The CEO Magazine: Tell us about Red Energy and what you do.

Iain Graham: Red Energy is an energy retailer owned by Snowy Hydro Ltd. Following the purchase of Lumo Energy in 2014 we have become the fourth biggest energy retailer in the national electricity market generating in excess of $1.5 billion in revenue from over 1 million customers.

From the day we set up for business 11 years ago, our goal has always been to provide excellent customer service and high employee engagement. Achieving those goals has been key to our success.

I am CEO of Snowy Hydro’s Retail group. I look after 1000 staff across the Red Energy and Lumo businesses and my goal as CEO is to empower our people to have the courage to make decisions and challenge the traditional way of doing things by taking ownership of problems and looking for better ways of achieving our vision.

What does it take to be successful in your role?

To be a successful leader I believe you have to have a strong vision for the future, to be able to communicate that vision to a wide variety of stakeholders and staff and then a have an unwavering purpose to drive it to completion.

Things seldom go perfectly to plan, so it’s very important to clearly define success so that day-to-day decisions can be assessed based on how they will impact the end goal and whether they will contribute to achieving that success. Every single person plays a part here, and so they need to know with certainty how the part they play contributes to the end goal.

I've always had a strong drive to make things better.

I've been pretty blessed in my role by the talent and commitment of the team of people around me, many of whom have been with Red from the very beginning.

We work hard, but along the way there has usually been the opportunity to make it fun too.

What is your advice to others wanting to take the same journey?

Be the best that you can be – it will always be better than a second rate copy of someone else. There will be people in your life that you respect, who have great wisdom. Be receptive to their advice and guidance. Humbly receive the message and don't get too hung up on the messenger or the delivery. Some of the most important advice I have received in my professional and personal life I haven't particularly enjoyed hearing, but right or wrong I have appreciated the courage it took for people to tell me and I know they meant the best for me.

At the end of the day the decisions are up to you. Don’t be frightened of taking risks and failing. To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles – the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly, who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst fails while daring greatly.

What has been a key challenge and how have you overcome this?

When we started Red Energy 11 years ago we had no name—just eight staff and no customers. Our goal was to turn a profit in three years. Those early days were a huge challenge. It was vitally important that we maintained the loyalty of investors and of staff, that I was transparent and honest in my role as CEO, and that I was able to achieve and fulfil the promises that I made. Again success hinged on having a very clear vision and business plan. On this basis, our shareholders made some long term commitments at that time too and this enabled us to be courageous, knowing that they would also fulfil the promises they had made.

Who helped you get to this position?

Interestingly it was a major restructure that helped pave my way to this role. I had won an award in New Zealand for my work and ironically was demoted to a lesser role the very next day. Sometimes really positive things come from what initially may appear to be a setback. I was working for the third ranked company on the New Zealand stock exchange and in my new role I was able to become involved in other aspects of the business, including being seconded to acting CFO for 9 months – that in particular provided me with a great foundation for the role of CEO. I have been fortunate throughout my career to have been mentored by people who have embraced my eccentricities and values and been encouraging of a different way of thinking.

What does it mean to be a finalist in the Executive of the Year awards?

Being in the finals has given our company a profile it’s not had before. We’ve deliberately flown under the radar, but it’s an honour to be included as a finalist and for my part I feel it is far more a recognition of a large number of staff whose talent and loyalty have all contributed to the success of our retail business.