The Bay this week hosted former National MP Paula Bennett, who has joined the Bayleys senior management team as a strategic advisory director for the real estate company's commercial and industrial division. She gives her views on how to work with Government, what growth looks like in the region and her new lease on life.
Paula Bennett's hot pink silk-look blouse demands the room's attention.
One foot in the door to Tauranga's Elizabeth St cafe and she's got the lawyers, financial experts and real estate agents talking about how amazing Bennett looks.
"She's so tanned and beautiful," someone whispers.
The 51-year-old is the guest speaker at the first Bayleys@5 networking event since the Covid-19 lockdown.
In a move from politics to property, the former National MP has joined the Bayleys team as a strategic advisory director for the real estate company's commercial and industrial division.
She's been invited to give her views on how to work with Government, what growth looks like in the region and her new lease on life to her new Bay of Plenty colleagues.
Bennett is dressed in Kathryn Wilson shoes and an elegant navy-coloured Trelise Cooper skirt and a hot pink top she says is "probably from Zara or H&M".
"I do love fun with fashion. And we've got some fantastic New Zealand designers," she says.
Sipping on a chardonnay, she declares she's trying to lose two kilos to be able to fit into her Melbourne Cup outfit for next Tuesday.
Since retiring from politics at the September election, Bennett says life since then has been "so much fun".
"I'm dancing on the tables now," she says with a laugh.
Bennett is relaxed, carefree and just having fun.
"It feels like I have been released and freed a little bit, which I know sounds weird, and it does take a little bit to get used to.
"I was having wine with lunch yesterday with a client and I sort of gasped and went: 'Actually I'm allowed wine'.
"It's something you were allowed before too but you knew people had pre-conceived ideas of what they expected from you and I think being a bit released from that is a lot of fun."
Bennett's been a little over a week in her new role, which will be particularly focused on further strengthening Bayleys' position in the corporate and private wealth sectors of the commercial property market.
Based in Auckland, Bennett's role will predominantly be business development and client liaison.
She will work alongside Bayleys' national director of commercial industrial Ryan Johnson, Auckland commercial and industrial director Lloyd Budd and national real estate advisory director Stephen Rendall.
Bennett will also be working closely with Knight Frank's private wealth investment division, which advises and transacts for more than 4000 high net worth clients, investment trusts and their advisors worldwide.
An important part of Bennett's role will be tapping into investment interest in New Zealand from returning expats and offshore investors.
Bennett has been an MP since 2005, was Deputy Prime Minister, and has managed 14 ministerial portfolios including Social Housing and Associate Finance.
So why the change from Parliament to property?
"I did relate to the values of it - work hard, the reward for effort, enjoy people, enjoy the country, love New Zealand.
"They convinced me I had something to offer, so they must be good sales people," she says with a laugh.
"And they needed a senior woman too."
After 15 years in politics, Bennett says she knew she was going to get out at some point.
"I'm not going to tell you I had some long-term burning passion for commercial property," she laughs.
"But I loved the thrill of something tangible. I think you chose anybody you work with and the values of the company, they just gelled.
"And it felt like fun, a little bit scary and out of my comfort zone. Isn't it kind of cool that at my age you get to do that?"
She wants to have fun in her new role in property too.
"Almost the more complex for me, the better. I love the advisory. I don't think the country outside of Wellington gets Wellington and I don't think Wellington gets the rest of the country.
"It's a different way of thinking. I do understand both. I think that if there is a role that I can help the Government achieve the goals they want to, which are admirable - more housing, better infrastructure, actually grow this country and its great people - then there is a real role for that and private investment to get involved too.
"I think I might have an opportunity to help bridge some of the language gap almost."
So what does she think the future of commercial property looks like for the Bay?
Bennett says the region needs certainty of projects going forward.
"I think we're understanding that that pipeline is most important. Even if you look at Tauranga Crossing, it's just such an interesting development.
"Well, it couldn't happen on its own. It happened because there were some terrific people that put a lot of money into it and had a vision. Developers get a rough time.
"Quite frankly, we should be thanking them for investing in this city. And it's risky, they put their own money, their own risk into it and build something with great research and incredibly intelligent people, but it's still a risk.
"For that to happen we need the certainty of projects."
Three things we didn't know about Paula
1. I have caught yellowfin tuna out from the Mount.
2. I have stayed on Mayor Island numerous times. I think if Mayor Island needed a mayor, that should be my retirement job.
3. I was once a fly fishing guide.