Tamsyn Parker

Tamsyn Parker is the NZ Herald's Money Editor

Rookie in sales department returns as UDC's CEO

Tessa Price, chief executive of UDC Finance, values her work/life balance. Photo / Richard Robinson
Tessa Price, chief executive of UDC Finance, values her work/life balance. Photo / Richard Robinson

When Tessa Price got her first job out of university at finance company UDC she was just grateful to have a start.

She never thought that 15 years later she would be back at the company as chief executive in charge of 160 staff.

"It was never something I thought about. I was just glad to have a job."

Price, 40, says that when she graduated in 1997 it was a time of recession. She applied for a lot of graduate programmes and made it through to UDC after several interviews.

"I had to start from the bottom doing sales support. Nothing was automated then. We had typewriters in the office. I had to travel out to Manukau every day."

Since then the company has moved on a lot, transferring its head office to Newmarket with teams of staff working around the country.

The 70-year-old business, which is owned by the ANZ, is the country's largest remaining finance company and has about $5.5 billion worth of lending on its books.

Price, whose previous role was with the rival Commonwealth Bank of Australia, says UDC was lucky in terms of its strategy.

Rather than moving into property lending like its competitors, the company stuck to lending on plant, equipment and automotive.

Price says signs now indicate recovery in different parts of the market, although she won't call it growth yet.

"I know people are saying it is patchy, but something is starting to happen."

UDC piggybacks off parent company ANZ, particularly in the area of agricultural financing. Price says there are some signs of a pick-up in the area with some pre-ordering of farm equipment and replacing of large-ticket items such as tractors.

Construction lending is doing okay and cars loans have also picked up.

"It shows that consumer sentiment is picking up."

Price says her strategy for the company includes leveraging off its existing business, better use of technology and lifting the firm's profile.

She is already starting to look at different ways UDC can reach its customers using tools such as automated scorecards to help speed up the loan approval process.

Price says people don't want to be sitting in a car yard waiting to see if their loan is approved.

She says her team has some true sales people - some are so keen to help customers they ring her at 7pm or the more scary 4.55am to let her know they have reached a solution.

One of the first changes she will oversee is a renovation of UDC's offices to spruce things up.

She says it's all about making people feel a bit better about coming into work. That includes herself, as she will be scrapping her corner office to sit alongside her co-workers.

"I hate sitting behind glass," she admits. "I can't hear and see what is going on."

Originally from Wellington, Price says she was keen to come back to UDC because she "always wanted to get back into asset finance".

"I really like to stretch and challenge myself personally. I have always followed different jobs that have challenged me. I have learned to step outside the traditional remit and not be afraid of change."

There are not many women chief executives in New Zealand, let alone heading a finance company. Price says she gets the odd comment about it.

"But I don't think of diversity as gender. We've got to reflect our customers. First and foremost I am a human being. I don't think of myself as a female leader."

But she says being a working mother has taught her humanity and about work/life balance. In Australia she balanced working with completing an MBA while looking after her 2-year-old. One of the ways she keeps her work/life balance in check is to not work weekends if she can avoidit.

"Any downtime I spend with my family. I don't do anything [work related] on the weekend. I take the time to spend with my family."

TESSA PRICE
* Chief executive UDC Finance.
* 14 years' experience working in financial institutions in New Zealand and Australia.
* Bachelor of commerce and bachelor of arts from the University of Auckland, MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management.
* Married with one child.
* Interests: running, reading and travel.

- NZ Herald

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