Date posted: 28/08/2018 5 min read

Secrets of a top CFO

New Zealand’s CFO of the year, Jennifer Whooley, has built her career in commercial property.

In Brief

  • Jennifer Whooley is the first woman to be named Chief Financial Officer of the Year in New Zealand.
  • Whooley has forged a career in property and is now CFO at Stride Property and Stride Investment Management.
  • Her role has evolved to the point where she now oversees functions including marketing and human resources.

By Carolyn Boyd

New Zealand’s CFO of the Year, Jennifer Whooley, has a surprising revelation. Her greatest role model wasn’t a corporate high-flier or a revered mentor. It was her mum. 

“She was an inspiration,” says Whooley, who is one of only four female chief financial officers among the New Zealand Stock Exchange’s 50 largest companies. “She smashed through some glass ceilings in her time.”

Whooley knows firsthand about making her own mark – she is the only woman CFO in the New Zealand property sector, a notoriously male-dominated industry. And this year she was named EY Chief Financial Officer of the Year – the first woman to win the NZ accolade.

A passion for property 

Whooley has spent her entire career in commercial property. “I love property,” she says. “Every property is different, whether it’s the building itself or whether it’s the management involved around it or the tech structure. You’re always learning … and growing and developing constantly because things are changing.”

Whooley was raised in a household of three girls. Her parents instilled in their daughters from day one that girls can do anything. While her mum was making headway in her social welfare career, it was Whooley’s dad – a project manager for a construction company – who planted the seed that property could be the industry for her. 

Straight out of university, Whooley joined Fletcher Property and worked her way up to chief accountant. In 2002, she moved to her current employer, which is now known as Stride Property Group.

Whooley has been involved in two listings of the business and, in recent years, a rebranding. It has also stretched her into different roles, including company secretary and oversight of human resources in a business with 100 people over seven sites. She valued the chance to learn, adapt and move outside her comfort zone into fields such as marketing.

I love property … You’re always learning. Every property is different; whether it’s the building itself or whether it’s the management involved around it or the tech structure.
Jennifer Whooley  CFO, Stride Property Group 

“It was actually really exciting and quite different to work with agencies that were so creative,” she says. “It was important to get a brand that made it stand out from the rest of the property sector.”

The past decade has involved her in all aspects of the business, working with Stride’s CEO and board. 

Listing and leadership

The company was restructured over time from a series of syndicated businesses into a single entity that listed in 2010. Then in 2016, the company was split and re-listed as two entities using stapled securities: 

Stride Property and Stride Investment Management, with Whooley as CFO of both. Stride Investment Management manages three property funds with NZ$2.1 billion worth of assets, while Stride Property owns a range of properties such as Bunnings Warehouse facilities.

“This was a first for New Zealand. I know a stapled entity is more common in Australia, but it’s the first one for us in New Zealand.” Investors in stapled securities become shareholders of both companies and must also sell their shares in both businesses at the same time, to the same purchaser. 

Whooley took the lead in devising the structure. That involved working closely with regulators and the company’s advisers.

With such a role, it’s no wonder that Whooley loves to cut off from city life with her husband and 17-year-old son. Her favourite things are to go off-road in the family’s four-wheel-drive and seek out bush tracks to explore on foot. 

Inspiring young women

Whooley is also passionate about encouraging young women into executive roles. Last year she and 29 other women leaders in NZ organised a conference to give women from 18 to 25 years of age greater exposure to female leaders. The idea was to inspire young women on the cusp of their careers. 

“It was sold out. Their enthusiasm to engage with us and connect with other young women in the room was awesome,” says Whooley, who became involved in the project through the Global Women’s Breakthrough Leaders Program. 

While the number of women executives in New Zealand’s top companies remains low (only one in five executives of NZX-50 companies is female), the next crop may change things.

“They’re a lot more confident,” says Whooley. 

Choosing the right employer and establishing a strong support network – both at work and at home through family and friends – is important for young women, says Whooley. “I’ve had great mentors throughout my career. I’ve been very fortunate to work for really great CEOs and also have the support of my board,” she says.

Carolyn Boyd is a business journalist and has an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. 

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