MURRAY Denyer's eureka moment came part way through his double major in commerce and law at Auckland University in the early 1990s.
Supported by a scholarship from a major accounting firm, he had been leaning towards a career as an accountant. Then he stumbled across a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade recruitment presentation.
"I saw the light - it absolutely appealed to me," said Mr Denyer, a partner with law firm Cooney Lees Morgan, chairman of Tauranga economic agency Priority One, and an active angel investor.
The prospect of an international career tapped into a travel bug developed as a teenager, when he and a mate headed off straight after finishing at Waitakere College for three months' backpacking around Europe.
"It was a major formative experience that opened my eyes to the world and cemented my interest in languages," he said.
Mr Denyer, who was born and brought up in West Auckland, where his father was a chemist and his mother a GP, now set his sights on a diplomatic career. He refocused his degree on international law, graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Law, and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's 1993 graduate intake as a legal division policy officer.
A major highlight of his diplomatic career came while he was serving on a short-term posting with the New Zealand mission to the United Nations in 1994, when he was on hand to observe Nelson Mandela deliver his first speech as president of South Africa to the General Assembly.
Soon afterwards, he was posted to The Hague as second secretary, looking after New Zealand interests in The Netherlands and Scandinavia. His brief also included international organisations based in The Hague.
Mr Denyer said he was proud to have played a role in working on the New Zealand case brought in the International Court of Justice which eventually forced the French to stop nuclear testing at Mururoa.
A French speaker, he spent a lot of time travelling in southern France. His blue-blooded, Paris-trained, French diplomatic peers found the Francophone Kiwi's ability to swear like a Marseilles sailor hilarious. "I'm a strong believer in encouraging children to learn languages," said Mr Denyer.
It was in The Hague that he met his wife Lisa, an Australian-trained lawyer who was travelling in Europe. After a whirlwind romance, she ended her travels and started work at a Dutch bank in nearby Amsterdam.
In 1998, the couple returned to Wellington where he served as a senior legal adviser and worked on international trade law disputes, travelling frequently to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.
But after almost eight years with MFAT, he decided it was time he entered private practice and joined Minter Ellison Rudd Watts in Wellington as a senior associate. He became a key member of the firm's state-owned enterprises practice, and also gained broad corporate and commercial experience. In addition, he founded and developed a high-profile international trade law practice, with clients including Fonterra, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry for Primary Industries and New Zealand Winegrowers.
It was that export experience which brought him to the attention of a headhunter seeking a new general counsel for kiwifruit export marketing company Zespri. Mr Denyer knew the company well, but had never been to Tauranga, so he and his wife decided to check out Mount Maunganui.
"We left on one of those filthy cold Wellington days," he said. "But when we got out in Tauranga it was 21 degrees and the sun was out."
His wife, pregnant with their first child, took a walk on the Mount Maunganui beach while he interviewed for the job. By the time he returned, the decision to take the job and raise a family in Tauranga was a foregone conclusion for the couple.
"It's paradise and we've never looked back," he said.
Mr Denyer spent almost six years with Zespri, his role growing to include global management accountability for legal, government relations and industry regulation, and human resources, in addition to serving as secretary to the Zespri board. He was also deeply involved in the global licensing of kiwifruit varieties.
"It was enormously satisfying and incredibly busy, but towards the end I was doing a ridiculous amount of travel," he said.
His wife had by then been working for some years with Cooney Lees Morgan, which advises Zespri, and he knew the team there well. In 2009 he came on board the firm as a consultant, and was elected to the partnership in 2010.
Mr Denyer works with the commercial practice group, servicing clients including large corporates like Zespri and Norske Skog, local government, Maori trusts and incorporations, and a wide range of small and medium-sized companies.
He has served as Priority One chairman for the past three years and praises the organisation for bringing the council and local business together to help plan the city's economic development.
Priority One chief executive Andrew Coker said Mr Denyer had been a strong supporter of the agency's s goals.
"As chair he's made a major contribution to the organisation's direction and it's success," said Mr Coker. "Murray's strongly community-focused, and has been extremely generous with his legal and commercial expertise, as well as what is a precious commodity to him and his family, his time."
Mr Denyer and fellow partner Paul Tustin are also closely involved in Cooney Lees Morgan's advisory work for Tauranga's Enterprise Angels, which invests in start-up companies.
Mr Tustin said his colleague was a very good lawyer who brought a valuable perspective to the firm from his corporate and diplomatic experience.
"Murray's got a really good handle, at a governance level, on organisations, which has been very helpful as well," said Mr Tustin.
By David Porter