Leading with a sense of purpose
A Kiwi lad from Blenheim, Jason Boyes now leads one of New Zealand’s largest infrastructure investment companies. Seven months after taking on the Chief Executive role at Infratil, he sat down with MEttle to discuss his professional journey to date, Infratil’s purpose, and how a takeover bid helped to shape the key areas in which Infratil excels.
Growing up in Blenheim, with one parent in the Air Force and one a teacher, Boyes wanted to be a computer programmer as a child. However, he ended up taking the legal route, ‘becoming a lawyer by accident’ as he puts it.
After a 15-year legal career in corporate finance and M&A in New Zealand and London, he joined Morrison & Co in 2011, leading the successful IPO of Z Energy in 2013, and has been instrumental in numerous Infratil investments since then. These included the acquisition of Vodafone NZ and subsequent capital raise in 2019, and the establishment of Longroad Energy in 2016 and Galileo Green Energy in 2020 – both of which he chairs today.
His corporate finance career took him overseas, which stoked his love of different countries and cultures. In a role that took him to locations around the globe, he says that one of his first jobs involved selling off some European airports.
“Airports is potentially a little bit kind as a description,” he says. “They were generally runways with very few planes, but it was a great experience. We were in Glasgow first and then we sold an airport in south east England. However, the role met my expectation of international experience and made me feel I had a place in the world, not just in New Zealand.”
Boyes’ interest in assets, investment, and Infratil grew from there.
“I became more involved in the investment side of the business. As Infratil has an equity capital market involvement, and I was Infratil’s General Counsel, I participated in every investment. It was a privileged position – you sit in the middle of everything, and I had a lot of discretion on how I spent my time and where I wanted to focus. Ultimately, I chose the investment side.”
When it became clear that Marko Bogoievski was stepping down from the CEO role, Boyes says that he found himself in a fortunate position as the nominated successor.
“I had spent time in front of the board and marketing Infratil alongside Marko with our investor relations team, and I had a decent amount of time dealing with investments. I was in a good position to pick up the role when the opportunity came up.”
Our roadshow provides a great sense of stewardship and is a grounding reminder that our responsibilities are to look after people’s savings.”
Developing a proud tradition
Seven months on, Boyes says that initially he saw upholding Infratil’s place and reputation as quite daunting.
“I know I’m very fortunate to have stepped into the seat when I did. We do a regular retail roadshow to meet our investor base – this provides a great sense of stewardship and is a grounding reminder that our responsibilities are to look after people’s savings. I am always striving to ensure that is anchored in my mind.”
However, Boyes says that he also came to realise quite quickly that tradition and reputation are founded on action, and the surprise takeover offer for Infratil made in December last year by Australia’s largest pension fund, AustralianSuper, made him stop to think about the fundamental direction of the business.
“The takeover offer last year weighed on our minds in a number of ways. It made us realise we could refine what Infratil stands for, and what it does.”
The answer to that question was ultimately ‘smart investments to make money’, but Boyes says that within that he questioned if there was a more refined and resonant theme to tease out.
“We wanted our staff as well as our investors to engage with our business and brand. Simply making money is less engaging these days than something that is around a particular focus and purpose. It’s around simplification, understandability and accessibility. As a result, working to refine our focus and message is where I’ve spent a lot of my time.”
Renewing Infratil's focus
Boyes says quite simply: “We were established as an infrastructure investment company. I wish there was a better word than ‘infrastructure’ to describe what we do, it always makes me think of sewage and rubbish trucks, which are good investments but are not very engaging.”
At the moment, he says that Infratil is focused on three areas.
“We’ve been doing two of them for a long time, and we’ve just started the third. Firstly, we have been investing in renewable energy development for 20 years or so; secondly, we are focused on digital infrastructure, such as Vodafone and data centres, as we believe the underpinnings of a modern economy will be driven by data infrastructure. Our third focus is diagnostic imaging – mainly radiology – and this is an area we have just moved into.”
This, he says, is because Infratil’s history is to invest early in areas not necessarily considered infrastructure at the time but become it over time. An example is renewable energy, which started out as a fringe opportunity but has become mainstream now.
“Infratil has a great opportunity to reinvest profits from earlier investments in renewables to set up the platform for the next 10 years. No one debates renewable energy anymore, and digital infrastructure has now become extremely valuable. So, we’ll continue to refresh what we’re focused on to push early into new areas we believe will become considered infrastructure later.”
A resonant purpose
So how does Infratil select its areas of interest and activity, becoming more than a business that just generates returns to investors – a business with a driving focus and engaging purpose?
Infratil’s purpose for some time has been all about investing wisely in ideas that matter. This purpose-driven approach is inherent to Infratil's manager, Morrison & Co. Boyes admits he’s done a lot of work on how best to communicate this over the past few months and to ensure it shows up in Infratil’s investments and outcomes.
Infratil’s purpose is to invest wisely in ideas that matter.
“It is all about simplification, understandability and accessibility, investing well in big ideas,” he says. “We try to find a mega-trend or idea, whether it’s an opportunity or a risk, and look to invest early – or parts of it that are not too expensive. We then look to execute and manage that investment well. A lot of our return is pushed by that megatrend, for example, data is exploding and needs a place to live which is why we’re investing in data centres.”
The big ideas or the ideas that matter really engage with Infratil’s team, he says.
“I think turning up to build a huge solar facility is much more interesting than building a car park (although we’ve built those too!). This is reflected in our low turnover as a company – we know people engage in investing in things with global relevance. It also means we have to focus hard on building a good reputation within the communities where our investments are. We don’t want to be seen as poor stewards of critical assets.”
Boyes believes that New Zealanders and Australians underestimate how different this operational approach is in this part of the world versus the rest of the globe.
“Many find working with us refreshing. Trying to blend the two cultures to create something that is not otherwise present in the market is really fun. You do end up creating businesses that look different from everyone around you.”
This thought takes him to a wider consideration of New Zealand’s place in the world, wondering if over the last 18 months we have become too insular inside our locked down borders.
“The world is still out there, and it is not slowing down,” he says. “We need to retain an external mindset and not be afraid to contribute or learn from what’s going on. New Zealanders have a lot to offer overseas, and there’s a real opportunity for investment out there, as well as bringing that investment here. Whether organisations are physically interacting with overseas or trying to find other ways to execute offshore, there are so many opportunities ahead.”
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MEttle, a collection of stories and interviews with influential New Zealand business leaders, curated by MinterEllisonRuddWatts.