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New chair strengthens Tompkins Wake’s diverse team as the firm positions itself for further growth

The appointment of a new chair at Tompkins Wake is strengthening its already diverse team as the firm positions itself for further growth.

(Joeli) Scott Ratuki (45) has taken over the reins as chair of the firm’s board from his predecessor Peter Fanning.

Born and bred in the Waikato, Scott is of Pacific Island descent as his father is Fijian. He joined Tompkins Wake in 2003 and has been a partner for nearly 13 years.

Leading the firm’s commercial property practice, Scott specialises in commercial property construction and development. He also has expertise in the syndication and securitisation of investments relating to commercial property. 

Scott also brings to the table significant governance experience. Based in Tompkins Wake’s Hamilton office, he is currently a trustee of Enrich+, the Waikato Regional Property Trust, Creative Waikato, Hamilton Live Music Trust and a management committee member of Waikato/BOP Magic Netball.

In the 19 years Scott has been with Tompkins Wake, he has seen the firm grow by more than 700% and expand its footprint across from the Waikato to Auckland and the Bay of Plenty.

While it is now one of the largest law firms in the country, Scott believes the secret to Tompkins Wake’s success has always been its quiet ambition and a culture of putting its people first.

“We're getting better at banging our own drum, but generally we've just humbly and quietly got on with the job,” he says. “We do need to keep telling our story, but we will always do it with a level of humility that makes it authentic.

“We’re quite a diverse team. That’s our strength and what fuels our culture. Everyone has their own unique perspective, including me. Our strength is that when we've decided we're paddling in a direction, we're all on board and we're all into it.

“We've got talented, smart people who are the best at what they do. It’s our culture and the calibre of our team and our clients that makes people want to work here. That’s what has really underpinned our growth - great people, great work and a great culture.”

Scott firmly believes there is always something new to learn and he’s adamant he wants to keep being challenged and inspired by the talented people coming through the ranks.

“At 45 years old, I still want to bring my A game. If I’m not being challenged, then you risk becoming complacent and that won't result in a good outcome for our clients or the firm.

“After more than 20 years practicing law, the people I work with, the work we do at Tompkins Wake and the clients I'm associated with still spin my wheels and make me want to get out of bed in the morning.”

An opportunity to give back

Scott was humbled to be nominated by his colleagues for chair and is grateful for the support he has received from his wife Amanda, 12-year-old son, family, friends, and business peers.

“All these people have given me so much over the years and I thank them for that. I'm lucky because there's a generous business community in this town. This next step in my career is to create the opportunity to give back as much as I've been given.”

Scott acknowledges the foresight and hard work of his predecessors, who he believes have laid the foundations for Tompkins Wake’s success.

“I feel extremely fortunate and blessed to be standing on the shoulders of some giants and people that I genuinely admire and respect. I’m grateful for the decisions they made,” he says.

“As a board, we keep our oar out of management. I see the chairman as more of a service role. I support our CEO and work with the board to keep all 28 partners across our four offices informed and engaged in our business.”

A love of music and the law

A talented and accomplished musician with a passion for the drums, Scott never aspired to be a lawyer. Rather, he dreamed of attending jazz school. Encouraged by his parents to pursue a university degree first, he studied management and law at the University of Waikato.

“As I was completing my studies, I didn’t really have a strategy mapped out for my career, and at that stage I had no aspiration to practice law. However, a friend encouraged me to apply for jobs with two law firms and I got both interviews. So, it all started from there and I have never looked back.

“What I've realised, and it’s reinforced every day here at Tompkins Wake, is that being a lawyer is not actually just about the law. It’s also very much a people game.

“I'm an introverted person and a bit quirky, but somewhere along the line I figured out how to relate to people – and to do that without compromising my true self. I’m pretty sure I am the first chair of a law firm to have a nose piercing, earrings, and tattoos!”

Scott grew up in Frankton in Hamilton alongside his two siblings and attended Fraser High School. He can’t remember a time when he wasn’t passionate about music. Today, he is still actively involved in music and the performing arts in the Waikato.

“I grew up playing a version of music that was somewhere between punk and metal. I used to wear shorts that were too long to be shorts and too short to be longs. I still have my playlist from those days that probably gets played three times a week in the car on my way home from the office.

“It was the ethos behind that music that moulded a fierce and sometimes stubborn independence where I jealously protect who I am. My culture, my values and my family are important to me. That's the glue that keeps my feet on the ground and will stand me in good stead in this new role.

“Who would have ever thought this Fijian kid would end up as the chair of one of New Zealand’s top law firms? Sometimes I have to pinch myself. But I’m here and I love it.”

Future-focussed leadership

As Tompkins Wake celebrates its 100th birthday, Scott’s approach to leadership is firmly focussed on the future. He wants to see Tompkins Wake continue its growth with an emphasis on enhancing diversity, the firm’s engagement with Te Tiriti principles and sustainability.

“I’ll be long gone, but we need to consider now what we want the firm to look like in another 50 to 100 years. I don’t think any business today can genuinely participate in the world without applying that lens to its decision making.

“Tompkins Wake has been acknowledged as one of New Zealand’s most innovative law firms. We’ve got to keep driving hard to find new and better ways to deliver for our clients, to meet their ever-changing needs and to solve the challenging and complex matters they trust us with.

“Balanced against that is the need to be continually looking at how we maintain a great place to work for all our people, supporting their growth and development and ensuring that everyone has a great life outside the firm.”