Dame Rosanne Meo is a firm believer that it's possible to rise to the top of the business world while raising children alone.

After 21 years working through the male-dominated hierarchy of NZ Forest Products, Dame Rosanne was appointed the first female president of the Employers' Federation in 1991 and has been considered a torchbearer for businesswomen ever since.

With more than two decades of experience in this country's boardrooms, the 65-year-old mother of two has been made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business.

In her time as a public director, Dame Rosanne has chaired Television New Zealand and sat on the board of Mercury Energy, Sky TV, Ports of Auckland, Forestry Corporation and Baycorp.


In 1993, the Baradene College old girl and aunt of former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for public services.

At present, she sits on the board of AMP Services, Overland Footwear and chairs the Briscoe Group and the Auckland Philharmonia Trust Board.

She is a trustee of the Liggins Institute, South Auckland Health Foundation and the Kelliher Charitable Trust.

Dame Rosanne said the honour showed it was possible to advance through the corporate ranks without sacrificing family life.

"If you want to really combine having a career and being a parent, you absolutely can do it. Part of my gratefulness for this is to [my children] because even when they were very little they have just been supportive, they've taken a lot of interest, they've encouraged me," she said.

Divorced in the early 1990s, Dame Rosanne said she brought up her two daughters, Annabelle and Victoria, "substantially alone".

"You can combine motherhood and a career and derive enormous satisfaction and enjoyment and I think be successful at both," she said.

And although "an enormous amount has changed" for women in the business, Dame Rosanne said gender imbalances persist.

"In part, it's what we want as women ourselves. I think there were a lot of women I knew in the early days who started working as directors [and who] found toughness around the board table - it was a very male-dominated environment and still is. Some chose not to pursue it.

"For others, financially it wasn't as much as staying in corporate life. For me, I loved it, the stimulation [of] working in very diverse industries," she said.

While many young women likely look up to her, Dame Rosanne said she had no female role models at work when she started out.

"My role models came from family. I've always been in a family with strong women. We were always encouraged to be quite outspoken so there weren't the role models but there were some guys who gave me an enormous amount of support as well.

"I guess back then we didn't talk about mentoring. You just had to get on and give it a go, so there were times that were lonely and quite hard."

She says she is by no means ready to leave the working life. "It's going to be a tough [year] and the companies that are doing well are the ones that are driving consistent change."


For services to business: Rosanne Meo.