Diane Foreman wins Entrepreneur of the Year

20:04, Oct 22 2009

Auckland businesswoman Diane Foreman has been named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2009.

Foreman is CEO of the Emerald Group, an investment company with interests in healthcare in New Zealand, manufacturing in New Zealand and the USA, a boutique hotel on Auckland's North Shore and property development and investment.

Her business empire also includes Emerald Foods, which won an NZTE International Business Award last month for companies with turnover between $10 million and $50 million.

But she is clearly an entrepreneur who has indentified opportunities across a vast array of business interests, says David Johnson, chairman of the panel of judges, chief executive of Trends International, and winner of the inaugural Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998.

"We grilled her: was she an investor or entrepreneur? And we absolutely got bitten back at 100 miles an hour. If she wanted to be an investor, she could be sitting on the beach talking to her accountant every two days.

"She bought the Emerald Inn in Takapuna and she has slept in every room in that place. She got the gardens out of Fiji, she brought the gardener and the plants back, and she's just got resource consent for a $100 million plus project to turn it into a retirement home - she intends to live there one day - and she bought it out of receivership 15 years ago and identified its potential. That's not an investor."


Foreman will represent New Zealand at the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monte Carlo in May 2010.

Johnson, who has been on the judging panel for the past five years, says it was incredibly difficult choosing between the five finalists this year.

"I know it's trite but any one of those five people could have represented us on a world stage. I think Diane will tick every possible box in terms of representing us in Monte Carlo."

Foreman, a former vice chair of the Business Roundtable, struggled as a single parent before meeting and marrying Bill Foreman, who encouraged her to take over Trigon, the family plastics company, which she eventually sold to Sealed Air Corporation in 1996 for $130 million.

From a non-vanilla world 

In business terms, Foreman's world is clearly not vanilla.  Not even hokey-pokey.  In fact, in ice cream terms, it would be near impossible to pick a flavour that captured the diversity of her Emerald Group.

Nevertheless, ice cream is an important part of her empire.  Purchased as a failing business Diane saw its potential.

She implemented a new management team and a changed strategy that has seen it become New Zealand's largest franchise business. Under a number of high profile brands-most notably 'New Zealand Natural'-a range of tasty treats are shipped from Auckland to almost 700 own franchised stores in 21 countries.  Being part of one of New Zealand's prime industries, dairying, gives Diane immense satisfaction.

She's also involved in health care with an aptly named Healthcare Holdings (23 percent owned by Emerald) providing private hospital and clinic facilities and owning 100 percent of the MercyAscot Group). Diane's most proud of ensuring private radiography is now an option for New Zealanders.

Broadening the sweet and surgery base, Emerald Group is involved in hospitality and tourism via the boutique, Auckland-based Emerald Inn; a 50 percent holding in specialist, high level recruitment and contracting company Emergent Limited provides a good investment as well as a source for key talent to help manage her Group.

As is the case with many entrepreneurs, Diane didn't have much of a taste for education leaving school at 15 with no tertiary qualification.  She trained as a typist and in her early 20s became a medical secretary.

When former husband Bill Foreman came to the practice one day, a strong business and marriage partnership began.  A major stroke in 1990 prompted Bill to promote Dianne to board status of his Trigon Holdings in order to learn the business as well as manage family interests.

Eventually becoming CEO, she single-handedly negotiated the sale of Trigon to US interests at a purchase price of NZ$130 million.

Post deal, Diane continued to create success on her own terms.  Today her four 'gems' of completely different heritage directly, or through shareholding, employs over 4,000 people and has interests in 29 countries.

The five finalists  

Products; Diane Foreman. Emerald Group Limited

Services; Ross Hyland. Seales Limited

Technology, health sciences and emerging industries; Graeme Clegg. New Image Group

Young Entrepreneur (35 or under when applications close): Derek Handley. The Hyperfactory.

Master Entrepreneur (leaders of well-established businesses who have demonstrated commitment to entrepreneurship): Peter Marshall. Tallon Systems.

Previous overall winners include:

Michael Hill - Michael Hill International Limited
Ashley Berrysmith - Freshcuts NZ Limited
Richard Taylor - Weta Workshop Limited
Sir George Fistonich - Villa Maria Estate