Who is IT NZ: Jenny Sutton

Jenny Sutton is involved in an awful lot of varied activities. From law, angel, early stage and mainstream investing, patronage of the arts, mentoring, global thought leadership and her support of certain charities, Jenny has got experience across a range of sectors.

Who is IT NZ is a feature of What is IT NZ that we talked about in an earlier post. We’ll meet you for coffee, ask you a version of the Proust Questionnaire and just hang out and have a nice time. Afterwards you introduce us to someone else so the chain keeps going.

What is your business

I’m involved in a number of areas – some specific to the tech area:  venture investor, backer of the arts and filmmakers, mentor, and in my past life I’ve been a senior partner in a large law firm, lead counsel in major NZ and international commercial cases, a regular speaker overseas, headed a national intellectual property team and been chair in a variety of governance and inquiry arenas including law and industry associations across a range of industries.

What’s your role?

In this context: Best described in two words – I enable – by seed investing, crystallising ideas, advocating, governing, and guiding.  Not necessarily all at once, and most often not in that order.  I’m often described as a strategic impact investor or philanthropist – but I tend to opt for the descriptor “venture investor”.

I have a fairly clear vision (my internal radar) which guides the ventures I’ll back – they do need to be game-changing and have global reach. Impact/purpose is important to me, so my areas of interest go beyond what many early stage investors focus on.

I’ve invested at an early stage in around 30 NZ tech and impact ventures  (more if you include indirect investments) – most if not all are strong and dynamic examples of NZ innovation pushing boundaries and punching above its weight. (A selection of the ventures is under the Greenlight Ventures NZ tab on my website: https://www.jevesinc.com/portfolio—greenlight-ventures-nz.html ).

A bit of a backstory: My original interest in the tech area started at Canterbury University in the mid 1980’s when I wrote an honours thesis on copyright protection of computer software. (This reminds me of how far we have come since then – I’m young(ish) but this was at a time when law students didn’t have computers or access to the internet and no intellectual property course had been available at the University.  All the research material from the US – my main source – was sent to the University library by post!)  It intrigues me that the debate on the copyright protection of computer software continues – but I leave that to others.  As a partner I was an early adopter and advocate of US tech to assist litigation document management and fronted the development of the Safetrac compliance/governance platform in NZ in the mid 1990s – it was slightly before its time then.

What is your two sentence elevator pitch?

My elevator pitch now is usually for those I back – not for what I do.

NZ is a tremendous innovation pod which encourages and nurtures independent thinking – we do it well. I back ventures and ideas which will have global reach and significant impact – this could be anything from a film to be a lightning rod for women in leadership to deep tech ventures being developed by innovative scientists in Auckland.

What’s your favourite virtue?

Very hard to identify one virtue I like to see in people. You could say I’m a believer in balanced virtues!

Back to the question:  Being able to see two viewpoints. I think if people can see two sides they are able to find solutions, have greater empathy, and really test themselves (and their venture or what they are doing). It has at its heart –  curiosity, which is a fabulous virtue for anyone to have and it is the one trait most leaders (and children!) have.

What do you look for in a friend?

Probably what I look for or hope to find in most people: Trustworthy, authentic, lateral thinker and a sense of humour.

What’s your dominant characteristic?

Now that is a tough one. In one word? I will give you a few words.  Curious – and solution focussed.

What’s your biggest flaw?


What’s your favourite occupation?

There are so many. I tend to think of how people “contribute” or “participate” or “lead” rather than “occupation”. People’s roles in future will be more flexible and self-curated – and I’m probably a living example of that. I see that flexibility as a great advantage – and it has only been able to happen because of the developments in technology and the normalisation of those developments.

As to specific roles, I’ve been fairly fortunate with the roles I’ve had and what I do now.  What I’ve enjoyed the most is having had insight into many different industries and sectors and the people I’ve met along the way.

What’s your idea of happiness?

Always being curious/learning.

What’s your idea of misery?

Loss of the ability to communicate.

If you weren’t you, who would you like to be?

I’ve met some amazing people over the years in all sorts of contexts – jazz musicians are exceptionally creative, as are artists, innovators and scientists and I never like to put one person above others, but to me strength of character is very important especially when people are tested by what life might throw at them.

I have great admiration for the strength of character shown by Terry Waite over the years – met him when I was young at a time when I was deciding what I would study and later. (I met him first when he was a special envoy).

Where do you wish you could live?

I’ve enjoyed time and work in many places – but if I had to choose somewhere then Geneva would be one of the places on the list.

What’s your favourite colour and flower?

Colour – Aqua (incredibly energising and clear).

Flower – Peony – as stunning as a rose, but without the thorns.

I suspect these choices if combined would baffle the best of florists!

Who’s your favourite character in fiction?

Hard to pick one.  Pai (Kahu Paikea Apirana) from Whalerider.

What’s your favourite swear word?

I might plead the fifth on this one. This is tricky. I’m not against swearing, but I don’t tend to in public unless there is very good cause.  I was brought up in a highly religious environment – my father was a bishop.  I’m not a religious person and I do speak up so I’ll use certain strongly worded phrases,  but I don’t tend to encourage swearing so I can’t give you a favourite swear word.

If you’d like to take part in Who is IT NZ, fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch.


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