Sir Michael Fowler and Dr Vaughan Smith receive Honours Ties

22 Jul 2021

A distinguished architect, artist and politician, and a technology and global impact specialist and former vice-president at Facebook were honoured in absentia with Senior Honours Ties at a recent College assembly.

Old Boys Sir Michael Fowler (5193) and Dr Vaughan Smith (10040) were both remarkable and worthy recipients of the ties, Angus Dysart-Paul, Vice-president of the CCOBA, told the school.

Sir Michael, now 91, was represented by words from his son, Mark Fowler, himself an Old Boy. His dissertation was read by Deputy Head Boy Jamie Barr.

Sir Michael loved gymnastics at College and won four boxing blues. He also had a passion for drama, art and design, which led him to architecture, graduating from Auckland University and later completing a Master of Architecture. He wrote and illustrated several books, spent many weekends painting in watercolours “to help fund us three kids through school” and won three three-year contiguous terms as Mayor of Wellington from 1974-1983. His impact on that city is widely regarded as being transformational and of great benefit to the livability of Wellington. He was knighted in June 1981, and the Sir Michael Fowler Centre is named after him. His championing of significant social and urban change courted political controversy, and his terms of office were frequently punctuated by opposition on various issues.

Mark Fowler said his father “demonstrated laser focus on making a difference and leading change for the better, be it in design, politics, or even just making sure every family holiday was a great new adventure”.

He had seen Christ’s College as a fantastic opportunity, both for himself and, similarly, for his son.

“When he farewelled me at the College gates for my first year of boarding in 1970, he knelt down, held me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said something like: ‘Now is your chance to really go for it. College is a fantastic opportunity. Not many people get such a chance. Grab the next few years hard. Learn everything you can. Join every club. Go on every adventure. Be the best you can. Life will reward you for the energy you put in now. It’s going to be fantastic.’ Wow, that was a pep talk.”

Dr Vaughan Smith, the second recipient of an Honours Tie, sent his response from the United States, and thanked College for the role it played in his development as a leader.

“Christ’s College gave me confidence that I could succeed at whatever I tried. As I finished my PhD in Electrical Engineering, I took my first job in investment banking, despite knowing little about finance, economics and strategy. When I wasn’t doing well after my first year, I didn’t give up. I had the confidence to work harder and become a star.”

He stepped into increasingly demanding roles, first at Telecom and then as he grew more excited about the internet, in Silicon Valley.

“I started my Silicon Valley journey as CEO of a start-up called LiquidWit.”

Eight months later, he closed it, but had the confidence to cold call the CEO of eBay who gave him a job, and so he began building a strong network in Silicon Valley.

“The lesson I hope you take away, since it’s the most important one I left Christ’s College with, is go after what you want, don’t be afraid to fail, and you’ll probably be surprised by what you can achieve.”

Dr Smith also suggested the boys surround themselves with “the smartest and best people you can find”.

Subsequently working at Facebook and eBay in Silicon Valley had been another step up, surrounded by some of the smartest and best in the world.

“I recommend trying to get yourself on the best team tackling the biggest problems you can find.”