Skyline's first female chair saddles up

Jan Hunt is delighted she’s now chairing Skyline’s board. Photo: Mountain Scene
Jan Hunt is delighted she’s now chairing Skyline’s board. Photo: Mountain Scene

Keen horsewoman Jan Hunt has taken up the reins as Skyline Enterprises’ first female chair. The locally-raised 61-year-old, who rode high in her hotel career, discusses her track gallops with Philip Chandler.

Appointed this month as chair of iconic Queenstown-based tourism giant Skyline Enterprises, Jan Hunt stands out for three reasons.

Having grown up at Mt Nicholas Station, across Lake Wakatipu, she’s one of that rare breed — a Queenstown local.

She’s the first female to chair Skyline’s board, after about 18 months as deputy chair, and she has a background in hospitality management that’s almost unparalleled.

Hunt’s also up with market trends as a board member of Tourism New Zealand for the past two years.

The other constant in her life, since her station days, has been an affinity for horses.

She’s modest about her riding abilities, but concedes she won the Glenorchy Races gallop three times.

Soon after, she says organisers kicked women out of that race as they were winning it too often.

Educated through correspon­dence school till Form 1, she then went to Dunedin’s St Hilda’s Collegiate School till the sixth form, when she left — ‘‘my lead teachers thought that was probably a good idea’’.

Her initial career was nursing, which she pursued in Blenheim and then London, but it was ‘‘very, very staid’’ there so she started her hospitality career by working in a wine bar in Soho.

Partly because she loved skiing, Hunt headed to ritzy Aspen, in the United States, where she worked her way up to manager over seven years at a classy 65-room hotel where actor Jack Nicholson stayed.

There was even a temperature-controlled room for guests to leave their furs, she says.

Hunt also worked for an Aspen entrepreneur who helped kickstart that town’s sister city link with Queenstown — ‘‘he and I argued about which resort was more beautiful’’.

Returning to Queenstown in the ‘80s, she first managed St James Apartments where she met her husband-to-be, ex-All Black Duncan Robertson.

From there she had a string of ever-larger general manager roles — for Holiday Inns in Queenstown and then Cairns, which she opened, Millennium Hotel Queenstown, SkyCity & Convention Centre in Auckland and Arrowtown’s Millbrook Resort. While at Millennium she also had a stint as chair of Destination Queenstown.

‘‘I remember [fellow hotelier] Chris Black told me it would take an hour or two a week but DQ was a little bit short of money and it was all hands to the deck — I even did famils.’’

Hunt says she enjoyed running hotels — ‘‘it’s all about the team you can put around yourself’’ while also having empathy with the owners.

But by 2008 she’d had enough and became a consultant instead.

That year, then-Skyline chair Barry Thomas also tapped her into becoming an independent director — ‘‘they must have been looking for a woman’’.

She was delighted with the transition to governance.

‘‘You get to apoint with management where you can’t wait to actually be the one reading the reports, not writing them.’’

Partly to help their daughter Olivia’s showjumping career, the family shifted to Rangiora, near Christchurch, for two years that turned into seven, returning home last December.

She’s incredibly proud to be Skyline’s new chair — ‘‘Skyline for me has always had family values, Southern values, and that makes you very proud to be there’’.

She’s also thrilled with the competency of CEO Geoff McDonald and his team as they embark on projects like Queenstown’s gondola redevel­opment.

Till last year Hunt was a Jumping NZ board member and chaired its high performance committee. She’s hoping to still find time to ride her horses: ‘‘I grew up on horses, but it’s getting abit harder — they seem to get bigger these days.’’

Hunt’s husband Duncan Robertson’s recovering from an incident outside their property last Sunday.

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