Dame Alison Paterson has achieved a lot of firsts in her life.
First woman to receive QBE’s Chairperson of Year Award; first female president of a New Zealand Chamber of Commerce branch; first woman to be appointed to a producer board – the Apple and Pear Marketing Board in 1976; first woman appointed to the board of a New Zealand public company.
Currently Independent Director of Vector Ltd, Dame Alison is also chair of BPAC New Zealand Limited, Abano Healthcare Limited, Farm iQ Limited, Stevenson Agriculture Limited, the Governing Board of the Centre of Research Excellence for Growth and Development (University of Auckland), and the Stakeholder Committee at Ambulance NZ.
From this array of positions, one thing stands out loud and clear: Dame Alison knows what it is to lead and has amassed a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the subject of leadership over the past 30 years sitting on the boards of some of New Zealand’s most august organisations.
Choose your partner wisely
When asked what she thinks the biggest challenge is for women in leadership today, she comes out straight away with the area of work-life balance.
“I believe for women it’s the balance of having family and fulfilling their real wish as mothers to do their best for their child and continuing their career progression at the same time. That’s the big challenge.
“I think these days women are better supported by husbands while they have a family in terms of sharing the parenting. But if you don't have the right partner, you're going to struggle. So choose your partner wisely.”
A drive to add value
Intrigued as to who has been the most influential person in Dame Alison’s life thus far, her answer is different to what those hungry to know her secrets may be expecting.
“It really depends on the person. I'm a loner and I don’t need support networks. I just need to be clear about the fundamentals.
“I’m pretty self-driven. I've had a lot of people I've enjoyed working with but I think that my drive, because I'm a chartered accountant, I guess I measure things in value terms, my drive is to add value. So that’s my driver.”
Words of wisdom
Some quick fire words of wisdom from the QBE Award winner are, “…you learn by experience, front up to mistakes and never kidding yourself - once you start kidding yourself you're great, you're lost.
“I would hope that I'm my own toughest critic and every night I tend to think about the day and squirm about things I could have done better. You keep doing that you keep improving.”
Whether she likes it or not, Dame Alison now wields a large amount of influence which she says simply means having a bigger responsibility to be sure that the example she sets is as good as it can be.
“I’ve been working for a long time, and you suddenly find if you've worked very hard, for a very long time, then you've amassed a body of experience which is valuable and you get given opportunities that would once not have come your ways. So it opens doors really… and more opportunities.”