Doug Paulin, CEO of New Zealand seafood giant Sealord, grew up on the sea but never envisaged a life in fishing.

With a fisherman father, living in the the small coastal town of Riverton, Paulin witnessed first-hand how tough a job it was at that time, frequently going out on the boat with his dad to fish lobster and blue cod in the treacherous Foveaux Strait near the Southern Ocean.

"I decided pretty early on that it wasn't something that I realistically wanted to do," Paulin tells IntraFish. "I can't remember a time, actually, where I didn't want to go into business."

His route to the business world, however, was not straightforward. Unable to afford university, Paulin joined the armed services, which put him first through a year of polytechnic, followed by a university law degree while working for them as an accountant.

The stint lasted five years before Paulin and the armed services "parted ways."

"Let's just say the armed services and I didn't see eye to eye in terms of doing things. It was very hierarchical. They didn't take ideas very well... and I kept on giving them."

Doug Paulin with wife Suzy and daughter Sienna. Photo: Doug Paulin

'Expect the unexpected'

Since then he has worked at just three companies.

His first role was at alcoholic beverage company Lion Nathan, a subsidiary of Japanese group Kirin. Paulin stayed 13 years before moving to become CEO of a relatively small family-owned cereal company, Hubbard Foods.

Five and a half years later and he moved to Sealord, first as COO under CEO Steve Yung, before moving to take the helm in October 2019.

It was tough timing on Paulin's part, with the pandemic ravaging Sealord's operations, inflicting considerable challenges in its supply chains, markets and labor force. Added to that were the global cost impacts of Russia's attack on Ukraine, all of which have made this year's results "pretty poor," Paulin said.

"It's been a rough ride for the last year, and likely will be next year too," says Paulin. There are, however, valuable lessons to be learned and he is conscious now to "always expect the unexpected" and to build a certain nimbleness into strategies and budgets.

Aside from his disappointment at Sealord's results, on a personal level, the pandemic didn't treat Paulin and his family too badly, with New Zealanders spared the same level of lockdown as other parts of the world. But if they had, Paulin said, "the inability to see family not living with us would probably have been the toughest thing for me."

This is especially true since two of his three children have now left home.

Nick, 21, is at university, while 17-year-old Zach is a butcher's apprentice. His 14-year-old daughter Sienna still lives with him and his self-employed management consultancy wife Suzy, but they all still holiday and enjoy spending time together.

Doug Paulin on the slopes with son Zach. Photo: Doug Paulin

Travel is another thing Paulin has missed, both personally and for work.

"I think the face-to-face meetings with customers, stakeholders, they're so important. We're very lucky that technology filled the gap, because without it would have been a calamity," he said.

While he, like many others, will now be travelling less, he still holds value in face-to-face meetings where he can better see facial expressions, body language and is able to "read the room," as he puts it.

Stepping onto the factory floor

Paulin considers himself a "people person," believing that passionate people are the driving force behind every company he has worked for.

"I'm orientated towards people-based companies where the they've got a fundamental belief in the people in the organization and are willing to support them," Paulin said, adding that he has a strong focus on talent development.

This stance has shaped the way he runs Sealord, recently stepping onto the factory floor and urging other office staff to do the same to help their processing colleagues as New Zealand's labor shortage bit down hard.

"That idea came out of a brainstorming session around how we close the gap for our factory in Nelson," Paulin said.

"I'd read an article about a couple of vineyards doing the same thing to get their grapes picked. And so I just copied that and and that's really why it came in."

The move "took on a life of its own" on the PR front, and although it highlighted the country's labor issues, this was not Paulin's primary aim.

'It uplifted them way, way more that I would have ever thought would be the case.'

Paulin on taking to the factory processing floor

The initiative was a huge success and the factory has been producing more per person than ever before. Although still "miles off" closing the gap, it has raised morale among all Sealord staff.

"It's been a tough year for them," Paulin said. "They know what the result is going to be in the wetfish factory and no-one feels good about that.... But they're working really hard and [the initiative] uplifted them in an enormous way, way more that I would have ever thought would be the case."

This engagement is what Paulin sees as the most important role of a CEO.

"You know, you'll hear a lot of talk about strategy and the need to deliver those strategies. But in reality, I believe without the people you can't execute any strategies," Paulin said.

"So I always err on the side of saying that the most important role is to lead and engage the people... at every level of the organization. You've got to make sure that you're developing the managers so that they can in turn be clear and develop their people and provide a culture where people can be successful."

Doug Paulin with son Nicholas. Photo: Doug Paulin

Workouts, golf and cars

Work is not the only thing Paulin is passionate about. A dedicated gym-goer, Paulin recently started with the F45 program, a daily 45-minute high intensity group training session.

Not one to do things by halves, Paulin does it not once, but twice a day, kicking off at 5am on a marathon 90-minute stint.

When he's not working out, Paulin also enjoys a game of golf or getting out in one of the old Ford Falcon cars he recently bought.

But what you sense from him most is an enormous sense of satisfaction with how his life has turned out.

Having never planned to have children, he now can't imagine a life without them.

"You know, I wanted to be CEO of a major, large business and I've been able to do that, and at the same time be able to have a great family with three children," he said. "I've been lucky."