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Sue Kistanna: Passionate advocate for indigenous and women’s health

Mar 21 2019

Spotlight: Inspiring Directors

Sue Kistanna

Some say passion is a luxury. But for Sue Kistanna, who recently became a Chartered Member of the Institute of Directors, passion is life.  Sue sits on the board of the Women’s Health Action Trust, a women’s health group that advocates for better health outcomes for women. She is also General Manager at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences responsible for Te Kupenga Hauora Māori — the department of Māori Health, which aims to improve Māori health outcomes. Sue admits governance is not easy. She talks to us about her governance journey and how being a member of IoD helps her.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself

I am an immigrant from South Africa and have lived in New Zealand for the past 20 years. Professionally, I am a qualified Chartered Accountant. A core part of my role at the University of Auckland, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, is to deliver Māori health teaching to the Faculty’s professional health programmes. It also includes supporting research grants which aim to improve Maori health outcomes and managing Vision 20:20, the Faculty’s commitment to increase the number of Māori and Pacific health professionals to 10% by the year 2020.

I have two adult children and a rescued Neapolitan Mastiff, Lucy. Both my children are also pursuing careers in health. My daughter Dani is in her final year studying a conjoint Bachelor of Health Sciences/Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Auckland. My son Jarrin is a 4th-year Veterinary Science student at Massey University. My husband and I manage our family freight transport company.

2.  What skills do you think are important for directors to have given the changing context of governance?

Keeping informed, staying on top of the changes and critically reviewing information to enable informed decision making. It’s an exciting time to be a director and we have an amazing opportunity to use our skills so we and our organisations can make a difference. 

3.  What do you think is the biggest challenge for directors?

I think one challenge for boards is that directors have different levels of skills. It’s important that directors have basic knowledge of the governance issues their organisation faces to enable their board to make relevant and timely decisions. With the pace of change happening, we cannot sit on our hands and wait for decisions to be made for us. We need to take calculated risks. We need to be able to guarantee that our decisions were made ethically, with integrity and are in the best interests of the organisation. 

4.  What for you is the best part of being a director?

Working with organisations and teams that may be different from my background. In addition, bringing my specialist skills to continue to innovate and grow organisations and learn from the varied group of people sitting around the table.

5.  What are your passions outside work?

I am passionate about education. I believe that quality education can transform a society. I am currently working on my doctorate to explain the economic analysis of Vision 20:20. I also love spending time with my rescued Neapolitan Mastiff Lucy. She is an amazing girl and I adore her and her personality. Animals bring out the best in people. 

Sue Kistanna & Lucy
6.  What do you enjoy most about being a member of IoD?

The latest information on governance, the articles and the timely and relevant knowledge IoD provides. It is not an easy job being a director but it’s good to know we have an organisation that constantly educates their members. 

7.  How has your membership with IoD helped you?

The knowledge I have gained by attending the CDC, the workshops and the seminars have all been instrumental in giving me the edge when attending board meetings. When I sit in board meetings, I am more confident that I am not only doing my best but doing it right. 

8.  Why do you think is the value of being a Chartered Member of the Institute?

It represents that I have a very good understanding of what is required of a director and will be a valuable member of the team.

9.  Who inspires you?

My Head of department, Professor Papaarangi Reid. She is a phenomenal leader and an inspirational indigenous woman. Her strong values on women, indigenous health and education have been instrumental in my career pathway.

10.  What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a director?

You bring value to the board because of your experiences and your skills. Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, challenge your team, enjoy the experience and do your best.