26 September 2023

In the spotlight: John Horner

John Horner

First published by Juno (11 Sep 2023). 

John Horner discusses his motivating factors for taking "a new direction" in his career, transitioning from a long-standing law firm partnership to senior roles at the Financial Markets Authority, highlighting the desire for reinvigorating his career and a sense of serving a greater purpose. 

You've transitioned from a Partner at Quigg Partners to several pivotal roles at the Financial Markets Authority (FMA), including currently serving as Director of Markets, Investors and Reporting. Can you describe your current Director role and what it's taught you about yourself? 

  • The Director role is a senior people leadership role and was created in early 2023 as part of a restructure. I have three teams, each of which are led by technical experts with significant leadership experience in financial services. 
  • The Director role has taught me that as a lawyer, I think about things very differently to non-lawyers. This means I need to communicate in a different way to be effective. I need to listen more, talk less, and resist challenging ideas and testing facts too quickly. 

Transitioning from nearly two decades as a Partner in a firm to an in-house position represents a significant shift. What motivated your decision to take 'A new direction'? How has this shift influenced your perspective on the legal profession and your role within it? 

  • It has been a significant shift - for the better. People couldn’t understand why I would leave a Partner role to go and work for a regulator. In contrast, I couldn’t see myself doing the same job for the rest of my working life. 
  • The motivation for me was two-fold. It was an opportunity to reinvigorate a career that was starting to become predictable and to serve a greater purpose. 
  • Taking the leap was hard. I did have self-doubt; what if I wasn’t any good outside of what I had been doing? But the best thing about the change was learning something new. There is so much variety in what we do at the FMA, and when you overlay the leadership element and understanding people, there is a lot to be curious about - which really appeals to me. 
  • I reflect fondly on my time in the legal profession. Lawyers care. They care about their clients and achieving fair outcomes. Lawyers also care about the profession, and how it can better serve New Zealand and New Zealanders. In public service, the focus goes beyond client interests and more towards the greater good. 
  • My move to the FMA has required me to look at law and regulation through a much broader lens. The FMA is outcomes focused, which means we are less concerned with strict compliance and recognise that it requires more than ‘just the law’ to achieve the purpose. 
  • Since moving in-house, I see the legal profession as a huge pool of smart and talented people who can make a meaningful impact. I consider myself fortunate to have found a very different role where I can use my law firm experience to serve a more meaningful purpose. 

Can you share some of challenges you faced when transitioning from private practice to in-house roles, and how you addressed them? Additionally, what unexpected opportunities have arisen from this change? 

  • Initially, the challenge was explaining the transition to those that couldn’t understand it. It took a while to convince some people there was no mid-life crisis going on. 
  • Another challenge was learning how much to engage and consult internally on the legal advice I was working on before finalising it. It was important to involve people with the relevant expertise and experience without delaying the work unnecessarily. Building and maintaining key relationships and knowing how to effectively engage with different people across the organisation is a key skill to successfully operating in-house, and extremely rewarding when it comes together. 
  • When I arrived at the FMA I did not expect to be as closely involved in important strategic work so quickly. For example, the FMA’s use of regulatory enforcement tools has developed tremendously in recent years. This has led to legal challenge that has further improved the understanding of how those tools can be used to achieve positive outcomes for investors. 
  • The Director role was also unexpected. It was a case of right place, right time – I had energy and was curious. 

Given your unique journey and experiences, what advice would you offer to lawyers who might be considering a similar path or are at a crossroads in their careers? 

  • Talk to people who have made a change. 
  • Leaving a law firm partnership is a big move and more complex than resigning as an employee. Like most things, good communication and planning makes it easier. The FMA is fortunate to have several ex-law firm partners in its ranks, so I’m not entirely unique. 
  • For lawyers who have enjoyed success in private practice and are looking to leave behind timesheets and invoicing, I can recommend making a move. What that move looks like will differ for everyone but knowing others who have done it, and having done it myself, I’m yet to find a reason not to recommend it.