A new CEO leading the way at Z

May 11, 2023

 Lindis Jones - CEO of Z Energy

When Lindis Jones returned home after a long day at work recently, his teenage son Henry asked, “What exactly do you do at your job, Dad?”

As CEO of Z Energy (Z), Lindis is tasked with leading Aotearoa New Zealand’s biggest fuel supplier while grappling with the “wickedly hard” question of how best to help Kiwis move towards a low carbon future. But when it came to answering 14-year-old Henry’s question, he turned to a simpler analogy.

“I suggested he think of his favourite school headmaster,” says Lindis, who took up the top job in March after Mike Bennetts’ departure. “A principal’s job is about making sure people are feeling comfortable at the school and doing their best work, and providing them with the odd nudge when they need it. And that’s pretty much what I do too.”

Although big shoes to fill, Lindis has stepped into Mike’s with confidence, clarity and a sense of privilege. Having worked alongside him for over a decade – most recently as the company’s CFO – Lindis is determined to build on the legacy created over the last 13 years, maintaining a culture where Z staff can thrive while navigating the business towards a vastly different future.

He describes his leadership style as calm and inclusive, insisting that the mark of a great leader is the quality of people around them. He points to legendary former All Black captain Richie McCaw as an example.

“The leadership he brought allowed others to be the best they could be, and you saw his skill in the performance of others,” Lindis explains. “At the same time, as a leader you’re ultimately accountable and you need the courage to stand away from the crowd. You need to be courageous, but humble.”

Two months into the role, Lindis is relishing every moment. “It’s full and fast, but I love it.” 

In many ways, his career to date has been preparing him for it. Lindis joined Shell straight out of university, having studied biochemistry and economics, working initially as a Chemist then spending time in Shell’s retail business. He later worked for the energy giant in Europe and Asia, before returning to Aotearoa and joining Z in 2010. His early days in retail provided valuable lessons.

“Petrol stations are extremely busy. You’re dealing with many thousands of customers a day, so you learn how businesses operate and how people operate,” says Lindis. “You have to really understand what customers want, how that changes, how to organise the staff and supply chains and pricing around that. They’re lessons I’ll never forget.”

He points to his strategy experience, particularly during the early days of Z, as being hugely formative – as well as his master’s degree in finance from London Business School.

Being a father makes him a better leader too, says Lindis, who lives in Wellington with his wife Jane, a partner in a law firm, and their children Caroline, 17, and Henry. 

“If I don’t do the right things by New Zealanders, I’m going to hear it from my family first,” he says, adding that having socially aware and highly reflective teenagers in the house certainly keeps him on his toes. While his children are passionate climate change advocates, Lindis points out they’ve also had to face the sometimes uncomfortable fact their dad works for a fossil fuel business.

“That’s a fundamental discussion to have with your kid because everyone wants to be proud of their parents, but they need parents to be proud of.”

So, are they proud of him and the work he does at Z?

“Absolutely they are. They can see what Z has done, and what Z is doing.”

Lindis says one of the most important things he brings to the top job is his “absolute commitment to being inclusive”. Whether that means helping new parents work flexibly, embracing diversity or supporting wellness initiatives, he encourages every one of Z’s staff to be themselves at work. 

“You’re a human before you’re an employee,” he says. “You need a healthy, generative culture where people feel comfortable being vulnerable and speaking up.”

While he admits there’s not much downtime as he sinks his teeth into the new role, Lindis relaxes by spending time with family and friends, or getting as far away from the city as possible. “Fishing, biking, tramping… I love doing anything to do with nature.”

Lindis has a strong personal commitment to sustainability – he sometimes cycles to work and recently purchased an EV – and being part of change is a huge driver for him in his new role.

“Just being good at selling hydrocarbons or fossil fuels isn’t good enough,” he says. “They’re at the centre of the biggest challenge the world faces. So absolutely we have to transition to a low carbon future, and there’s an opportunity to inspire others by how we do this.

“At the same time, there wouldn’t be a customer, motorist or household that would thank me at all for not running the current business well, that guaranteed safe supply of the current product. We have to do both, and it’s a wickedly hard problem. But why wouldn’t you want to be part of that? It’s a privilege to have the opportunity.”