Barbara Bridger - CEO, Otago Community Trust

What is your your background?

I was born in Dunedin and am the eldest of five daughters. We are all spread around the globe which makes choosing holiday destinations difficult. Growing up I was very involved in the guiding movement and have my Gold Duke of Edinburgh and Queens Guide Award. I met the Queen through this activity and there is a photo of me on the front page of the ODT in 1977 when she visited for her Silver Jubilee tour. In fact the photo shows me giggling as we were all demonstrating badges and ours was the `Around the World' badge. Having never left the South Island or flown in a plane I couldn't control my laughter when she asked when we were going on our trip.

I attended Kaikorai Primary school, Balmacewen Intermediate and then Kaikorai Valley College as it is now known. I went on to studying Accounting and Finance at Otago University and graduated in 1985 and gained  my Chartered Accountant qualification in 1988.

I met my husband, Ken Lister also a CA at Business Law lectures in 1984 and we have been married 32 years. We have three adult children, Sarah is a Lawyer in Dunedin and Rachel and James are studying full time, in their fourth and second years respectively, studying for Commerce degrees. (They say apples don't fall far from the tree!)

What has been your career path?

I started my working life as an Auditor in Dunedin with firstly Lawrence Anderson Buddle, (now Polson Higgs) and then Audit NZ. In 1987 Ken and I moved to Wellington where I joined the international Accounting firm Ernst & Young (previously known as Arthur Young). Whilst there I worked mostly in the Audit field and it was this work that saw me seconded to Toronto in early 1989 for three months. Later that year I transferred to their London office in the Rolls Buildings near Fleet street where I stayed for nearly four years.  I predominantly worked with clients in the Banking and Financial Services sector. In mid-1993 I joined Credit Suisse First Boston's Investment Management company in Canary Wharf in the Docklands, London. These were exciting times as this was around the time that the Eastern European Countries were opening up and deregulating and as a result of my work, helping to set up Investment vehicles for clients I took many a business trip to former Eastern Bloc Countries.

In mid-1995 we welcomed Sarah to our family and decided that it was time to return to New Zealand. Shortly after returning to Dunedin I took on the role as the first ever Practice Manager of Dunedin's Mornington Health Centre, one of New Zealand's largest medical centres. Whilst there I helped established the Country's first stand-alone Primary Health Organisation (PHO) and I was its Chief Executive for 8 years until its disestablishment in 2008.

I joined the Otago Community Trust as their Chief Executive in 2014. I am also a member of the Institute of Directors and sit on the Board of the Cosy Homes Trust.

What drives you?

That's a question to which there are many answers depending on what stage of life you are at. As a young person I would say I was pretty competitive and driven and over time you mellow and learn to treat others with greater respect as well as pick your battles. I vividly remember in Form 2 (Year 8) my Teacher telling the boys in my class during a Maths quiz to make sure Barbara didn't beat them to the answer! From then I think I just wanted to make sure that I did my level best to win the race, do well in the test, reach high and this eventually manifested itself as wanting to get the promotion and get the recognition in a work sense. I started my working life in the late 80s and this was a fairly competitive time, with well-entrenched gender stereo types.

I think parenting makes you put a lot of that competitiveness and drive into perspective, and life's challenges make you take stock and assess what is really important.
I would say I am still driven to succeed but today success looks different to me than it did when I first started my career. Success today is more about having respect for people of all backgrounds and ethnicities and being able to contribute to my community and valuing the company of family and friends.

Do you have some advice for young women launching their careers?

I guess my advice would be to not be afraid to put yourself forward and back yourself. My mantra to my children is "You can do anything if you put your mind to it''. Too often we hear that men will apply for a job or a promotion if they think that they have some of the skills required whereas women will often hesitate unless they have all of the skills required. Don't be afraid to push yourself and take yourself out of your comfort zone.  Also finding someone to act as your mentor, especially if you don't have family members or friends who have followed the same career path you are on can be a great help.

And network! Don't say I can't go to this or that because I don't know anyone, get out there and make connections and get involved.

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

Wikipedia states that International Women's Day is a public holiday in some countries and largely ignored elsewhere In some places, it is a day of protest; in others, it is a day that celebrates womanhood.  I like to think of it as a day that celebrates womanhood but I also consider in the wake of the #MeToo movement it is a good opportunity to highlight the rights of women. Last year there were nearly 120,000 cases of Family and Sexual Violence reported to the police in New Zealand, our rates of abuse in NZ are horrendous. I think it would be great if everyone, both men and women could see International Women's day as an opportunity to stop and think about statistics like these and the impact on our communities. 

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