A critical-thinking springboard

Since leaving Wellington, alumnus Christopher Wright has had 22 separate addresses across 10 cities, six countries and three continents.

Man in suit with architecture behind

He has been an intelligence officer, a diplomat, an international sales and marketing director, a company president and is now the global head of ethics and compliance for a Swiss multinational.

As well as that he has published a novel, sold a series of paintings for charity, is married with two children and is the happy owner of two Welsh Corgis.

Christopher Wright graduated in 1980 with a philosophy degree and still remembers when the programme was run out of a two-storey weatherboard house on Kelburn Parade.

“The department didn’t have an institutional air but was rather homey in an other-worldly kind of way. Sometimes, the students were outnumbered by the staff.  But it was here I learned to think, which after all is what both university and philosophy is all about.”

“It was intense, stimulating and built a foundation in critical thinking that I still draw from today,” he says, recalling in particular Professor George Hughes and Professor Max Cresswell as having had an influence.

Christopher was also fortunate to study under Sir Lloyd Geering, founder and emeritus professor of the University’s religious studies programme and one of New Zealand’s most influential thinkers and commentators on religion and “a man born to challenge one’s assumptions,” Christopher says.

It’s been a long and varied career path for Christopher, one which he could not have predicted when he left the University with no set path.

“I didn’t have any plans, so I applied for and won a Ministry of External Affairs (now known as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) exchange scholarship to China. That led to a two-year sojourn in the People’s Republic of China, mastering, to a degree, Chinese language and opened up a world of opportunity.”

With a career that has spanned countries, continents, industries and sectors, it’s no surprise there have been many career highlights, including flying over disputed waters in the South China Sea while serving in the Royal Australian Air Force, managing aircraft sales campaigns in China, heading the Australian Trade and Investment Commission in China, and going underground in a Shenhua longwall coal mine in Inner Mongolia while leading a Swedish multinational.

Christopher was invited to lead the compliance department of the LafargeHolcim group and is currently based in Zurich. The group has a global footprint with more than 2,000 sites in 72 countries and a workforce of over 70,000.

He has led multi-million-dollar sales campaigns, run businesses with hundreds of employees, and designed and implemented ethical business programmes across multiple geographies.

The company faces many challenges in the environmental, social and governance aspects of sustainable business, and is leading the way in much of this.  “It is rewarding to be part of the changes occurring in this space,” he says.

Reflecting on his time at the University, Christopher says his studies have helped his career.

“I learned the value of questioning my assumptions, on ascertaining facts from opinion and working through valid argument. Later I learned that life is not consistent and cannot be contained in a closed, logical system. This tempers the way I interact with people. I base everything on these two principles”.

Finally, Christopher has some thoughts for current students.

“From the windows of the library you can see the world. Take hold of the opportunities you have while at University; and in a year’s time, who knows where you will be.”