Hawke's Bay's "most influential man" succumbed to subterfuge last week, resulting in a top honour.

Businessman and philanthropist Kevin Atkinson was presented with a Paul Harris Fellowship from the Hastings Karamu Rotary Club for his services to the community.

He said the presentation caught him by almost complete surprise.

"I was their guest speaker about four months ago and they asked me to be guest speaker again. I thought, that's a bit soon to come around again," he said.


Mr Atkinson is chairman of Unison Networks and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board.

He was chairman and a principal sponsor of the successful Bay Hawks basketball team in the 1990s, and has been a director of the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union for the last 18 years, which has sustained a healthy financial position with his hand on the helm, as has the HBDHB.

He has also been involved with a myriad of community organisations including the Eastern and Central Community Trust, Eastern Institute of Technology, Hawke's Bay Opera and more.

The company he founded in 1983, IMS Payroll, is the principal sponsor of the Hastings Karamu Rotary Club's annual Cocktail Party for the benefit of the Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust. The club conferred the Fellowship on the same night it presented a cheque for $94,000 to the Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust, proceeds from its 2016 Cocktail Party.

He built IMS from a contract to provide IT services to the Hawke's Bay Farmers Meat Co into a business with more than 11,000 customers in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Last year he sold IMS, renowned for its generous community sponsorships, to Australian accounting software company MYOB for $9.7 million.

Hastings Karamu Rotary Club president Nick Story said Mr Atkinson showed commitment to helping people.

"Kevin has made an outstanding contribution to our region through both his professional and personal life," he said.


"He has shared the rewards of his business success and has been a major sponsor of a variety of Hawke's Bay sports and other activities for more than 30 years. He has contributed to the funding, management and advisory roles across various sporting codes.

"His life exemplifies the humanitarian and educational objectives of the Rotary Foundation and this makes him a very worthy recipient of our highest award."

In 2010 Mr Atkinson received the Insignia of a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and the community and in 2013 Profit magazine named him the most influential man in Hawke's Bay.

He has a new office in Hastings but says he is rarely there, busy with his Unison and HBDHB roles.

"I have another year at Unison, until July next year probably. At this stage I am almost certain to put my hat into the ring again for the HBDHB, if the community want me again."

He said there was a lot of overlap between his professional and personal life.

"I get a lot of enjoyment from all the things I am involved with. I don't think of my business activities as pure business - it is about enjoyment for myself and the people I work with."