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55-year career recognised with Honorary Doctorate

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Businesswoman’s 55-year career recognised with Honorary Doctorate

A leading businesswoman whose career has spanned 55 years is to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Commerce degree from Massey University.

Alison Paterson will be presented with the award for her long service, achievements and outstanding contribution to New Zealand business.

An honorary doctorate is the most prestigious award the university bestows. It will be conferred at the Albany graduation ceremony in the Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, on April 21, when she will also give an address.

Testimonials supporting Mrs Paterson’s nomination for the degree read like a who's who of industry and finance, including Reserve Bank governor Dr Alan Bollard, Air New Zealand chairman John Palmer, businessman and immediate past Auckland University Chancellor Hugh Fletcher, Landcorp Farming chief executive Chris Kelly and retired Price Waterhouse partner Jeremy Rickman.

They describe her as a role model, professional, ethical, dedicated, wise and a trailblazer. "Few have contributed more," wrote Dr Bollard, "and she is a very nice person". Mr Palmer commented on her persistence, determination and refusal to compromise on her principles.

Mrs Paterson, of Auckland, says she is thrilled to receive an honorary doctorate from Massey. “I don’t have an alma mater and Massey University reflects me perfectly. I have a background in agriculture and the distance-learning programme fits well with where I have come from. Distance learning at Massey offers opportunities for people who are not otherwise able to access tertiary education.”

“As a person who has qualified by correspondence in Taumarunui I have had a very interesting career, which is not possible now for someone coming from that background.

“I am very committed to what I do. If at the end of a working lifetime you do not have the respect of your peers then you’ve achieved nothing – so for me this is that recognition and it means a lot.”

Mrs Paterson’s roles range across health, agriculture and infrastructure. She is currently chairman of the Abano Healthcare Group, the Governing Board of the Centre of Research Excellence for Growth and Development (University of Auckland), the deputy chairman of the Reserve Bank and a board member of Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga (National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement). She has been a member of the Massey University Council since 2004 and chairs its audit and risk committee.
Her other directorships include Vector and Metrowater. In recent years she has chaired Landcorp Farming Ltd, Waitemata District Health Board, the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission and was a councillor of Barnardos.
In 1976, she was the first woman appointed to a producer board when she was invited onto the Apple and Pear Marketing Board and, two years later, was the first woman director of a publicly-listed New Zealand company, McKenzies Ltd.
She has never considered that gender matters. “I try to be my own harshest critic, to add value and I have always found men to be supportive to women directors,” she says.

Growing up in King Country, Mrs Paterson (nee Glennie) took inspiration from her mother and grandmother – both housemaids. “They were both wonderful women who worked hard,” she says. “I think I have their service ethic in my genes.”

She boarded at New Plymouth Girls' High School, at great financial sacrifice to her mother. In her final year she developed a hereditary deafness, which she now reflects may have set in train her career in business.

“I was unable to pass my medicals to go into the traditional women’s professions of teaching or dental nursing,” she says. “I - and those professions - were probably lucky.”

Instead she learned shorthand and typing and took a job with a Taumarunui accountancy firm. The deafness was reversed with surgery and she qualified in professional accounting by correspondence, while working full-time.

In 1970 she became a partner in Seath Aston and Dinsdale, then set up her own practice a year later, specialising in farm accounting. She became widely known in the agriculture sector and was closely involved in the establishment of deer faming in the 1970s.

She has worked with prominent iwi leadership and, coming from the King Country, has always had considerable interaction with Maori.
“I have always worked long hours,” she says. “I’ve also placed importance on being involved in community life.” Yet she never set career goals. “I caught a wave and I rode it,” she says. “Doors have opened for me.”


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