Bachelor of Business graduate’s flame burns bright for management

Sam Johnstone
  • South Island Manufacturing and Logistics Manager for Devan Plastics

Open Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga graduate Sam Johnstone now knows how to put out fires both inside and outside the boardroom, thanks to his Bachelor of Business (Management) degree.

While many ākonga (learners) juggle part-time work and study, Sam went all-in, balancing 50 hours a week of shift work, with full-time study, all while being a volunteer at the Rolleston Volunteer Fire Brigade, near Christchurch.

The 28-year-old knew the importance of getting a qualification to improve his chances of climbing the corporate ladder.

He calculated it was going to take six years of studying part-time, so instead, he opted to complete it in three years, by studying full-time.

“I thought to myself short-term pain, long-term gain and I would see if I can smash it out at the same time as working full-time,” he said.

A qualification to improve his career path

Before starting on his learning journey with Open Polytechnic, Sam had thought to himself that upper management was unreachable, because he had no formal qualifications.

“I am going to have to do something to make myself more attractive in the market and complete the qualifications I need to do to reach that next layer,” he thought before enrolling at Open Polytechnic.

Now, he is the South Island Manufacturing and Logistics Manager for Devan Plastics, thanks in part, to his Bachelor of Business (Management) from Open Polytechnic.

Just before he completed his degree, Sam applied for the job and was successful, despite being so young.

“It has really helped me to further launch my career,” he said.

“It was a huge help to say I had the knowledge and skillset to go forward and be trusted to run the South Island, because I am only 28."

“So having that formal qualification behind me is what pushed me ahead. And made me more attractive as far as showing that I have developed knowledge, skills, and experience.”

Why study with Open Polytechnic

Sam studied with Open Polytechnic because of the excellent value for money and the fact that he could study while also holding down a full-time job at the same time.

The flexibility of Open Polytechnic meant Sam was able to focus on his job, four days a week and then do his online studies, while also volunteer firefighting during his days off from work.

So rather than relaxing after 50 hours a week at work, Sam was studying towards his Bachelor of Business, while also putting out fires and doing exams to upskill in his role as a volunteer firefighter.

“It was hard, there were definitely times where perseverance and dedication were needed, but it was certainly achievable and so worth it in the end,” Sam said.

“I worked shift work, so I couldn’t commit to attending formal classes and with my lifestyle. I am very self-focussed which helped me make the choice to study with Open Polytechnic as I knew I could knuckle down and commit to online learning.”

“They were really good at supporting learners online too, due to their email, phone call, and online availability.”

The practical side of studying at Open Polytechnic

As South Island Manager for Devan Plastics, Sam has enjoyed putting into practice what he learned through completing his Bachelor of Business (Management) at Open Polytechnic.

“I love organisational structure and strategy, so part of what the course taught me was how organisational structures work and how to make them fit the business needs and objectives, and that’s been quite helpful here at Devan Plastics,” he said.

“Because I’m a part of a business that is evolving from small to medium it’s been really helpful for me because part of my role is not only managing the building of a new factory but designing the organisational structure and laying out the plan for the next 25 years.”

“There were modules in the course that taught me people leadership styles, change strategies, and change management practices. They also offered modules that focussed on Human Resource Management (HRM) which I am passionate about as well. It has been so helpful.”

While Sam was studying there were several times when he had the opportunity to use real life examples from his day-to-day job, initially at Synlait Milk Limited and more recently at Devan Plastics.

He could go straight back to work and apply what he had learnt on his course while on the job.

“This meant I could be really influential with the most current ways of thinking and information that I was learning,” Sam said.

The benefit of attending graduation

Sam was “tossing and turning” whether to attend the Open Polytechnic graduation ceremony in Christchurch in 2022.

“I didn’t want to make a big deal of it,” he said.

“But it was fantastic. It put a cherry on top. I got to wear the graduation cap and regalia and cement the feeling I had really achieved something.”

The three years Sam spent studying flew by so quickly, especially given how busy he was. Attending the graduation ceremony was an ideal opportunity to take the time acknowledge his accomplishment.

“At the end it was really good to stand up and meet the people that were doing the course alongside you, because with the online nature of the course, you didn’t really meet people face to face.”

“It was great to be able attend and celebrate it.”

Sam encourages others to study

Sam is glad that he waited until he decided to study at Open Polytechnic, rather than going into study for the sake of it, straight after finishing high school.

“I think the way I have done it was fantastic,” he said.

“Once you find your passion for something studying it becomes incredibly easy. Studying online was the best method that supported adult learning styles. It is always hard to go back to studying after entering the workforce, but the reward has been phenomenal, and it certainly inspired me to keep going.”

Sam’s ambitions to get to the top

Sam has some lofty career goals. He would love to make it to the executive level like General Manager or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the next 5-10 years. He hopes to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Obviously being so young, time in the seat is crucial,” he said.

“So for me, executive leader or CEO of a big company which has lots of people is where I am aiming to get to."

“I want to be inspirational for those who have worked their way from the floor, you know, it is always possible.”

“I have always wanted to inspire others to have the opportunity to step forward, as nothing is out of their reach if you are willing to put the hard work in.”

Sam would also love to inspire others like himself, who have a passion to lead and drive positive change in the business environment.

“I have figured out what I want and what I am passionate for, like leadership, strategy and influencing people’s lives for the positive, and Open Polytechnic has really helped fuel that passion” he said.

“Most companies tend to be more outcomes focussed, rather than people focussed. So I want to be that leader that people go ‘He combines his passion for people while achieving company objectives and I would love to be behind that guy or work and learn with him’.”

I worked shift work, so I couldn’t commit to attending formal classes and with my lifestyle. I am very self-focussed which helped me make the choice to study with Open Polytechnic as I knew I could knuckle down and commit to online learning.