Newly elected Otago Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Ali
Copeman relaxes at her Dunedin home yesterday. Photo by
Ali Copeman reckons Dunedin is ''about to boom''.
The conference organiser and newly elected chairwoman of the
Otago Chamber of Commerce is unashamedly passionate about the
city and also its potential for further growth.
Welsh by birth, Mrs Copeman (47) arrived in Dunedin at the
end of her standard four (year six) school year, having spent
the previous three years in Hamilton.
Her dream of a career in the police, particularly as a
detective, was destroyed when she was rejected on medical
grounds because of type 1 diabetes.
Geography was her strongest subject at school and she ended
up graduating from the University of Otago with a bachelor of
arts in geography and anthropology, along with a graduate
diploma in tourism.
With a heavy involvement in competitive sport, as a player,
coach and umpire - she was on Volleyball New Zealand's board
in her early 20s - she gained a job as a secondary school
sports and events co-ordinator.
A call later followed asking if she would organise a
conference that was coming to the city. From that, she got
two more approaches and akB Conference Management was
established in 1999.
While Dunedin-based, the company organises conferences and
congresses throughout New Zealand, with a focus on using
She was a strong supporter of business tourism, believing the
sector had both much economic impact and a much potential,
Mrs Copeman said.
Conference-goers liked coming to Dunedin - it was a good
destination logistically, as it was compact, and there were
some unique venues such as Forsyth Barr Stadium and Larnach
Castle, she said.
Among the highlights over the years was organising an
international diabetes federation conference in Wellington,
attended by 2000 delegates, that was a massive undertaking
but very successful.
She was also thrilled with the success of the Global Botanic
Gardens Congress in Dunedin in October last year, which
attracted 347 delegates from 45 countries. It was a
significant event for the city and people were still talking
positively about it, she said.
Even though the same template was used for organising each
conference, every conference was different.
Asked what the secret was to the success of her business, Mrs
Copeman said she would like to think she was very
results-focused and people-focused.
''I'm constantly crossing the t's and dotting the i's. I'm a
bit of a pedant.
You have so many balls in the air, you can't afford to drop
them,'' she said.
One of the things she loved about her work was the number of
talented and innovative people she got to meet.
While her work kept her very busy, Mrs Copeman was also keen
to give something back.
She is now in her seventh year as a member of the Chamber of
Commerce and she said she was looking forward to her tenure
as chairwoman - she is the fourth female to take on the role
since the chamber's inception.
The chamber was a strong advocate for business in Dunedin and
everything it did was to the benefit of the city's
''We fight for them because that's what we do,'' she said.
It was a time of change for many different businesses and the
chamber was a ''voice for all''.
''I believe it's one of those memberships people should
have,'' she said.
The book commissioned by the chamber to mark its 150th
celebrations, Tales of the Tartan Mafia: Celebrating 150
Years of Commerce in Otago, proved the positive impact the
chamber had had on the city since it was built, she said.
One of her highlights had been an eight-year involvement with
the OBIZ business excellence awards, where the stories of
successful Dunedin businesses, that often people had not
heard, were told.
''There's a lot of talent here and I'd like to attract a lot
more of it,'' she said.
''We are a progressive city. I don't think people see that. A
lot happens behind the scenes people don't see,'' she said.
Mrs Copeman is the first small business operator for a long
time to serve as chairwoman and she said the chamber was very
aware that many of the city's businesses were micro to small.
''There's a lot of creatives down here who are sole
operators. We're looking to support those guys,'' she said.
She was also excited about the potential of a proposed $60
million international school for the city, details of which
were revealed earlier this week.
The chamber would continue to build on its very good
relationships with the Dunedin City Council and other
stakeholders, she said.
She, her husband Clive, a self-employed photographer and
videographer, and their 10-year-old daughter shared a busy
lifestyle. However, they managed to juggle it all to make it
work and, with no family south of Hamilton, friends were
sometimes called upon to help out.
One of the benefits of what she did was getting to see the
rest of the country during frequent trips away. There was
nothing better than flying back into Dunedin and ''seeing
''You've got to go away to appreciate the place.''
But while Dunedin was ''the best little city'', it could
still be better.
''We do need to grow and be more innovative,'' she said.