Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

New Year Honours 2014: Alison Paterson

Businesswoman says giving back to this 'wonderful country' is what drives her.

Alison Paterson has been appointed a dame for her many years of service to business. Photo / Getty Images
Alison Paterson has been appointed a dame for her many years of service to business. Photo / Getty Images

Dame Alison Paterson quotes Frank Sinatra when asked if she has regrets after 60 years in the workforce and decades around the board tables of weighty New Zealand organisations.

"I did it my way - that's probably fair comment," said the professional director, still working in her late 70s and today appointed dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

This is the second time she has been included on the honours list for services to business - she was made a companion of the order in 2010.

The first female director of a publicly listed company, Dame Alison served 15 years on the Reserve Bank board and chaired Landcorp, Waitemata Health and Abano Healthcare Group. Now a director of Vector, Stevenson Agriculture, New Zealand Formulary and Crown Irrigation Investments, she says the drive taking her through her working life is from her upbringing.

Dame Alison was raised in the King Country, her mother and grandmother both housemaids.

Near the end of secondary school she became deaf - now mostly resolved through operations - which led her to become the petty-cash girl in a chartered accountancy office.

Studying by correspondence in her 20s, in 1971 she went on to set up her own farm accounting practice before being appointed to the Apple & Pear Marketing Board about five years later.

She now lives with her husband, retired High Court judge Barry Paterson, QC, in an apartment on Auckland's Viaduct decorated with art by Colin McCahon, Bill Hammond and Richard Killeen.

While the residence is perhaps the antithesis of rural New Zealand, agriculture is still a big part of Dame Alison's working life. As well as her other directorships, she chairs Farm IQ Systems, which helps farmers analyse the quality of their livestock to make more informed decisions.

A venture between Ministry for Primary Industries, Landcorp, Silver Fern Farms and Tru-Test Group, Farm IQ hopes to add $320 million annually to the red meat sector by 2017.

While unsure if she'll still be on the board then, Dame Alison doesn't want to "leave a job half-done".

"For me, if you have a contract you deliver on it so I'm very serious about that job," she said.

The idea of adding value is important for this businesswoman, who points out the value of Landcorp's assets went from $539 million to $1.4 billion during her seven-year term at the state-owned enterprise.

"What really drives me is giving back ... New Zealand's a wonderful country and I'm trying to add value, which for me as an accountant means you assess it in monetary terms."

In an interview meant to be about her, the newly appointed dame mentions a legion of other people from her working life - the likes of former Fletcher Challenge boss Hugh Fletcher, ex-Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard and Mighty River Power director James Miller.

"I have said often that you should choose your company carefully and I've been very lucky that I've been on the board of big organisations with very, very competent senior directors," she said.

Despite her long and undeniably successful career, Dame Alison stresses "no one does it on their own".

"I'm just one person among many that could be recognised," she said.

"There are an awful lot of people who are equally deserving."

Alison Paterson - Dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

- NZ Herald

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