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
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
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
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
While the residence is perhaps the antithesis of rural New
Zealand, agriculture is still a big part of Dame Alison's
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
"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
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,"
"There are an awful lot of people who are equally deserving
... you always have to remember that."