2014 Beacon Winner
It is said that a combination of ability, vision and perseverance will get someone to the top. In theory, anyone can become Prime Minister or President, but in practice it is rare for someone to come from the bottom rung to the top. In business, this is even less likely if you are a woman. Despite the so-called “glass ceiling” Joan Withers has proven that this is actually possible. She has indeed risen from a junior bank officer to become Chairman of some of the leading companies in New Zealand. She has also championed woman executives and directors, and worked enthusiastically for many years to foster talent, promote diversity in our boardrooms and better the standards of corporate governance. As a result, Joan is a most worthy winner of the New Zealand Shareholders Association Beacon Award for 2014.
Joan left school at 16, with no qualifications and few expectations. However, she had a disciplined work ethic and an innate sense of integrity and fairness. She worked initially as a bank teller and later raised a family. Deciding to do an MBA at Auckland University aged 36 was no easy decision, but proved to be life changing.
Joan moved into media and progressed to ultimately become CEO of the Radio Network and later CEO of Fairfax New Zealand. Past directorships have included The Warehouse, Tourism Holdings and Meridian Energy. She emerged from a short but ill-fated stint at Feltex with her reputation intact. She was a director for 16 years at Auckland Airport (Chair for the last four years).She is a director of ANZ (New Zealand) and sits on the board of the New Zealand Treasury. Currently Chair of Mighty River Power, she successfully guided the company from SOE to the first partially privatised listed energy company.
Joan has also freely contributed her talents to a range of other organisations, including as a trustee of the Sweet Louise Foundation (a support group for women and men with secondary breast cancer) and as a trustee of the philanthropic Tindall Foundation. She chairs a project creating employment for disadvantaged Maori and Pacific children and is a former trustee of Royal New Zealand Ballet.
Joan has been an outstanding role model for women in commerce. As a director of the 25 Percent Group and Global Women, Joan has actively worked to close the gender gap and ensure promotion is available to all, based on merit. She has also supported initiatives to increase Asian board participation. She was the first Chair to appoint a candidate from the Future Director programme, which will increase the pool of younger, skilled people ready for significant board roles. In 1998 she published a self help book, “A Girls Guide to Business”.
Throughout her career, Joan has retained the highest standards of ethics and has worked diligently to improve corporate governance standards. She has also retained a down to earth and approachable personality. As a result, shareholders, the markets, the community and New Zealand have all benefited.
For her outstanding corporate leadership, respect for the rights of retail shareholders, work in promoting diversity and demonstrating by her own actions what is possible, Joan Withers is a worthy recipient of the NZSA Beacon Award for 2014.