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Chris Pope of Air New Zealand: Church organiser to ICT leader

Divina Paredes | Dec. 20, 2013
"You need to know how to lead people and communicate effectively…technical skills will only get you so far," says Chris Pope, PMO manager at Air New Zealand.

Chris Pope, PMO manager, Group IT at Air New Zealand, says his career ascent has been "generally in an upward direction", but it was not like climbing a ladder. It was, he smiles, more like a jungle gym, "with some interesting twists and turns".

Pope moved to New Zealand with his Kiwi wife after establishing a career in project management in the United States. But it was his background outside technology, specifically the communication and people skills, that got him into the information technology arena.

Pope completed a BA in communication at the University of Central Florida and a Masters in Theology and Christian ministry at the Regent University in the US.

"I found that I had a knack for organising things," he says when he started working in various local churches in Florida as volunteer and organiser. He also honed his people skills during this time.

"I learned small group facilitation while leading Bible studies with teenagers. I learned the basics of matrix management by leading volunteers — just like your project team, you must motivate apart from line-management authority. In ministry I developed my public speaking skills and style that I use when speaking at conferences and training sessions to this day."

Summer job in Cairo leads to IT career
In high school, he was computer literate enough to get into IT-related jobs. "But I would not tag myself a techie," says Pope.

Pope spent summers with his parents at the US embassy in Cairo. His father was then with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), working with the Egyptian government on agricultural forecasting and statistical analysis. Because of his ability to navigate around a spreadsheet, he was hired as 'computer operator' with USAID's summer hire programme. "This was nice to put on my CV," says Pope.

His first big break into IT was in 1997. As a result of the Telecommunications Act in the United States, internet related companies were booming, and a national ISP bought a local ISP, the Epoch Networks in Irvine, California, that had a local dial-up technical support team.

Pope joined that team as operations supervisor for the customer care centre. "Up until that time, technical support consisted of five techies in a room debating who the better captain of the Starship Enterprise was, comparing Star Wars action figures, and getting very annoyed at the non-technical people who invaded their internet and ask them for help!"

'Soft skills'
The newly hired director had a mandate to turn around "technical support" into a professional "customer care" centre and bring a level of professionalism and customer service that was required of a national provider.


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