factories and police stations.

He found himself drawn to business, and today his interests include a diverse range of industries, from manufacturing to property and technology. He has an immense influence as an advisor, director and angel investor.

His love of the outdoors first spurred him to become involved in Cactus Equipment, a Christchurch company locally manufacturing backpacks and outdoor clothing, in 1995. Two decades on, he is still a director, and a tireless advocate for manufacturing in New Zealand.

He is much-admired as both a thought leader and a people leader – not only building businesses, but supporting others to create their own, and investing in Kiwi entrepreneurs he believes in. His motivation is a passion for building great New Zealand companies and employing New Zealanders.

In the rebuilding of his city, he has taken a key leadership role with investors to recreate a start-up ecosystem in Christchurch, drawing significant investment into new and existing Christchurch companies.

Ben’s depth of knowledge and experience in the world of technology makes him a sought-after international expert in information technology and new approaches to business. His significant international experience (particularly in the United States) has significant value here in New Zealand for start-ups looking to scale offshore.

Rather than try to emulate Silicon Valley, Ben believes New Zealand has the ability to take its unique traits of creativity, egalitarianism and the ability to “get stuff done”, and then apply technology, to make something uniquely New Zealand.

He generously shares his knowledge and experience mentoring other young business entrepreneurs, a role he sees as a privilege. A good example is his involvement in the digital accelerator Lightning Lab programmes – particularly in Christchurch – as a mentor, supporter and sometimes investor.

A confident communicator, Ben is a technology commentator with a broad presence both in print and online. On Twitter alone, he has over 23,000 followers. He specialises in how technology can be applied to businesses and other organizations to drive innovation and agility. Considered one of the world’s most influential technology thinkers, he is in demand as a speaker around the world.

Ben is also a leader in the community, involved in local body politics as a board chair and deputy chair. A volunteer firefighter, and previously paramedic, he was an integral part of the immediate and mid-term response to the Christchurch earthquakes. In his firefighter role, Ben iscurrently serving as Deputy Chief Fire Officer of the Waipara Fire Brigade in rural North Canterbury, helping to take care of the training, management and operations of the brigade.

He has had a strong role in youth development through the Scouts movement and outdoor education. Passionate about the outdoors, he is also a keen ultra-distance runner.

But Ben sees his biggest leadership opportunity and responsibility is joining his artist wife in bringing up his two teenage sons. His consistent message to them: “To those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

“Being a leader is all about taking people on a journey,” Ben says. “Above all, a leader’s job is to walk alongside her team and share a journey with them.”