Leadership is Personal

Posted on 13 March 2019 by Geoff Lorigan

Author: Geoff Lorigan

Chris Nassenstein (SLP 24), shared his experience of Millbrook, the impact and insights it gave him and what he is up to now. Chris has kindly given me permission to share his story… 


“I have very good memories of that week, not only the individual courses and certainly the environment was awesome, but the sharing of experiences, the connections with other people, yes and the ceremonial parts as well. One of the many things I took away from there and something I shared with many of my people afterwards would perhaps be a surprise to you (or maybe not). There were people of all walks of life at the course, some young and up and coming managers, some older people like me (I was 60 at that time) and some very senior people, very high up the ladder of hierarchy. But you know what? At Millbrook we were all the same: I saw some of these young managers do better and acting more mature than some of the more senior people there, I saw a very senior person, who had achieved much in his career, absolutely in tears at one emotional stage of the program (which was not a negative thing, he showed his humanity and his courage to expose himself as a human being). What it showed is that no matter where we are in life, rich, poor, labourers, government ministers, military generals, senior managers, junior managers: in the end we are all the same: you don’t have to have superior intelligence or a lot of money or other superior capabilities that are given us from birth: we can all get “up there” as leaders.


After Millbrook, I spent three more years at Air New Zealand and was then approached by Qantas to “clean up” their Engineering Division. Which we did, but that’s a whole other story. I retired July last year. I think that I can safely say that I learned more in the past 10 years until my retirement than in all my career before that. But again, another story.


I’m now involved with something quite different; I’m helping an old priest, fr. Joseph Maier, who has done some amazing things in his lifetime, reorganise an orphanage in Bangkok, Thailand. It involves setting up a new Board of Directors, a new management team and finding him a successor. His Mercy Centre has educated more than 72,000 kids living in poverty in the slums of Bangkok, it now operates 30+ schools and cares for more than a hundred orphans and children living with AIDS. And guess what their biggest problem is? Leadership. Why is it so difficult to find good leadership in NGO’s? I guess one problem is a lack of funds, so the salaries are low and nobody wants to work for peanuts. Finding good leaders is also a challenge. Another thing might be that very few people want to work in a crime-ridden slum, with drug gangs, prostitution and HIV/AIDS. But once you’re involved with some of the kids there (we sponsor 4) there is no going back, you’re hooked. So we’re going back on Thursday for a couple of months. Finding leaders, and trying to train them. Or just good people and making leaders out of them. I wish I could find the money to send at least one of them to Millbrook, but Mercy needs that money to feed the kids and Millbrook would be a luxury that it could ill afford.


But perhaps, one day. I do have a candidate, a lady who heads up our AIDS program at Mercy Centre. She’s a slum kid herself, but somebody discovered her, educated her in the UK and she is now one of our senior leaders, incredibly articulate and motivated, and with the right leadership training she could one day take over from Joe. She’s an amazing person.”