QBE Chairperson of the Year: Alison Paterson

She won this Top 200 award for her many years of outstanding leadership of wide range of New Zealand private and public sector enterprises and organisations. And the judges specifically acknowledged her inspired leadership of Abano Healthcare in recent years.

She is currently also chair of Farm IQ, primary growth partnership; the University of Auckland’s National Centre for Growth and Development; New Zealand’s (medical) Best Practice Advocacy Centre and Stevenson Agriculture. She has, in the past, chaired Waitemata Health and Landcorp Farming. She was made Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year’s honours list in recognition of her service to business.

Paterson established her own rural accountancy practice in Taumarunui in 1971 and her achievements include being the first woman president of New Zealand Chamber of Commerce branch.  She was the first woman to be appointed to producer board – the Apple and Pear Marketing Board in 1976. And she was also the first woman appointed to the board of New Zealand public company. For the past 30 years Paterson has sat on the boards of some of the country’s most august organisations, including 15 years on the Reserve Bank Board.

While some years ago Paterson said she would like to see more women on the boards of our major enterprises, she did not consider political correctness an acceptable reason for offering them seat at the table. She was, she told NZ Management magazine’s The Director, supportive of positive discrimination toward women on boards, so long as they had the skills to perform.

“The different perspective women can bring to the boardroom stems from their intuitiveness with people-related issues,” she said. “But boards have to be realistic with their appointments. Why would they risk putting someone onto board who couldn’t contribute to the responsible stewardship of other people’s money?”

The award judges this year’s acknowledged Paterson’s undoubted professional skills and inspired leadership capabilities. But they also commented on her personal humility and humanity, trait also noted by Alan Clarke, managing director, Abano Healthcare.

“She treats all with the same level of respect and always takes time to say hello to support staff,  listen attentively and be genuinely engaged in conversations with them,” says Clarke.

“She operates her boards by consensus and encourages everyone to speak freely and openly and actively challenge ideas and explore options. However, she is clear on the fine line between management responsibility and governance and once direction is chosen she will defend that decision to the hilt with will of steel … and in game of blink, she wins!”

Other finalists:
• Sir Henry van der Heyden
• Sir John Anderson

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