Taking the time to celebrate women in the business community is a very special thing, and what better time to do this than on International Women’s Day? Rebecca Stevenson and Jihee Junn present ten women in business who deserve your attention.
The positive impact women make in New Zealand’s business community can sometimes fall under the radar, which is a shame because they deserve to be highlighted just as much as the other business greats New Zealanders love to pay tribute to. Part of that is because not only are their high-ranking achievements remarkable in themselves (particularly within industries that are traditionally male-dominated), but they also help to inspire other young, ambitious women like themselves.
Today is International Women’s Day which is why we decided to highlight a few select individuals who’ve made significant strides in their respective fields. These include Anna Guenther of PledgeMe, Lisa King of Eat My Lunch, Sinead Boucher of Stuff, Brooke Anderson & Sonia Williams of Sharesies, Adriana Christie of Pallet Kingdom, Samantha Jones of Little Yellow Bird, Cecilia Robinson & Nadia Lim of My Food Bag, Olie Body of Wā Collective, Lili Wang of the Chinese Herald, Aleisha Staples of Staples VR, Helene Morris of Lonely Lingerie, and Brianne West of Ethique.
It’s a list that could go on and on and on. But ten is a nice rounded number, so we’ve taken the time to pick out just a couple of impressive Kiwi women who we think deserve your special attention:
Anna Curzon – Xero
She’s now dubbed (in typical Xero fashion) chief partner officer, but Anna Curzon built her career the traditional way and within a traditional business, working her way through the ranks at ASB Bank. Her first gig was with stripped-back, online-only subsidiary Bank Direct, but in total, Curzon spent 18 years with the historic Auckland bank as it reinvented itself from niche to national player (remember Goldstein)? At ASB, Curzon headed up innovation and design, internet banking, brand experience and marketing; the right mix of finance and finesse for cloud accounting company Xero.
Curzon had a short stint at telco Spark, before joining the now ASX-listed Kiwi tech company as managing director for New Zealand. Her latest title sees her take charge of Xero’s critical partner programme; the loyalty scheme accountants and book-keepers sign up to when they join the company. While small business sign-ups have been a focus for Xero, it’s increasingly looking to grow its partner network and funnel small business users to partners for both strategic and book-keeping advice. Curzon also heads the “global teams working on Xero HQ and Ecosystem, including the Xero app marketplace, where 600+ apps live to better serve small businesses”.
Articulate, poised and warm, Curzon is a familiar face on the main stage at Xero’s travelling hype-show Xerocon, and her impressive CV saw her selected as a Women of Influence finalist in 2017 and was named one of the top 25 Women Leaders in SaaS worldwide.
Deanna Yang – Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar
More than two years ago, Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar’s rent near the Civic in Auckland faced a 40% hike. It was much beloved but was facing an uphill battle to keep the lights on. So owner Deanna Yang (who founded Moustache at just 22-years-old) launched a campaign to #savemoustache, eventually crowdfunding a whopping $91,000 to evolve the business, ditch the OTT rent and fit out a bus to tour the country.
Today, Moustache’s flagship store on Karangahape Road is a thriving one. Its cookies are legendary and so is the woman behind it. Yang is a young entrepreneur of Singaporean-Chinese descent who isn’t afraid to call out bullshit and racism in the business community when it counts.
Rebecca Stewart – Pomegranate Kitchen
When Rebecca Stewart worked for the Red Cross helping to resettle refugees through an administrative role, she saw a lot of the job pathways were around fitting people from refugee backgrounds into mainstream roles, rather than trying to make things work the other way around.
This experience helped birth what we now know as Pomegranate Kitchen, the Wellington catering company employing former refugees as cooks. They make baklava, cookies, bread and wraps with recipes often originating from the cooks’ homelands in Ethiopia, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria. Pomegranate Kitchen began as a pop-up, but now it caters for everything from weddings to Ted talks with crowds of over 500 people.
Aside from providing employment, Stewart hopes the Pomegranate experience will help upskill these home cooks to work in commercial kitchens, improve their English language skills and provide a community to rely on.
Komal Mistry – Fonterra
2017 was a huge one for fast-rising Fonterra executive Komal Mistry. Mistry heads up the dairy giant’s new business arm Fonterra Ventures which looks for complementary partnerships with startups and new business models to add value – and of course revenue – to the milk co-operative. With a heavyweight background (Mistry has double degrees in law and accounting) and an equally weighty CV at 30-years-old, Mistry capped last year by picking up Young Executive of the Year at the Deloitte Top 200 Awards.
A few days ago, Mistry’s team announced a deal with a German nutrition company Goodminton AG, part of the company’s push into the lifestyle nutrition market (said to be valued at $200 billion globally). Disrupt, its internal innovation programme also overseen by Mistry, has added $70 million to Fonterra’s bottom line since it was started in 2016. Disrupt is a company-wide programme that brings together teams from across Fonterra’s global businesses to elevate ideas – no matter who, or where, they come from.
Mistry has a team of ten under her leadership, with diversity and empowering women a core ideal for both Fonterra Ventures and Disrupt, she says. As an example, the first winner of the Disrupt programme came from its Sri Lankan staff who recognised the dairy company wasn’t reaching rural consumers. The answer? Putting women on farms in rural Sri Lanka on the payroll as sales agents. Who better to pitch the product?
Megan May – Little Bird Organics
Before starting Little Bird Organics, Megan May worked as a chef. When she decided to switch to a gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free lifestyle for health reasons, she realised that delicious food options which catered to her diet were few and far between. So she took the next best step: she decided to make her own.
Raw, vegan and organic food options might seem ubiquitous nowadays, but that certainly wasn’t the case a few years ago. Little Bird Organics helped blaze the trail for plant-based eating in New Zealand, going on to dominate the supermarket shelves for healthy and clean eating, as well as operating two successful Unbakery cafes in the process. Last month, it launched an equity crowdfunding campaign which far exceeded its target of $500,000 by raising a whopping $2 million instead. Not bad for someone who started out just wanting to have something decent to eat.
Kendall Flutey – Banqer
Banqer founder and CEO Kendall Flutey has a mission to bring financial literacy to young people, all from her hometown of Christchurch. Banqer, a simulated online banking platform, provides a hands-on environment that lets users play around with money, without breaking the bank. Thousands of New Zealand children are now building virtual economies through the education platform, with students earning digital money for performing classroom tasks or for positive behaviour. Just like a real economy, there are no free rides.
The company has been winning awards everywhere and have now expanded into Australia. But it all started when Flutey took a coding course at the Enspiral Dev Academy. She says women shouldn’t “be put off by outdated views of the tech sector“.
“Women can bring so much to developing. In tech, we do a lot of pairing, when you have two people working at one computer with one talking and one typing and you switch it up every 20 minutes. That process is enriched so much by having two completely different perspectives.”
Shama Sukul Lee – Sunfed Meats
Almost a year on since Sunfed Meats launched last year, its chicken-free chicken remains a rarity amid the country’s supermarket freezers. It’s safe to say the demand has been relentless, so much so that the young startup is already looking to significantly expand.
Sunfed’s remarkably meat-like products are the brainchild of Shama Sukul Lee, a software programmer turned food tech entrepreneur who’s reimagined the possibilities of plant-based protein. She’s already attracted plenty of high profile investors for Sunfed with her efforts set to kickoff the high skilled green industry in New Zealand.
Robbie Francis – The Lucy Foundation
Entrepreneur Robbie Francis named her enterprise after her own prosthetic limb which she dubbed ‘Lucy Leg’ as a child. The foundation’s aim is to create a ‘bean to cup’ value chain from the coffee plantations of southern Mexico through to the cafes of New Zealand, opening up training and employment opportunities for differently abled people in both countries along the way.
Her foundation works with farming families in the mountainous Oaxaca region of Mexico to produce coffee for export back to New Zealand. The brand is called Pluma, after the nearest town Pluma Hidalgo. “The reason we chose coffee is because it’s such a big industry in New Zealand, and we love this idea that coffee brings people together, regardless of ability, gender, religion,” Francis says.
In 2017 Francis won the Attitude Awards Entrepreneur category, cutting short a trip to Mexico to pick up her award. As well as her coffee venture, Francis is completing her PhD at Otago University’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies as well as living with phocomelia syndrome which results in undeveloped limbs.
In 2016, fashion designer Trish Peng attracted headlines for debuting a gown with a 20-metre silk tulle train – the longest ever seen on a New Zealand Fashion Week catwalk. The following year, Peng dominated the headlines again, this time for a $20,000 wedding dress made with thousands of fresh flowers.
Peng knows how to grab the fashion world’s attention, which is why this Kiwi designer is one of the most sought after, and not only in New Zealand but also in LA where her business is currently based.
Having once said her dream is to be like a Vera Wang and build an empire of her making, Peng’s continuous success over the years proves she’s already well on her way.
Mimi Gilmour Buckley – Burger Burger & Fish Fish
Once upon a time, fast casual eating wasn’t really a thing. It was either a choice between fine dining and fast food, and any options in the middle were few and far between.
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A few years ago, this started to change, and hospitality doyenne Mimi Gilmour Buckley was a big influence. Her restaurant, Burger Burger, was a hit from the get go. Its small Ponsonby location served over 160,00 customers in its first year, which quickly lead to a second location in Newmarket and a third location in Takapuna. In 2016, another restaurant of hers, Fish Fish, also opened its doors.
For Gilmour Buckley, it isn’t just about being a successful restaurateur, serving as a strong advocate to employ, teach and inspire young people to enter the hospitality industry. By 2025, she wants Burger Burger to be recognised as the most inspiring place for under-25-year-olds to work in New Zealand.
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