Graduating from the University of Waikato in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in management studies before taking his first job at Unilever in 1986, it was a time of big moves for Bowler. He strutted his stuff in marketing and in fast-moving consumer goods in New Zealand and the UK.
During the 1990s, his career evolved, first leading the Cadbury and Air New Zealand international accounts at DDB, before a stint working in the UK’s food sector.
Back on home turf, he moved up the ranks of New Zealand Dairy in the late 1990s and into the new millennium.
In 2003, Bowler joined the mobile and internet tide, with a four-year stint at Telecom before taking up his first C-suite position as the foundation chief executive of Yahoo!Xtra.
As chief executive of Tourism New Zealand between 2010 and 2016, he helped lift the tourism industry’s performance to New Zealand’s number one export sector. He led the organisation through the end of the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes, as well as more positive events like the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the release of the Hobbit trilogy.
He also built on the successful ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ brand and migrated the marketing channels into a digital-first world. In 2016, he returned to the food sector, becoming chief executive of Frucor Suntory. The two-year stretch at the packaged beverages company segued nicely into his current position as chief executive of one of New Zealand’s fastest growing food businesses, My Food Bag.
What’s made Bowler so successful throughout his career is his ability to move with a changing market. His leadership, vision and his unerring focus on understanding the customer makes him a deserving addition to the TVNZ Marketing Hall of Fame.
Here’s what his peers had to say about him:
Sir John Key: “As head of Tourism New Zealand, Kevin did an outstanding job of promoting New Zealand on the world stage. I had enormous respect for Kevin and what he achieved in his role at Tourism New Zealand, for the place that it played in underpinning the strong New Zealand economy. It’s a great privilege to be able to congratulate him as he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
Theresa Gattung, co-founder of My Food Bag: “Kevin was a fantastic head of consumer marketing at Telecom when I was CEO. He did an outstanding job helping us turn things around against Vodafone. Quick-of-thought and fleet of foot.”
Andrew Fraser, project Kiwi Fresh Team lead at My Food Bag: “I still remember the day we went for one of your legendary Waitakere runs. It was meant to be 5km but I think I remember it ended up being 14km. And you’re right it didn’t kill me, but man it pushed me forward. [Just] like you do professionally.”
Kerry Prendergast, Tourism New Zealand chair: “Kevin turned Tourism New Zealand’s marketing to the world on its head, making it almost entirely digital. His straight-talking is focused on getting a great outcome.”
Bridget Taylor, executive creative director at Contagion: “One of my fondest memories is getting a call from you saying ‘Bridget, I need to talk to you about a project, meet me at 8 o’clock’, and I said ‘no problem, at the once?’ and you said ‘No, 8 o’clock at Woodhill Forest, we’re going mountain biking’.”
Kevin Kenrick, chief executive of TVNZ: “He’s a great team player, and he’s a brilliant guy to work with if your name is Kevin. You can take all the good news and you can blame all the other stuff on Kevin.”
Andrew Stone, director of Twoviews: “When we [Saatchi & Saatchi] were your agency [for Telecom], we produced a commercial for broadband that was absolutely terrible. I figured we were either about to get red or get a second chance. And Kevin, you came back and said: ‘We’re going to absolutely take the shackles o it and inspire’. We produced a campaign that created a character that was an icon for New Zealand. We also produced in partnership, an overarching idea which is all around inspiring the future for New Zealand. Both of those commercials turned the tables on Vodafone for the first time ever and to me, they’re testaments of how much you’re able to change. To me, you see things pragmatically and clearly, you inspire people and you deliver great results.”