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Back to business for King's Birthday Honours 2024

Tom Dillane,
Publish Date
Mon, 3 Jun 2024, 9:23am

Back to business for King's Birthday Honours 2024

Tom Dillane,
Publish Date
Mon, 3 Jun 2024, 9:23am

A change in government has seen a clear shift in focus for the 2024 King’s Birthday Honours list, with the top recognitions dominated by figures from the business world. 

The corporate and entrepreneurial sector has been largely absent on this list over recent years and it appears Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, a former chief executive, and his team have sought to balance this. 

Three of the four new Knight and Dame Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit are Kiwi business pioneers – perhaps the most recognisable being Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck. 

The Fisher & Paykel Appliances apprentice turned self-taught rocket scientist has since 2006 been chief executive of the aerospace company pivotal in growing New Zealand’s $1.69 billion space industry. 

Employing 1800 staff, Beck’s Rocket Lab is second only to Elon Musk’s Space X as the most prolific commercial launch provider globally. It has worked with Nasa on multiple missions and launched the first rocket in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space in 2009. 

“It’s a huge, humbling honour to get,” Beck told the Herald from Rocket Lab’s facility at Long Beach, California. 

“I certainly hope that engineers and entrepreneurs in New Zealand also take this as a win. Hopefully it’s inspirational.” 

Beck reflects on a “lost generation” of school leavers because of the decline of trades-training programmes, and stresses that “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist” to gain a Rocket Lab apprenticeship. 

“We [Rocket Lab] have our scholarship programmes where we provide funding for university students.” 

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck joined space industry leaders at Buckingham Palace where King Charles III unveiled the Astra Carta framework, aimed at accelerating space sustainability efforts and goals. 

Theresa Gattung, who in 1999 broke through a New Zealand glass ceiling when she became the first female chief executive of a major New Zealand company at Telecom (now Spark), has also been named a dame. 

“You know when you are racing along and you feel like you are living your life in the in-breath, going on to one thing and the next thing, well, this is like a very long out-breath, a very long aaahhh. I know that’s an odd thing to say, but that’s how it feels,” Gattung said from her Bay of Plenty home. 

“You know, I know some dames but I never know whether to use their title or not. I think where it’s appropriate it will be used. Obviously not by any of my nearest and dearest, and to all the people I’ve worked with in the past 30 years, absolutely not. I’m always going to be T.G. to them.” 

Gattung’s corporate career spans co-founding My Food Bag, sitting on the board of healthcare start-up Tend, as well as the dating website Compatico. 

She has championed female entrepreneurs by founding Coralus (formerly SheEO) – a global community of women financing, supporting and celebrating female innovators. 

Under her lead, more than 25 female-led ventures were funded, and $1.3 million raised for a perpetual fund for interest-free loans for female entrepreneurs 

The new dame’s philanthropy includes the Gattung Foundation, a charity she founded with her sister Angela, which supports causes across education, animal welfare, and reducing inequality. She funded the Chair of Women in Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland Business School and chaired Wellington SPCA from 2011 to 2017.

The Warehouse Group’s chair Joan Withers is also now a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

A company director since 1997, Withers has formerly chaired Mercury Energy, Auckland Airport and TVNZ. She is also director of Sky Network TV, ANZ New Zealand and Origin Energy. 

She has also served as chief executive of Fairfax New Zealand and The Radio Network. 

“I’m a little bit overwhelmed,” Withers said of the honour. 

“For someone like me, coming from a very humble background, I hope that this is some sort of reinforcement to younger people, especially younger women, that if you work hard, and keep your integrity intact, that what you might have thought wasn’t possible is, in fact, achievable.” 

Withers’ father worked 60 hours a week coiling rubber hose in a factory in Penrose because they were “hard up and desperate to get a house”. 

She has authored two books, A Girl’s Guide to Business (1998) and A Woman’s Place (2017), about being a woman navigating the predominantly male corporate world. 

Withers was a foundation member of Global Women and the 25 Percent Group, which aims to increase diversity in New Zealand boardrooms, and co-founded OnBeingBold an annual event empowering women leaders. 

“When I first started on governance, particularly, I was invariably the only woman on the board... those are the things I reflect on,” Withers said. 

She attributes the damehood to her husband, with whom she has been since she was 15. 

Rounding out the top 2024 honours is Professor Peter Hunter, who is a world-leading researcher in bioengineering – and is now a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

Hunter established the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in 2001 and has been its director ever since, driving innovation in computer modelling of human organs. 

Professor Peter Hunter, founder of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland. 

He is currently a Distinguished Professor at the University of Auckland, co-director of Computational Physiology at Oxford University and holds honorary or visiting professorships at a number of universities around the world. 

“I’m totally astonished actually... I suppose I have the usual Kiwi, sort of, imposter syndrome,” Hunter said. 

“I’m sure I’ll get a bit of ribbing for a while but it’ll quickly disappear.” 

Hunter has held numerous national and international appointments and advisory board roles – such as helping lead the international Physiome Project, which aims to understand the functions of the body in terms of the structure of tissues, cells and proteins. 

“I guess it reflects on the value that the country puts on what we’ve been doing, so that’s nice,” he said. 

“I feel very humbled... There’s no way that I could have achieved what we’ve done without a large number of people, very dedicated people.” 

In 2009, he was awarded the Rutherford Medal, New Zealand’s top science award. 

Recognised as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit is Arihia Bennett, who has been the first female and longest-serving (from 2012 to 2024) chief executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. 

In leading the largest South Island iwi, Bennett oversaw the growth of finances and assets amounting to more than $1.9 billion and including more than $600m in properties. 

Despite the scale of these achievements, Bennett said when she first saw the email notifying her, she thought it was a prank. 

“You don’t expect that... I read it and got my husband to check and I said ‘oh it looks real doesn’t it?’ Just pleasantly surprised. I’ve moved on from my role and [am] really feeling pretty fulfilled in the contributions in the role over the many years and this is [a] wonderful feeling of acknowledging that, and all the people who have supported me to get here really.” 

Bennett said bettering the vast Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu community has always been the guiding principle of her work. 

“The tribe has been a collective responsibility on behalf of our people, we’re up to 80,000 people now,” Bennett said. 

  “I’ve always been a strong advocate of community development – if that’s working with families, individuals, communities. And if you take that principle into the role that I’ve had at Ngāi Tahu for these last 12 years, they are the same core principles around strengthening one’s sense of identity, their sense of belonging, their sense of economy coming into the home, building up their social health.” 

Aside from being a pioneer in female Māori governance, Bennett is also a member of the Global Women’s Network and the Tuahiwi Māori Women’s Welfare League. 

Bennett said she hoped she “was a champion to women in leadership roles and hopefully that is enabling other, younger women to think about their career pathway, that you can do it. It’s not impossible”. 

Bennett has also worked with the Government and Christchurch City Council to assist with the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes and the 2019 Christchurch mosques terrorist attack. 

Other key businesspeople honoured in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours list include former Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult, Briscoes managing director Rod Duke and Perpetual Guardians founder Andrew Barnes, who are all made Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

Duke is honoured for his services to philanthropy and business, with the Government acknowledging his contribution to healthcare research and youth suicide prevention. Groups who have received his philanthropic support include the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, St John Ambulance and Bayswater School on Auckland’s North Shore. 

Barnes is honoured for his contributions to business and philanthropy, including his advocacy of the reduced work hour philosophy better known as the four-day week. He has reshaped the trustee sector in New Zealand, consolidating Perpetual Guardian as the largest trustee company and largest non-government philanthropy entity in the country. 

Honours from the sporting world also had a business tinge. 

Katie Sadleir has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

Sadleir was appointed as the first female CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation in 2021, and is a former Olympic synchronised swimmer and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist. 

“When I got the email up in London and I read it and it was that sort of reaction where ‘how special is this’ and I was having a pretty challenging day at the time... and this letter just made me reflect on my career and how proud I was to be acknowledged.” 

Sadlier embraced the challenge which the uncertain future of the Commonwealth Games posed - without a host for the 2026 event – and the scale of her current role. 

“It’s a big task, I mean 2.7 billion people are in the Commonwealth, we’ve got 74 members and one of my key focuses is to work with them to build their capacity and capability to do great things in terms of a movement,” she said. 

“I’ve had an incredible career, I’ve been supported along the way by some amazing mentors.” 

Sadleir was also general manager of women’s rugby for World Rugby from 2016 to 2021 and oversaw the appointment of 17 women to the World Rugby Council in her first year. 

Tennis player Chris Lewis has also become an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

Lewis became only the third player from New Zealand to reach a Grand Slam singles final and the second New Zealander to reach the Wimbledon final. He also won the Wimbledon Junior final in 1975, the only Kiwi to achieve this title. He played on the ATP Tour for 12 years, winning three tournaments and coached at the highest level, including mentoring former world number one Ivan Lendl. 

“I got the email informing me and it was just incredible excitement after all these years. So the first thing I did was told my wife and it turns out she was part of it because there was a lot going on behind the scenes,” Lewis said. 

Lewis said he never really thought about receiving such an honour. 

“I’ve always considered myself to be a New Zealander and the relationship with New Zealand has been incredibly strong over the years. Obviously my tennis development took part there and all of my career I was playing for New Zealand. It’s a huge, huge honour.”  

In the media and entertainment sphere, broadcast journalist and health advocate Rachel Smalley has been recognised as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

Over more than 25 years, Smalley has been programme host, foreign correspondent, news and current affairs anchor and executive producer for international and domestic television channels. She later anchored radio programmes on Newstalk ZB and Today FM. 

In recent years, Smalley has been an advocate for greater funding for government drug agency Pharmac, establishing The Medicine Gap, a website and storytelling platform which gave a collective voice to New Zealanders seeking access to life-enabling or life-saving medicines, in 2020. 

“I am so honoured, but I still can’t quite believe it if I’m honest,” Smalley said. 

“I just hope everyone who contributed to The Medicine Gap sees this as an acknowledgement of the role they have played in the drive for reform, but I particularly hope the patients who told me their very personal stories understand that this is a recognition of their bravery.” 

However, Smalley reflected on the honour in light of the decision in Budget 2024 not to fund 13 cancer medicines. 

“The honours acknowledgement is bittersweet given there was no money in the Budget for cancer meds. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is that we are yet to receive any direction on the promised funding of cancer medicines.” 

Another broadcaster, Jamie Mackay, has also become an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Mackay is the host of Newstalk ZB’s The Country and has been a pivotal voice exposing rural content and issues in the New Zealand mainstream media. 

“I was humbled... My first thought was I’d turn it down if I didn’t think I’d done enough to justify the honour, plus in the past I’ve been a bit critical of some people who had accepted the honour for merely doing their well-paid job, but in the end I justified it in my own mind courtesy of the fundraising work I’d done over the years, especially for the likes of IHC.” 

Mackay has also been a prominent advocate for rural mental health and wellbeing support and initiatives. 

The news follows the recent announcement that Mackay is a finalist in the 2024 Primary Industries New Zealand Awards for the Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand’s Primary Industries award. This recognises individuals who have made significant contributions to the primary industry sector through innovation, leadership, and dedication. 

The Country is owned by NZME, publisher of The Herald. NZME CEO Michael Boggs said it was a well-deserved honour for Mackay. 

“He has created a tight knit community through The Country, growing it from something he started on his farm in Riversdale 30 years ago to what it is now as New Zealand’s flagship agricultural show. Jamie plays a hugely important role in connecting with our rural communities and has given so much more of himself through other activities and events too. We’re absolutely thrilled.” 

NZME chief audio officer Jason Winstanley said celebrating The Country’s 30-year anniversary with Mackay just a few weeks ago in Southland “was a real privilege. With hundreds of people turning out in support, it was a sign of just how respected he is, not just as a broadcaster, but in the massive amount of work he does for his community. He’s an extremely talented broadcaster and a brilliant person, and we’re so proud to see him awarded in this respect today.” 

And Rowena Duncum, NZME Commercial Lead – Rural and previous Executive Producer for The Country – said: “Having worked alongside Jamie for the past eight years, including six as his producer, I know just how much he values the opportunity to give voice to rural matters every day. But this goes beyond just ‘doing his job.’ From normalising the conversation around rural mental health and advocating for the IHC Calf and Rural Scheme as its ambassador, through to holding politicians and leaders to account, for more than 30 years, Jamie has kept rural New Zealand at the heart of everything he does. I’m delighted he has been honoured today - it is so very well deserved.” 

From the fashion world, designer Adrienne Winkelmann has been named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Her self-named company was established in 1980, employs 17 staff and all garments are made in New Zealand. Through her business, she has supported Women’s Refuge and Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland. She has donated surplus designs at the end of each season to Dress for Success and hosted pop-up charity shops that have raised tens of thousands of dollars. 

Megan Tamati-Quennell (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Mutunga, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tahu, Waitaha) has become a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit after 34 years of contribution to the art sector. 

She is New Zealand’s longest serving curator of Modern and Contemporary Māori and Indigenous art. In 2023, Ms Tamati-Quennell was appointed as curator of the Sharjah Biennial for 2025, the first Māori curator invited to work on an international project of this scale. 

For contributions to conservation through New Zealand Wildlife Service and Department of Conservation (DOC) roles since 1979, William Paul Jansen has become an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

To protect declining kōkako populations in Rotorua, Jansen initiated research in the 1980s to protect forest blocks from logging. More recently, he has held many senior advisory roles including on the Predator Free 2050 national vision. 

Women’s health advocate Sally Walker, who drove fundamental change in the healthcare sector by raising awareness of injuries from the use of surgical mesh, has been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. 

Walker initiated a petition in 2022, calling for the suspension of the surgical mesh procedure for stress urinary incontinence. Her advocacy helped lead to the 2023 announcement that mesh surgeries in New Zealand would be paused because of safety concerns. 

Walker shared her own experience of significant complications from surgical mesh implants in the Herald series In Her Head. 

At news of the surgical mesh halt allowing steps to be put in place to reduce harms linked to the procedure, Walker said it was: “An acknowledgement that their concerns were not just in their heads. It will give us some hope.” 

Tom Dillane is an Auckland based journalist covering local government and crime as well as sports investigations. He joined the Herald in 2018 and is deputy head of news. 

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