Rotorua born and brought up in Tokoroa, Cheryl Lewis returned to the Bay of Plenty in 2007 after working in senior roles with NZTE and Treasury in Wellington.
She has since been a key driver in establishing the Bay of Connections, the region's economic growth strategy, where she currently serves as portfolio manager. As well, two years ago she and her husband Wayne conceived their "third baby" - No 3 Ltd - a company that makes premium liquid soaps and skincare products. (see story below).
Better known locally as Cheryl MacGregor - she married last year after a 10-year engagement - Ms Lewis moved to Tokoroa aged 10 and stayed there until the end of her high school years.
"There wasn't a huge amount to do there, but it's what you make of it," she said. "I loved growing up in Tokoroa."
She initially enrolled at University of Waikato to do a sports science degree, switched to law, and eventually completed a BSS and a postgraduate diploma in economics, then stayed on to complete a masters in management studies.
To support herself, she tutored in economics and worked as a pool hall attendant.
"I played snooker and pool so much that the Hamilton Snooker Club offered me a job," she said.
"It's still one of the best jobs I ever had."
She got her first career role as a policy analyst with the Ministry of Health, then moved on after a year to Treasury's Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit. There she became part of a team advising ministers on the financial and non-financial performance of companies such as Meridian Energy, Housing NZ, the Meteorological Service, and Electricity Corporation of NZ.
After three years she moved on to join what was then Industry NZ, which a year later merged with Trade NZ to become NZ Trade & Enterprise. The majority of her five years with NZTE were spent as part of the food and beverage team, where she became sector manager for aquaculture.
Her return to the Bay came about as a result of a chance meeting with Bill Bayfield, then chief executive of the BOP Regional Council, when it was still Environment BOP.
Mr Bayfield and then chairman John Cronin had been promoting the idea of economic development and becoming more collaborative across the region.
She relocated to Tauranga in 2007, with a mandate to help lead the development of a regional economic strategy, which takes in Taupo, Rotorua, and Western and Eastern Bay of Plenty. Bay of Connections was launched in 2008.
BOP Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder described Ms Lewis as an outstanding manager who was well-respected by all participants in the Bay of Connections strategy.
"Cheryl doesn't have a lot of resources so essentially a lot of the outcomes we are getting in terms of implementing the Bay of Connections are due to her," he said. "She's a good operator and very well-connected in terms of decision-making. And her background in central government is a real advantage to the region in that she understands process and what the Government is looking for in terms of outcomes."
Graeme Marshall, who sits on the Bay of Connections governance group and is the Regional Growth Study (RGS) action plan development champion, described Ms Lewis as the "lynchpin" of the strategy.
"She has to take a lot of credit for the success of the strategy, for what's been done and the way it's performed. She's done a very good job."
Ms Lewis said she had always been really conscious of the fact that the strategy had to be industry-led and industry-focused. "And from day one we wanted everything we did to be collaborative and to have business and regional connections. The driving force has been the relationships and the trust we've built up."
The strong relationship developed with central government has been crucial, she added. Minister of Business Innovation and Employment Steven Joyce and other Cabinet colleagues have publicly stated on many occasions how easy it is to work with the Bay because of the established collaboration across the region. That relationship was the reason why the Government gave the Bay of Connections responsibility to lead the RGS, said Ms Lewis.
"Our objectives were the same as the Government's, to drive economic growth and collaboration in the region," she said. "We make it easy for Government to work with us because we're already collaborating. But it's not an overnight thing, you have to keep working at it.
"Building trust amongst the partners is the key driver. I'm very lucky in what I do because I'm privileged to work with so many great people."
Third 'baby' thriving in supportive Bay market
Cheryl Lewis and her civil servant husband Wayne, who have sons aged 10 and 3, have created time on their weekends and in the evenings to build a small but growing business.
"We wanted to build a business together from the ground up," said Ms Lewis.
Named No 3 Ltd - "after the third baby I always wanted" - the company began making soap and evolved into manufacturing liquid soap, dog soap, a men's range, a skin care range and a natural deodorant, Underbalm. The focus is on premium natural products.
"We develop everything from scratch. We carry out the science and R&D, develop all the formulations, design and manufacture. We have also surrounded ourselves with amzing people who have assisted in the many facets of developing the company."
The products sell online, at the Little Big Markets and large events. Ms Lewis praised Rachelle and Chris Duffy's Tauranga-based Little Big Markets for providing No 3 and numerous local companies with a launching pad.
"They have pretty much got us off the ground - the exposure and credibility are amazing. People like to buy local, they love NZ products. Particularly if they know you're a BOP company, they love to support you. In turn we support other local companies - it's really symbiotic."