Whether it’s over the supermarket counter, or across the basketball court, Paul Blackwell’s powerful, grounded leadership has made a significant difference to thousands of New Zealanders.
It is the mantra of Paul and his wife Liz to make a difference – in the lives of their staff, their community and church, to sick children and to young basketball players across the country.
Paul is regarded as one of New Zealand’s most extraordinary and effective business leaders, in one of the country’s toughest and largest multi-billion dollar companies, Foodstuffs. Famous for building winning cultures, he is also revered as inspirational leader in the wider community.
Although humble and media-shy, Paul’s most public achievement has come through his relationship with the New Zealand Breakers professional basketball team, who have dominated the Australian Basketball League through the ongoing financial and personal investment from the Blackwell’s.
Whatever he is involved in, Paul applies a common thread of strong values, a sense of family, a commitment to “walking the talk” and a desire to constantly learn and improve. Paul generously gives his time, insight, support and energy to countless causes, and strongly believes in taking people with him.
The eldest of three boys, Paul grew up in Auckland, attending St Peters College. In his first job, with the Farmers Trading Co, he soon became the youngest “Store Manager of the Year”. In 1987, he bought a bookshop in Matamata, where he worked alongside his wife-to-be Liz. They have since raised four children and continue to work together in many fields.
The couple made their first foray into supermarkets in 1993, buying a New World store, and five years later moved to Auckland to open and operate Albany Pak’nSave. It quickly became New Zealand’s largest and busiest supermarket, and after 18 years of consistent performance, the Blackwell’s supermarket was voted Store of the Year in 2016.
Paul became a director of parent company Foodstuffs in 2010, and played a critical leadership role in the complex merger of Foodstuffs entities. During difficult negotiations, Paul provided the stability and leadership – and did “the hard yards” – to bring affected store owners together. The resulting merger allowed the company to accelerate growth and become more competitive.
He has been instrumental in driving the young talent selection process which supports and mentors young people from checkout to store ownership. He is also renowned for maintaining personal contact with his own staff, making them feel valued and involved, and has garnered respect for “living in other people’s shoes” – representing his customers and understanding their wants and needs.
Paul and Liz are also major shareholders in award-winning New Zealand book publisher, PQ Blackwell, which publishes the M.I.L.K. humanity series and Nelson Mandela biographies.
In a mentoring role, Paul helps to guide managers, CEOs, grocers and even professional basketball players.
The Blackwell’s first became involved with the Breakers basketball franchise in 2003, buying corporate season passes for their family. They soon became sponsors of the club, and in 2005 made the momentous decision to assume full ownership and keep the struggling franchise afloat.
They wanted to make a difference to the community, strongly believing young people need the kind of positive role models provided by a great basketball team.
The Blackwell’s brought a new energy, new principles and a new philosophy to the club, introducing strong values, a support network for players and their famous “No Dickheads” recruitment rule. From there, the Breakers – the only team outside Australia in the National Basketball League – rose to become four-time champions between 2011 and 2015, and became New Zealand’s most successful sporting franchise.
The couple believe in creating an environment where people can grow and have helped to establish the club’s reputation for family values, success and professionalism.
It doesn’t end at the top echelon of the game. Paul also devotes time and money to junior basketball – helping to develop thousands of kids through academies and camps, and helping promising young players build contacts with American universities.
The Blackwell’s also have a hands-on involvement in many community and health organisations – like Starship Hospital and Heart Kids – and with their church. Their motivation is to influence a community for good, “whether it be school, work, the area where you live or all of New Zealand,” Paul says. “Through actions first, then words.”
The Sir Peter Blake Trust congratulates Paul Blackwell, who epitomises all that a Blake Leader should be.
Photo Credit: Brendon O’Hagan