Global career comes full circle

SUSAN STRONGMAN
Last updated 08:27 28/07/2014

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Vanessa James has one of those job titles that's a bit of a mouthful - she's Methanex's senior vice president, global marketing and logistics based at its Motunui plant, north of Waitara.

She's responsible for overseeing the organisation's core marketing and logistics functions, its wholly owned shipping subsidiary, Waterfront Shipping and she now has oversight of New Zealand as a producing region.

"I'm basically responsible from when the product is produced here to when it gets to the customer," she says.

She's also a mother of three - with two girls, 15 and 12, and a boy, 7. She who has worked for Methanex since 1995, and moved from Auckland to Vancouver, to Dallas, Texas, then finally back home to New Plymouth.

It's fair to wonder how she's managed to do it all with three kids in tow.

She laughs when I ask her, and tells me about her husband - an East Coaster with a PhD in economics.

"I have been very lucky, in that when we were overseas, he was pretty much Mr Mum.

"So when people say: 'How do you do it all?' I say: 'I don't do it all, I have a husband who's fantastic'."

James says that in Vancouver, her husband worked at the local university, but when they moved to Dallas he offered to stay at home.

"It's worked out really well. It's fantastic. He's now a better cook than me," she says.

"It's been really good for my girls too - to have their dad around lots. There are no traditional roles. You do what you need to do as a family."

She says the company has been very supportive of her and her advice to prospective parents in business is to decide on your priorities.

"If it's family, the company will work with you through it, as long as you're up-front, and say this is what I need, this is what I want to do."

James grew up in New Plymouth, going from West End Primary to Devon Intermediate to New Plymouth Girls' High School.

She then moved on to Waikato University where she did a bachelor of management studies majoring in finance and Japanese (the language still comes in handy when work takes her to Japan, one of Methanex's key markets in the Asia-Pacific region, along with South Korea and China).

After that, she took on a job in finance before heading to Methanex, and in 2003 she was shipped off to Vancouver to run the company's global supply chain.

In 2008 she became senior vice president of global marketing and was moved to Dallas, Texas where she remained for five years before coming back to Taranaki at the beginning of last year.

The global marketing team she runs from her office at Motunui is dotted in locations all over the world.

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"We have eight marketing offices, we operate in four regions, we have a shipping company that also reports in to me. So that's that side of the business. For New Zealand, the role is really oversight of what we do.

"We've got a great team in place on site."

About 220 staff, plus contractors, work at Methanex, and James is one of two woman on the global company's executive team of six.

"It's been ten years since we've been a three-plant operation. The vision now is the long term operation here, making sure we've got the right people, we've got support from the community, and we have good relationships with government and gas suppliers - so it's that business side of what we do here."

With family in tow, James says heading home to Taranaki was a good move: "You appreciate it - later."

Her kids all speak with North American accents, and someone once asked her if she'd adopted them.

But Vanessa does have a bit of an 'arr' to her 'r' - she says when you're overseas if you don't adjust to the accent, no one understands you.

Living in Texas was like a culture shock, she says: "The States are so big it's like having multiple countries within a country.

"The south was fantastic - they're super friendly, great food, fantastic shopping - we had a great experience there."

But she says coming home to Taranaki was a change for the better.

"Because it's your own culture, you kind of get it straight away.

"It's been interesting watching it through my kids eyes though, because they never really lived here.

"I watched them go through a little bit of culture shock, but kids are so great - they're so adaptable."

So adaptable, in fact, that James calls them "third culture kids."

"They take it all in and they go 'OK. This is what they do here. It's not wrong, it's not right. It's just what you do here'.

"You can't beat the lifestyle in New Zealand. That's what draws you back."

And though she's been with the same company for 19 years, she certainly hasn't had a chance to get bored.

"They are a great company. I've had six roles in those years. You can have a career, it's not just a job."

When asked what she does in her spare time, James again has a good old laugh.

"To be honest, I have three kids - that is my spare time.

"We try to go back to Canada every 18 months, so that ties in with work and visiting friends back there.

"But sometimes you spend a lot of time travelling and you get to school holidays and you're, like, 'can we just stay put?'."

- Taranaki Daily News

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