Leading the way

As we celebrate Sir Peter Blake Leadership Week, it’s important to celebrate our great female leaders, those who have and who continue to stand out from the crowd and pave the way for younger generations.

There are few who paint such an impressive leadership journey as Global Women member Dame Alison Paterson, a woman who has carved the way for businesswomen in New Zealand. She was the first woman to receive QBE’s Chairperson of the Year Award, the first woman to be appointed to a producer board (the Apple and Pear Marketing Board in 1976), and the first woman appointed to the board of a publicly listed NZ company. By the age of 41, she had landed her first directorship and for the past 30 years she has sat on the boards of some of the country’s most well-known and largest organisations. In 2014 she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to business. She currently holds an impressive combined total of ten governance appointments on various boards, commissions and tribunals, no small feat.

Dame Alison admits her leadership style and philosophy has changed over time.

“Originally I blazed a trail and swept people up in the vortex. Now I am much more focused on growing the people upon whom I rely,’” she says.

She believes a great leader should have vision, instinct, and a philosophy that is both aspirational and inspirational. And they must possess the ability to build a consensus and inspire others to support the endeavor. Leaders she greatly admires for their ability to have achieved this are Kate Sheppard, Sir Peter Blake, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Mikhail Gorbachev – to name a few. However, she says what constitutes a great leader has varied in recent times, because both the challenges and opportunities are different.

For Dame Alison there were no role models to light her on her leadership journey, and therefore no preconceptions.

“I simply pursued opportunities without a thought of convention,” she says. “I have always considered myself as just a person. If you are good enough then gender and ethnicity are irrelevant.”

She admits this is a big generalisation on her part, and in some environments discrimination cannot be overcome.

As an accountant, she measures her achievements in ‘value add’ terms. Though, since most of her working life has been spent in service industries, the value add is always for her clients, not herself. She says she is proud of the value she created while chair of Landcorp, and for shareholders whilst chair of Abano Healthcare.

There is also the immense value Dame Alison has created within New Zealand’s business landscape for the many women following in her footsteps – something she herself would never allude to, or even recognise, but which undoubtedly exists – a by-product of her tenacity, drive, influence and success, attributes that show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Sir Peter Blake Leadership Week runs from 1 July to 8 July, with over 1,000 leadership events happening around the country. The week finishes with red socks day on Friday 8 July.