Women Who Are Leaders

We were delighted to host National Deputy Leader Nicola Willis in the electorate on Monday 29 August. We took advantage of Nicola’s business acumen by inviting her to join the panel for our Women Who Are Leaders / He Wāhine Rangatira event in the afternoon.

A free community event open to all businesswomen from commercial and not-for-profit organisations, the afternoon was successfully MC’d by Rachael Speedy of BPW Franklin, and Nicola was joined by Sheridan Broadbent and Sarah Balle on the panel.

The event highlighted the many roles women play in leading a business, from the self-employed and those working in partnership with a spouse or sibling, to those employed to support and run small and medium businesses, to those who have successfully founded and grown their own businesses, to those that have gone on to hold high-level executive roles in major corporates and multinational organisations.

Sheridan brought her expertise as an independent director, having held several senior executive roles in infrastructure, technology and energy in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific.

She emphasised the importance of being resilient in a role and of balancing work with life. One of her passions is racing classic cars and last year she won the Arrow Wheels European Race Classics Series in a 1996 M3 BMW, having campaigned for years with what she describes as ‘a spectacular lack of success’ in cars such as a 1972 Valiant Pacer and a 1967 Mark 2 Cortina.

Sarah Balle is a home-grown success story. Born and raised in Pukekohe, Sarah attended Pukekohe High School and ACG Strathallan College. She became interested in entrepreneurship through the Young Enterprise scheme at high school, which saw her team win several awards, including Young Enterprisers of the Year.

In June 2021, Sarah launched Supie, an online supermarket, and she is on a mission to create a better and fairer supermarket for all Kiwis. Supie now has almost 30,000 members across Auckland and has recently raised its second round of seed-funding. They are currently considering expanding the service to other main centres and have a pilot scheme in the pipeline to test this out.

She highlighted the importance of surrounding yourself with good support networks when in a position of leadership, and not to be afraid of making mistakes. She told attendees that she has learnt a great deal from the mistakes they have made and made major improvements to their business as a result.

Rachael Speedy has owned her own business for 14 years. After leaving school and learning hotel management on the job both in New Zealand and Australia, she went on to manage several international businesses where she developed a passion for premium quality, ethical food.

Upon returning to New Zealand, she established her own food wholesale distribution business, NZ Premium Foods, in 2008 which supplies the food-service sector.

Rachel credited the fostering of strong relationships for her success, describing how she has found it essential to partner with manufacturers, producers, suppliers and communities. She has built her career on business collaborations, both here in New Zealand and across the world.

And while Nicola Willis will be known to many as National’s Deputy Leader, she held a number of senior management roles at New Zealand dairy co-operative Fonterra, and served on the boards of Export NZ and policy think-tank the New Zealand Initiative, before entering Parliament in April 2018.

She grew up in Wellington, and today lives there with her husband Duncan and their four children. Nicola said she would be unable to pursue her career in Parliament without the support of Duncan, who has put his own career on hold for a few years to look after their children.

One of the key themes from all four women’s presentations for women in leadership roles was the importance of having good support networks in place, be it family, professional associations, work colleagues, or other networks.

BPW is such an organisation. The New Zealand Federation of Business & Professional Women works to encourage, support and advocate to improve the quality of business life for women. It undertakes a number of activities to achieve these objectives.

BPW Franklin is our local organisation. Founded in 1984 in Pukekohe, the group meets regularly each month. Its membership includes women from small and medium-sized businesses through to large corporations, from the public and non-profit sectors, as well as women no longer in paid work, influential women leaders, young career women and savvy entrepreneurs.

Women make good leaders. They bring diversity to the workplace – different skills, experiences and opinions. In New Zealand, over half of all people who sit on public sector boards are now women, although there is still a way to go to increase their representation on private company boards.

If you are a woman in a position of leadership in business, be it commercial or not-for-profit, large or small, take inspiration from these four amazing women. Reach out to networks, foster relationships, learn from your mistakes, and be strong and resilient.