THERESA GATTUNG
Businesswoman
1962

The first female CEO of a major public company in New Zealand

In her landmark 1977 paper, Harvard Business School researcher Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote about how women in a male-dominated workforce often become one the boys to assimilate with the group around them. In doing so, they inadvertently betray their own gender in a bid to ensure they aren't ostracised in the workplace.

These rules do not apply to Theresa Gattung. In a 2017 New Zealand Listener feature she described herself as a "feminist capitalist" – a succinctly fitting descriptor for a successful businesswoman always willing to fight for equality in the workplace.

Gattung's rise in the business world was nothing short of meteoric, with her appointment to the position of chief executive at telco giant Telecom (now Spark) aged only 37.

If this appointment happened in the current context, it would raise a few eyebrows but back then it was downright controversial.

She led the company for eight years, managing the business through a tumultuous period as the government ratcheted up regulation in the industry.

After eight years of wrangling the complexities of an industry steadily hurtling toward the internet age, she hung up the landline and left the industry.

Not one to sit still, Gattung followed up her Telecom role by becoming the chair of ultimately ill-fated venture Wool Partners International. Gattung lasted four years in the agriculture industry, a space that, by her own admission, wasn't in her comfort zone.

"I didn't come from an agricultural background and didn't realise what a challenge that would be. I'm a townie," she told the Herald in a 2015 interview.

The challenging stint at Wool Partners didn't squeeze out her love for giving it a go in business. It was only a matter of time before she would find the next big thing.

That came in 2013, when she backed Cecilia Robinson and Nadia Lim to start My Food Bag. In the years that followed, the business has grown quickly, accumulating more than 50,000 customers and employing over 120 staff.

Gattung's tenacity also extends to her not-for-profit work in the fight for fair pay between men and women. While there has been progress in recent years, Gattung still believes there's more to be done – and she's never afraid to voice her opinions on the matter.