Professional director made Dame Companion

Dame Alison Paterson quotes Frank Sinatra when asked if she has any regrets after 60 years in the workforce and decades around the board tables of weighty New Zealand organisations.

"I did it my way - that's probably fair comment," said the professional director, who is still working into her late 70s and is today appointed Dame Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit.

This is the second time she has been included on the honours list for services to business and was made a Companion of the Order in 2010.

The first female director of a publicly-listed company, Dame Alison's career has seen her serve 15 years on the Reserve Bank board and chair Landcorp, Waitemata Health and Abano Healthcare Group.

Now a director of Vector, Stevenson Agriculture, New Zealand Formulary and Crown Irrigation Investment, she says the drive carrying her through working life came from her upbringing.

Dame Alison was raised in the King Country, her mother and grandmother both housemaids.

She became deaf towards the end of secondary school - now mostly resolved through operations - which led her to become the petty-cash girl in a chartered accountancy office.

Studying by correspondence in her twenties, in 1971 she went on to set up her own farm accounting practice before being appointed to the Apple & Pear Marketing Board some five years later.

She now lives with her husband - retired High Court judge Barry Paterson - in an apartment on Auckland's Viaduct decorated with art by Colin McCahon, Bill Hammond and Richard Killeen.

While the residence is perhaps the antithesis of rural New Zealand, agriculture is still a big part of Dame Alison's working life.

As well as her other directorships, she is chairwoman of Farm IQ Systems, which helps farmers analyse the quality of their livestock to make more informed decisions.

A joint venture between Ministry for Primary Industries, Landcorp, Silver Fern Farms and Tru-Test Group, Farm IQ hopes to add $320 million to New Zealand's red meat sector by 2017.

While unsure if she'll still be at the board then, Dame Alison doesn't want to "leave a job half-done".

"For me, if you have a contract you deliver on it so I'm very serious about that job," she said.

The idea of adding value is important for this businesswoman, who points out the value of Landcorp's assets went from $539 million to $1.4 billion during her 7-year term at the state-owned enterprise.

"What really drives me is giving back ... New Zealand's a wonderful country and I'm trying to add value, which for me as an accountant means you assess it in monetary terms," she said.

In an interview meant to be about her, the newly-appointed Dame mentions a legion of other people from her working life - the likes of former Fletcher Challenge boss Hugh Fletcher, ex-Reserve Bank governor Allan Bollard and Mighty River Power director James Miller.

"I have said often that you should choose your company carefully and I've been very lucky that I've been on the board of big organisations with very very competent senior directors," she said.

She has led a long and undeniably successful career, but Dame Alison ends by stressing that "no-one does it on their own".

"I'm just one person among many that could be recognised," she said.

"There are an awful lot of people who are equally deserving ... you always have to remember that."

 

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