A True Leader Leaves the Team
After dedicating the past 35 years to Northland DHB, Neil Beney retires from his role as general manager, Medical and Elder Services and acting chief operating officer this week.
At his farewell last Friday, an endless stream of colleagues both former and current took the opportunity to speak about how Neil's calm nature, kindness, sense of humour and most importantly, mana made him an exemplary leader. His ability to disagree while remaining decent was appreciated by those who have worked for and alongside him during his long career. And he will be greatly missed.
Neil qualified as a Physiotherapist in England in the early eighties. He worked at Westminster, St Bartholomew, St Leonard's and Hackney Hospitals where his clinical and management skills were recognised early on and he was quickly encouraged into more senior strategic roles.
Fortunately for us, Neil's wife Yvonne was from Mangawhai. So, in 1986, the couple and their son Jed relocated to New Zealand, and he began working for the Northland Area Health Board as a Staff Physiotherapist.
Over the next 35 years, both the organisation and Neil's positions underwent several name changes. Ten in fact for Neil. However, he managed to carry on working as a clinician with managerial responsibility up until five years ago, when he focused on his general manager position.
During his farewell speech, he explained that management in the earlier days was all about structures and departments and focused on the professional groups. In contrast, our DHB's current focus is on outcomes for our people, then strategy, with the last priority structure.
He said one of the biggest surprises and richest parts of his career was when he was asked to manage Te Poutokomanawa after a period of turmoil.
This role was life-changing for him, and he said he went through a profound period of learning and immersion.
"Working with our kaumātua, kuia, kaunihera and takawaenga was an honour and a privilege, and I am very grateful to them for the kindness, patience and aroha they showed me."
Thanks to their support, time and sharing of wisdom, he said he began to understand tikanga and had his eyes opened to the struggle.
Neil worked closely with kaumātua and cultural advisor, Te Ihi Tito who told him always to tell the truth, so you never have to remember what you said. Something he thought was useful for everyone to remember.
Te Ihi said Neil was able to lead their team because he gave them respect. And that earned their trust.
Former takawaenga and current kaunihera member, Aggie Christianson agreed. She said Neil was a wonderful support to Māori and his kindness to people is what mattered.
"It's not about the colour of your skin. It's about who you are and how you treat people."
Another surprising role for Neil was leading the implementation of the DHB's initial strategic Information Service transformation. He said it was quite daunting because he was and remains 'technically challenged'. Thankfully, the IT Team and health Alliance worked hard to patiently educate and help him deliver several significant projects during that time.
Neil feels privileged to have worked both as a clinician with patients and as a manager, and he said he owes his successes to the teams he has been a part of.
"I have been fortunate to have worked with very talented, committed and hard-working people. In this business, we are surrounded by leaders and the role of a manager as part of a team is incredibly satisfying."
One of his goals for his farewell was to acknowledge all those people and teams he had worked with during his career with Northland DHB. This was a long list, but ever the gentleman, Neil managed to mention everyone, including chief executive, Dr Nick Chamberlain, for giving him plenty of opportunities and challenges.
"Some of which have been frankly just crappy jobs! You never have to learn to read Nick, he wears his heart on his sleeve, wants everything half the price and at twice the speed, and he is a fearless and unwavering advocate for Northland, for which we are all very grateful."
Aside from their work together at Northland DHB, Neil and Nick also worked for the Northland rugby team as their physiotherapist and doctor (respectively).
Nick told the crowd that Neil is the sort of person you want to have as a friend because he's a really, good man. He noted Neil's original job references from London still reflect the type of man he is today - 'reliable, pleasant, tactful and diplomatic - all with a sense of humour'.
Nick thanked him for all his work over the years, including being a key member of our COVID-19 Incident Management Team, where he often filled in as an Incident controller.
He said he was reluctant to let Neil retire and tried to get him to stay on in a part-time position but understands that it is time for Neil to put his family first and wished him well for the future.
There will be no resting on his laurels once he retires as he has a list of projects around the house that will take him two years to complete – then his wife Yvonne has another waiting list for him. Hopefully, though he will get a lot of opportunities to go fishing, do some work with the Bream Head Conservation Trust and spend that quality time with the most important team in his life - his family.