Career features number of firsts

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Adrienne von Tunzelmann has a strong commitment to community service.
Adrienne von Tunzelmann has a strong commitment to community service.

Adrienne von Tunzelmann's lengthy career in the public and private sector has been marked by achieving a number of firsts for women, and a strong commitment to community service, recently recognised when she was made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order.

Ms Von Tunzelmann is the principal of public policy consultancy McKinlay Douglas Ltd (MDL), and serves on a number of boards, trusts and committees (see story below).

Born and brought up in Christchurch, she credits attending single-sex Christchurch Girls' High School with creating the expectation that she should go on to university, something that wasn't common for girls in the mid-1960s.

"I do regard that as the beginning of the career path I wound up on," she said. "My early experiences with gender inequality drove a lot of the things that have interested me since."

Despite a discouraging interview with a Canterbury University careers officer, she opted to follow her chosen subject, eventually becoming the first woman to graduate with first-class honours in economics at the university.

Having spurned an offer from a major New Zealand bank after discovering she would be paid less than a successful male applicant for the same position, she turned to the public service and became the second female economist that Treasury had employed.

After three years with Treasury, she was recruited to work at the Office of the Clerk in Parliament, where she was the first woman to join the team.

She ended up spending 12 years at Parliament, holding the positions of head of the Select Committee Office and deputy clerk of the NZ House of Representatives. She also spent time on attachment to the British House of Commons. She has since taken part in Speaker-commissioned reviews of parliamentary administration and expenditure.

She went back to the Treasury from 1987 to 1990, during the thick of the Rogernomics reforms.

"It was a very seductive area to be working in," she said. "Treasury saw itself as the driver of economic reform policies, so to be on the spot at the time was an amazing career experience."

She left Treasury to join the Department of Justice, where she spent five years during a period when there was a significant restructuring of company law. Her experience includes ground-breaking work on corporate social responsibility. Her understanding of the business environment has been enhanced at the practical level by her work with the Chamber of Commerce, which has included five years on the Tauranga chamber board, two as president. She is also a chartered fellow of the Institute of Directors.

Feeling the need for private sector experience, she left Justice to join consultancy Ernst & Young, then moved on in 1996 to Wellington-based MDL. She is now married to Peter McKinlay, the firm's co-founder and executive director.

In 2001, MDL made the bold decision to follow the flow of its work, which was largely focused around policy and local government work in the regions, and moved the firm from Wellington to Tauranga.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board communications manager Diana Marriott, who has known Ms von Tunzelmann for more than 20 years, describes her as a determined woman who has led the charge in every field she has been involved in.

"She's a woman of enormous intellect and she brings that to absolutely everything she does."

Board roles in mix

Adrienne von Tunzelmann is active in a large number of areas outside her consulting work.

Three of her roles are centred around New Zealand's ageing population.

She serves on the governance group for Age Well, one of the Government's 11 National Science Challenges.

She is also a national and Tauranga board member of Age Concern, and serves on the board of Osteoporosis NZ, which addresses a leading cause of disability for older people.

"I'm interested in the whole question of how New Zealand is going to respond to an ageing population," said Ms von Tunzelmann.

She served for seven years on the board of government drug-buying agency Pharmac, and after stepping down for a break was last year appointed to Pharmac's statutory consumer advisory committee.

She is also the patron of the Tauranga Community Housing Trust.

A decade ago, she was appointed to the council of Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi.

"That was a real change of direction," she said. "I was moving into a completely unfamiliar environment. I had no previous experience of working with Maori organisations, but I found myself welcomed. Te Whare Wananga is a jewel in the crown for the Bay of Plenty, and it's been a huge privilege to serve on the council."

Fact file:

* Adrienne von Tunzelmann

* Role: Principal, McKinlay Douglas Ltd (MDL)

* Born: Christchurch, New Zealand

* Age: 69

* First job: Economist

* Recently honoured as: Companion of the Queen's Service Order

* Currently reading: Chappy by Patricia Grace

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