Winning over the boardroom

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Mavis Mullins, Rangitāne, Te Atihaunui-Paparangi, Ngāti Ranginui


For New Zealand Order of Merit Member and Māori agribusiness icon Mavis Mullins, winning over boardroom after boardroom were steps on a longer journey. A journey that has taken her from the family shearing business onto a global stage – all in a mission to create a New Zealand she would be proud to leave her mokopuna.

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The value of my MBA was that it gave me the language of business, a global language. I already had the cultural understanding. Together these can be powerful business and governance instruments.

From the shearing shed to the boardroom

With a growing number of accolades to her name, and a long record of achievement in agribusiness, Mavis Mullins is so well-known in Māori circles that you just have to say Mavis, and everyone knows who you are talking about.

And it is no wonder. In 2002, she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Three years ago, she won the Rural category at the Westpac Women of Influence Awards, and, not long after, she was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame. She has also received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Massey University.

When asked about her many achievements, Mavis responds with humility and a Māori whakataukī (proverb).

"Kaua te kūmara, e kōrero mō tōna reka – the kūmara doesn't talk about its own sweetness!" she says. "I have been honoured and privileged by the recognition, but they're not just mine. Nothing is done alone, nothing is done in isolation. These things belong to our families, our children, our partners, our learning communities."

It's certainly been a long journey from a shearing shed in Central Hawke's Bay. Mavis' career started with the family business, Paewai Mullins Shearing, which dates back to her grand-uncle, the 1920s All Black Lui Paewai.

She was juggling the contract shearing business and four young children when she decided to take on an MBA as well.

"It was a busy time, but it was almost unfinished business. The MBA was the opportunity to fill in some of those gaps. It was the most amazing opportunity to build the networks that have stood me in fantastic stead as I've gone through my life journey," she says.

"The value of my MBA was that it gave me the language of business, a global language. I already had the cultural understanding. Together these can be powerful business and governance instruments."

She credits her study with setting her on the governance path, which eventually led to chairing multiple boards. She currently chairs the boards for her Rangitāne iwi, agricultural training institute Taratahi, the Agri Women's Development Trust and Atihau Whanganui Incorporation. She also sits on the boards for Ngā Whenua Rahui, which protects the biodiversity of Māori land; United Nations Children's Fund New Zealand; and StockX.

And then there's the long list of past governance roles, including those with Landcorp, the Mid-Central and Wairarapa District Health boards, Massey University Council and New Zealand Global Women.

But Mavis is nowhere near done yet. The mother of four, and grandmother to 14, says she wants to leave her mokopuna a world they can thrive in.

"Better options, better opportunities, better outcomes. It's not about me, it's about how we make a better footprint for the generations that are coming," she says. "How we make New Zealand Aotearoa a place that has meaning and relevance in a global context."

Climate and technological change are also top of mind and Mavis isn't shying away from the challenge.

"There are challenges coming up for all of us, so it's having those horizonal views now, so that we can prepare not just ourselves but our families, our communities and our learning institutions to deal with all of that."

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