I started my career as a dairy assistant in South Otago, and went on to work for Landcorp, which exposed me to corporate farming and the agribusiness space. Landcorp created a farm technician role in the North Island, where I met my husband. We went back down to Otago and started sharemilking. We were both going to be on the farm full-time, but I knew pretty quickly that wasn’t enough for me, so I moved into managing investment farm portfolios.
Before the Next Level programme, I was at a crossroads. My husband and I had built our sharemilking business up to 3,000 cows over multiple properties. We had a young family, and my job was fulfilling, but I could see it was at a sunset point – investment dairy farming was no longer desirable. I hadn’t considered governance as a pathway. I (wrongly) assumed governance went hand-in-hand with an ownership stake. Next Level piqued my interest for the leadership component – understanding your leadership style and finding your ‘why’. That pulled me towards it.
I had all the puzzle pieces but was having trouble putting them together. Next Level solidified the trajectory I was on. I think someone who’s already on their journey would get the most from it. It’s the ability to build a network of like-minded people, the wisdom in the room, that’s invaluable. It’s the little pieces of gold that you pick up on the way that will stick with you forever.
The course centred on what good governance looked like, that diversity of thought really mattered and was what was going to take the industry forward. It opened my eyes and I thought, “That’s all the bits I really enjoy about my role now.” The bits I would cherry-pick out of the other things I was involved with were strategic high-level planning and foresight, and that lined up with governance. [The course] focused on bringing authenticity to governance roles: whilst you might not have an ownership stake, you needed to treat it like you did. It set me up to look for roles that I was going to be interested in.
Halfway through the programme I took the CEO role at Pouarua [Farms]. The role itself has been the catalyst to helping me get a foot in the right doors. The networks I’ve built have opened up other opportunities in advisory or governance spaces, such as the Dairy Women’s Network, Life Education Trust, and St Francis Catholic School. I’m on advisory boards for Pāmu, the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and a nutrient-management Māori advisory board. It’s a balancing act, but my full-time role is an iwi-owned operation and prioritises the value that whānau is everything. I make sure to look after that part of my life first.
I always thought I had to be everything in equal parts to be successful. The programme taught me that I didn’t have to be everything to everybody – nobody is. Also, I can be quite direct and I thought that was something I needed to tone down, but I’ve learnt that it isn’t a negative trait, it’s just one that I have to match to situations. I give that piece of advice to people all the time now.
This story has been produced in partnership with the Agri-Women's Development Trust. It is story one of seven in a series that shines a light on how programmes run by AWDT empower women and encourage them to meet their potential, and make a positive impact in New Zealand’s primary sector and rural communities.
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