John Larkindale has had one of the most varied and rewarding careers it’s possible to have - and all within one Government agency.
Not bad for someone who was expected to become a chemist and then take over the family business manufacturing adhesives and cleansers for the dairy industry.
Half way through his PHD, John realised he didn’t want “to know more and more about less and less” and instead wanted to learn and experience more of the world — so finished his PhD (in record time) and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the age of 25.
That was in 1972 and he retired in 2011 after a career that took him abroad on diplomatic missions to Vienna, Washington, Tokelau, Beijing, London, Moscow and Canberra, and into senior leadership roles back home. He was responsible for organising the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Auckland in 1995, and was appointed Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2002.
John says the appeal of MFAT as a 25-year-old was the opportunity to experience different environments, cultures and communities, while always being able to call New Zealand home. And that appeal continued through his nearly 40 year career.
Over the years he was invited to apply for jobs in other organisations but, even for someone with a passion for learning and new challenges, John says his career inside MFAT offered all the variety and opportunity he needed.
“One of the advantages is you have one employer throughout your life, but every three or so years you change jobs and careers completely. I’ve been the head of the capital property management section, managing assets then valued at around three quarters of a billion dollars, head of the IT section, I ran the CHOGM meeting, and had a whole bunch of diplomatic assignments. It’s like changing jobs but with the security of the same employer and the enjoyment of having the same pretty smart colleagues around you.”
John says his career in the public sector has never been something he’s taken for granted.
“You have the obvious privilege in MFAT of representing New Zealand overseas, which is something not a lot of people have, the privilege of meeting people you would never have met in other circumstances, and of working in other societies and meeting people and learning about them and what makes them tick.
“It comes with an enormous responsibility to do it properly, to convey the government of the day’s views on things and, as you get more senior, you have responsibilities to your staff. Because you have staff who are overseas with their families, you also have responsibility for their families, things like whether they have the right education opportunities for their kids, and their health and safety. And in international emergencies, you’re responsible for all New Zealanders who are there at the time as well.”
John has become a strong advocate for the public sector, and that led him in 2012 to accept a nomination onto the board of IPANZ.
“I joined IPANZ because I believe very strongly that the fundamental principles underpinning our system of government, the role of the public sector in particular, is an under-appreciated tāonga and needs to be promoted and advocated for.”
“You have to have an organisation that has those principles at its heart and keeps the system honest.”
Eight years later, including four years as Chair, he continues to serve on the IPANZ board — something he also sees as an honour and opportunity to continue to contribute to a strong, high performing public sector, and better outcomes for public servants and for New Zealanders.
And he also continues to travel the world and experience new places and people - though through obvious necessity 2020 will be the first year since 1968 that he hasn’t left New Zealand’s shores.