The Most Interesting Boss in New Zealand, Steve White of Stonyridge Vineyard, Shares Teaching Yoga to Staff and More

3 min read
Mar 18, 2012

Steve White Stonyridge VineyardSteve White started Stonyridge Vineyard in 1981 with the inspiration to recreate the Mediterranean lifestyle that he loved in his home country of New Zealand. Stonyridge Vineyard now employs 35 people, and Steve White describes it as a full agriculture, restaurant, export, and government compliance operation.

Steve White maintains a very casual, family-like attitude at Stonyridge Vineyard. Over a delicious lunch, he shared the following insights on people management:

*Performance Reviews as a No-Win Situation - Steve thinks that the whole annual review process needs to be revamped. In its current state, it creates too much confrontation. It breeds an expectation in the staff for a raise, and it's extremely time-consuming.

Steve White Stonyridge Vineyard

*Walk Softly and Carry No Stick - In the United States, the typical employment agreement is based on at-will employment. Basically both the employer and employment can leave the agreement with or without cause. Steve likens this to providing performance reviews in the US by walking softly yet carrying a big stick.

But in New Zealand, it would be illegal to fire an employee in a similar fashion. For example, employees have been caught on camera stealing and still successfully sued their employers for being dismissed. The picture he painted for me is, "imagine a underperforming employee. If you give him a harsh review. He'll just be more disgruntled and disruptive with very little recourse for the employer." This is a major driving force for why performance reviews are much more challenging to conduct in a more regulated workforce environment.

*Strong Bonus System - Steve has implemented a robust bonus system at Stonyridge Vineyard. He'd prefer to abandon the review system for a transparent bonus system based on what value the individual brings into the business.

Steve White Stonyridge Vineyard*Teach Your Staff Yoga - Steve is a yoga instructor as well and began providing free yoga classes to his staff three years ago. His eyes lit up during the interview when he began describing the massively positive effects teaching yoga has had on the company.

As a yoga instructor, it's about service to his students as individuals. The bond between the yoga instructor and student is very caring and creates enormous loyalty. The staff love it, and Steve claims yoga solves all the problems. In fact, even if someone has to leave Stonyridge Vineyard for a higher paying job that they can't match, the person will provide extra notice to help Steve out.

*Conclusion - Borrowing a line from the Dos Equis beer commercials, Steve White must be "the most interesting man in New Zealand." But instead of a lager, he'll be hoisting up a glass of fine Stonyridge Vineyard wine. To counter all the negative outcomes of performance reviews, he's instituted a strong bonus system and teaches his staff yoga along with being an accomplished sailor.

I was so intrigued after he shared that he created more loyalty from his staff by teaching them yoga. So I curiously asked, "so what's next?" I was hoping to be able to learn and share the next big people management trend. Steve smiled and replied "death."


*Follow @TINYhr on Twitter to get the latest insights and best practices from entrepreneurs as David continues his travels and interviews around-the-world.

Steve White Teaching Yoga

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