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In the Bag: Sinead Boucher

Words by Yu Mei

Sinead Boucher with the Suki Multi-Strap Clutch in Brunette

She’s the CEO of Stuff Ltd, New Zealand’s biggest digital brand, and biggest media company by reach — a role she famously stepped into after buying the media company from its former Australian owner for a mere dollar. Sinead has since guided Stuff to record audience numbers and established it as a B Corp, aligning with her goal for the company to focus on the planet and people as much as profit.

Prior to taking the reins of Stuff, Sinead spent over two decades carving out an illustrious journalism career. She was responsible for New Zealand’s largest newsroom in her role as NZ Group Executive Editor, had stints working in London as a journalist for the Financial Times and Reuters, and was Stuff’s very first digital editor.

As an avid traveller — and regular commuter between Wellington and Auckland — it’s no surprise that Sinead has well and truly mastered our Art of Packing system, designed to help you streamline what you carry and how. Below, she tells us why journalism was the perfect training ground for becoming a CEO, what makes a good reporter and why you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.

Career

I was always good at English and writing at school, which is what initially made me think of becoming a reporter. However, it wasn’t until I was on the job that I realised being a good writer is not the main point of it. You must be curious about people, and about the world, before anything else. You must be really interested in telling stories of the people you meet. Great journalism is not about the journalist, it is about the subject. ( 1 )

The best thing about media is that there is no typical day. A lot of our days revolve around what is happening out in the world — so a major news event can mean everything else is dropped while the team focuses on doing that to a world class standard. As the CEO though, my job is mostly around running the company. I know that everything goes well when my diary isn’t full of internal meetings. That means things are humming, and I can spend my time talking to customers, thinking about the long-term vision for the company and how to get us there. I live in Wellington and commute to Auckland for two nights a week. I have an apartment there now, which makes it much easier.

Having started my career as a journalist and working my way up to management, I used to be really worried that I didn’t have the business and finance background you needed to run a company. However, I learnt that the main skills you need as a journalist — curiosity, the ability to be interested in and to relate to people, the ability to ask a lot of questions without embarrassment — are vital in my new role as well. But the main lesson I think I have learnt is not to sweat the small stuff. It is so easy to get bogged down in the everyday dramas and worries, but in the end it mostly doesn’t matter. And as long as your whānau and friends are healthy and well, then it is all small stuff.

What drives me now is to build Stuff into a company that has a tangible positive impact on the lives of everyone in New Zealand, through all the work that we do. We recently became a B Corp, ( 2 ) and take great pleasure as a private company in focussing on the triple bottom line of people and planet, as well as profit.

As a journalist, you are let into people’s lives, often at their worst or best moments. A good, powerful story can bring down a corrupt politician, give a voice to the voiceless, or help shape a country’s view of itself. We take that responsibility very seriously — and are determined to do it very well!

When it comes to the keys to effective leadership, I obviously think hiring great people is essential. But so is setting out a clear strategy and vision, enabling people to achieve that, and also expecting them to be able to, as long as you have provided the clarity and tools and support they need. I think transparency is also key. I find it far more effective and motivating when you can talk openly about the hard things ahead, or are clear when you don’t know the answers, than it is when you try to fudge everything into corporate speak. We are all adult humans whose livelihoods are invested in the company, and we all want to feel we are achieving good things and having a positive impact. So a leader’s job is to be both aspirational and challenging in their vision for the company, and to enable that to happen for people working in it.

If I could interview anyone… That’s such a hard question to answer. It would not be a celebrity — I have interviewed many over the years, and they are so guarded and managed in their answers. It’s hard to get a sense of the real person. So I think I would like to go back in history and interview some of the historical figures that have most influenced our world today — everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Jesus, to the great scientists of the ages. So fascinating!

Life

To unwind, I swim in the sea. Well, more like wallow in it… And I walk my dog Rizzo. I’m also a voracious reader. I enjoy the small pleasures of life — a good book, time with family, a walk. I think I am really good at switching from work modes to home modes. No one at home is really that interested in my work, so it’s easy to switch off when I walk in. I try to keep really normal office hours and to enjoy being home when I’m there, and just be a mum. In saying that, as a former reporter I don’t think you ever switch off from seeing everything as a potential great story.

Stuff is a B Corp and we are strong believers in sustainable and regenerative practices at work. When it comes to regenerative practices in my personal life, I have switched to an electric car and an electric bike, both of which bring me huge pleasure, and I buy a lot of second hand clothes and accessories. My worst thing is my love of travel, which I offset and try to minimise by using trains versus planes when I can.

It’s so hard to pick a favourite travel destination, but I will always return to Italy if I can. That said, my favourite destinations are more about the memories I made there with friends and family. Santorini was a stand out — I have been a few times, including as a young backpacker when it was much quieter. Now it is a favourite because when we went with the kids, they were just so blown away, and their joy added to our joy.

I’ve also got so many favourite travel memories — one we were laughing about the other day involved a family trip to Sicily a couple of years ago. My husband had a big birthday looming, and although he is an amazing chooser of presents, he is so hard to buy for. So when he walked past a little art gallery, stopped and said how much he liked a painting in the window, I thought, aha! My daughter and I then went to great, secret lengths to go back to the gallery, try to set up the purchase and delivery details with the owner and her Nonna, who could speak no English. We felt so chuffed when it arrived, and on his birthday, we whipped it out as a big surprise. Sadly he had no memory of it! It was made worse by the fact that I thought it was really ugly to start with, and it now hangs in our hallway to remind us of my failed grand gesture.

Utility

I always carry my iPhone, iPad to work on, and my Moleskine notebook. I write everything in the notebook, and use an iPad with a keyboard case instead of a laptop, since I travel so much between Auckland and Wellington.

When it comes to travel, I get really into packing the perfect mix of luggage, clothes and essentials. I love a list! Part of the fun of looking forward to a trip is thinking about what to take and how to pack. So I make a list as soon as I book something, and then just add or take away from it right up to the day I pack. I also do it because I am very forgetful, so unless I write something down when I think of it, it just goes out of my head.

I really love that feeling that I have packed the perfect wardrobe in the perfect luggage. I love to take carry-on only wherever I go — not only so I don’t have to wait at the luggage carousel but also because you feel in control, knowing that no matter what happens you have everything to hand. I think I have nailed the perfect luggage combo, but I'm still working on the perfect travel capsule wardrobe!

When I travel, I will take my Claudia Tote as carry-on luggage, with an Emily Pouch for toiletries. I will take my Braidy Bag or Ch’lita Bag for everyday, with an Adrian Envelope for the family passports and docs, my Frank Cardholder for cards, and a fold up, zipped nylon tote to use on the beach, for shopping and extra luggage on the way home. I am well equipped! ( 3 )

Recommendations

I really believe in not sweating the small stuff, and also about not letting other people’s demands drive your agenda. So when people are clamouring for your time, energy or focus, just think whether it is really something that is important to you or just important to them, and prioritise accordingly. I am such a procrastinator, but I find a lot of things on your plate just disappear or become unimportant if you leave them for a while…

To someone wanting to get into the media industry, I’d say — DO IT! I can never think of anything I would rather do. It is an incredible industry, with lots of changes, but you have the opportunity to be exposed to people in all walks of life, from the leaders of countries to ordinary people doing extraordinary things. You get access to events, people and places that most people never could. It is endlessly fascinating and rewarding. And there are so many times I could quote where a good story has really changed someone’s life for the better. If I had my time again, I would do it all the same. Though I would probably pay more attention to my shorthand classes in journalism school.

[1] An accomplished journalist, Sinead is devoted to telling people’s stories. She believes that “great journalism is not about the journalist, it is about the subject”, which is also a central tenant of Club Yu Mei.

[2] On business, Sinead points out that Stuff has recently become a B Corp, achieving this through their focus on the triple bottom line — people, planet, and profit. Yu Mei is also currently completing its B Corp Certification.

[3] Sinead's Art of Packing skills are exemplary, you can learn more about our Art of Packing here.

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