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Lead articles from BoardRoom magazine.

A bright future for New Zealand

May 01 2017

The IoD’s 8,000th member isn’t actually a new member at all. Mavis Mullins originally joined the IoD more than 10 years ago but ceased membership feeling that at the time the areas she really cared about – the primary sector and Ma - ori governance – weren’t well represented by the IoD. Times have changed and Mullins has reconnected with the IoD as the organisation builds greater engagement with Maori, and she is keen to be a part of those conversations.

Reconnecting with the IoD is Mullins’ way of acknowledging the changing face of the organisation, as more work is put into supporting good governance in the rural sector and with Māori. Mullins is a leader in both of these spaces; her many accolades include an MNZM for services to the wool industry, 2014 University of Auckland Māori Business Leaders Awards Business Woman of the Year, and winner in the rural category at the Women of Influence Awards last year. That’s not to mention her time as president of the Golden Shears International Shearing Championship Society, and numerous board positions including with 2degrees Mobile, Poutama Trust, Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre and Hautaki Ltd. All of this and Mullins is still involved in running the family dairy farm.

A Dannevirke native, Mullins’ connection with the land is her in blood.

“Every Maori has a whakapapa to land somewhere, a footprint big or small, it is an important connection” Mullins says.

The business and governance side of Mullins work was influenced by her family. Mullins learned the core values of business early on, from how you answer the phone properly and talk to clients when they ring, to how you make a cup of tea when they’re there.

Her desire for better governance in the rural space comes from a connection with the sector, but also a drive to increase economic development. Mullins has seen for herself the way that growth in the sector changes the role of the farmer and why a strategic view is so important.

“It might sound the same but it’s actually a quantum shift in thinking, going from a farmer to be a producer of high quality, safe food products for a global market. You suddenly become something different than you thought.

“With my background, I’m a wool classer by trade. It was finally understanding that the work the shearing industry does is actually first stage processing for the export of wool to a global market – when you realise, recognise and can articulate that, it shifts your headspace, your strategic overview.”

That big picture view of the primary sector pointed Mullins towards governance, as a key driver of the vision she sees for the sector and for New Zealand society on the global stage.

“Good governance to me enhances good business, and good business is what New Zealand needs. We are a little country at the bottom of the world with a taste for the good things in life. We have to be smarter; we have to be more agile, more flexible to meet that global bar.”

Technology is part of the solution to enable the primary sector to work in a smarter way. Mullins is one of the founding trustees of Te Huarahi Tika Trust and a director on the board of its commercial arm - Hautaki Ltd. Te Huarahi was the force behind challenging the Crown for the rights to 3G spectrum and the subsequent establishment of a third mobile network in New Zealand – 2degrees mobile.

Mullins still sits on the board of Hautaki Ltd and finished her term on the board of 2degrees in mid 2016. Prior to the work with Hautaki and 2degrees, Mullins says she had no experience of the telecommunication sectors, but brought extensive governance experience to the table. The process to secure a third mobile network was lengthy – about nine years of hard work navigating an unknown area – and while not an easy process, it was incredibly rewarding.

“What we have seen is 2degrees put over three billion dollars back into the pockets of New Zealand consumers through a truly competitive environment in the mobile space. That in itself is hugely satisfying. It makes me feel very pleased and gives confidence that we can do anything from anywhere. We don’t have to live in Auckland or Wellington. Technology enables participation in some of the big stories for New Zealand.”

Having a third mobile network has been of value to Māori and those in the rural space, Mullins says, and the ownership of 2degrees has had an impact on the way Māori business is viewed.

“I guess for Māori we were mostly tagged with having an asset base that was firmly within farming, forestry and fisheries. The reality of the adoption of technology into these industries almost makes it shift up a gear so technology becomes part of the discussion. It’s the tool that will help us all remain relevant.”

Giving those businesses in the rural sector the power to connect and compete in the global market matters to New Zealand as a whole, Mullins urges. To address wider issues such as the demographic bubble, the rural, regional and provincial centres
of the country all need to be engaged.

“It’s having that strategic view and vision that can lead to smart business that
makes it all happen.”

Technology can’t be seen as simply a business add-on Mullins says, and governance has a key role in ensuring it is a tool for growing good business. Taking that strategic view of the primary sector Mullins can see how much change is coming our way, and how primary sector producers are adapting to keep up with the times.

“I think the primary sector is always looking, there was probably a time when it was more inward but the looking now is more external. We look in but also look out and long; the primary sector requires that. It’s not like a warehouse where you can change a product line overnight. The primary sector is a biological business and the cycle is longer so your planning has to be smarter.”

The involvement of the primary sector has so far played a big part in New Zealand’s success on the global stage, and while it has served the country well the reality of changes in food production and the demands of the market could really shake the industry if we’re not prepared. Mullins has seen first-hand the developments overseas, during trips to places like China and San Francisco.

“Doing what we’ve always done isn’t going to cut it. We’re too small, too far away. Other developing countries are making fantastic use of our advancements and our IP; just standing still is no good. I do believe we need more co-investment into R&D, into healthy food, into safe food.

“This is what we’re good at. We’re pretty innovative people and always looking to create the next best thing, which is pretty cool for New Zealand.”

Mullins wants to be sure that players in the primary sector really take part in these conversations, and are not separated from the decision making.

“It’s a discussion around an eco-system of things and the key for us is that it is an eco-system and we’re not siloed; we’ve been siloed in the past where producers or farmers haven’t been as well connected to the processes or the market. Technology has shifted the landscape hugely. We now understand that our market is a person, it’s a family – whether it’s in San Francisco or China the market is a face and a name, they have a home. From a governance point we have to ensure these things are recognised and addressed in the industries we’re involved in.

“This is where Māori have a lot to offer because our view is intergenerational; it’s not about first quarter, second quarter, this is ten, fifty years ahead. When you have a headspace that is a fifty year vision you make different decisions than if it were a second quarter strategy.”

Māori business and the primary industries are an integral part of the story of New Zealand and Mullins wants to ensure that governance in those areas is strong; these are the things she is passionate about. Her vision for New Zealand is about protecting and enhancing the things we hold dear.

“I love nothing better than to get out on the farm, on the land; it helps you to balance the strategy and the politics of governance and business. It gives you a leveller and reminds you why we’re doing this stuff, what it’s all about.

“It comes back to the beautiful, clean, fresh New Zealand that we have and how we maintain that, how we improve it, how we make it a fabulous place for our future generations.”

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