Simpson breaking boardroom barriers

NARELLE HENSON
Last updated 05:00 02/08/2014

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Waiting outside the pale yellow Turangawaewae house in Ngaruawahia is the softly-spoken Tania Simpson.

The latest addition to the Reserve Bank board is a King Country woman who also sits on the Maori King's council. Despite negative headlines recently featuring the king's son, she has secured the Parliamentary chamber as our interview room. It's the first sign of just how understated Simpson is about her influence.

The home of the Kingitanga movement seems a fitting place to talk to a woman who may be the first Maori appointed to the Reserve Bank board. "If not, at least the first Maori woman."

Despite a jumble of awards, directorships with a multitude of companies including AgResearch, Landcare and a position on the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal, Simpson has largely flown under the radar in Waikato. She insists the Reserve Bank callup was "totally out of the blue".

But the corporate heights to which the director has risen were founded in the humble reality of small business - in which both her parents were involved.

The Tainui, Nga Puhi and Ngai Tahu woman says it was at home in Te Kuiti that her cultural identity also started to form, too - one that would go on to shape every choice she has made since in business. One that she hopes she will bring to the Reserve Bank table.

However, it was in her early 30s that Simpson took her first real step into business. Looking for some independence in, Simpson left her role as a policy analyst in the Government and went back home.

"I wanted to come home to the King Country and see if I could work as a freelance consultant," she says.

The plan worked too well, and Simpson soon had a growing business on her hands. The "heavy focus" on policy and research that the enterprises started out with mellowed into a focus on "grassroots social sector type involvement", and Simpson now has 12 staff based in an office in Hamilton, with a branch in the King Country.

But it wasn't too long before Simpson began to realise that she thrived on the strategic side of business. Governance roles started to catch her eye.

Her big break came in 2001 when she was appointed to the Mighty River Power board. Simpson says it came as a "great surprise" to be selected. She was immediately thrust into the company's new strategy; geothermal power stations and found herself at the centre of a successful scheme to develop partnerships with Maori landowners, which pulled together her two great passions in life: business and Maori development.

Her roles to date have been great training for the latest role with the Reserve Bank. While she is aware some may hold she only got the role because of her ethnicity, or gender, Simpson remains unfazed.

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" I'm confident enough in my own reasons of why things happen that I'm not worried about it."

In fact, Simpson believes more Maori on boards can only be a good thing for a country in which two cultures co-exist. She says she wears the label of Maori director proudly.

"It's a good reflection I think on the Government's diversity policy, and [shows] in some of the more traditional boards they are really committed to getting diversity."

- Waikato Times

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