Kristin Dunne, CEO Tourism Bay Of Plenty – growing the Bay with compassion

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‘Growth’ is a little word with big potential. It’s a word Bay of Plenty Tourism CEO Kristin Dunne lives and breathes, not just for the benefit of the region, but also for stretching her own learning and enabling the professional development of the team she leads. She shares her thoughts on leadership, resilience and why kindness matters.

Words: Millie Freeman

Images: Vanessa Laval-Glad, Indigo Moon Films & Photography

Hair: Shannon Morrison, Ivy Hair

Makeup: Sharyn Butters Hair and Makeup Artist

Clothes: Wendy’s Boutique

Kristin developed a strong work ethic from a young age. At 15, in Auckland, she landed an after-school supermarket job, and then got her first taste of tourism at the “much more exciting” Rainbows End while studying business at university. Step-by-step, job by job she grew into each new role, initially as marketing assistant at DB Breweries, and later in management roles at ASB Bank and TVNZ.

In 2001 she joined Vodafone NZ to help set up its new commercial business division, and in 2005, at just 31 years old, became General Manager for Vodafone Business in what was then a predominantly male-led industry.

Surprisingly, given her career successes, she says confidence is not necessarily her strong point. What drives her is transformation and positive change, making the move to Tourism Bay of Plenty as head of marketing a particularly good fit. She became CEO in 2016, responsible for growing visitor numbers and transforming the Bay into a fantastic destination for tourists and a better place for residents. The next ten years will see a big emphasis on growth, she says, balanced always by ensuring the social, cultural and environmental sustainability of the region.

“We are guardians of the region on behalf of our residents so our challenge is to make sure we manage the development,” she says. “We don’t want so many visitors here that it becomes detrimental. Our residents have a strong sense of tūrangawaewae (their place to stand) and they want to see the environment protected.”

BALANCING PROGRESS WITH KINDNESS

Kristin brings strategic vision to the role, being able to imagine what that future will look like and knowing what steps to put in place to help us get there. She’s also a people leader, and focuses on how she can best support her team to enable them to do their job.

“A woman mentor once told me, ‘People will say you need to be different than who you are in order to be a successful leader. Don’t believe that.’ So I never took on a ball-breaking masculine approach because that wasn’t me and I couldn’t have pretended even if I wanted to. I have come through my leadership opportunities still being me – empathetic, caring, kind, supportive and with low ego, and these have served me really well.

“I tell other women to use their feminine strengths, which are more natural to us anyway, because they are strengths. That’s what your team wants from you and that’s how you create success in an organisation.”

At Tourism Bay of Plenty three values underscore the team’s work – supportive (of each other), belief (in self and in their role), and greatness.

“I strive for results and enjoy growth whether that’s personal or industry growth, so yes, we have targets to reach but there’s no reason why you can’t do that in an environment that’s kind. I believe in giving others the belief that they can do things when they don’t think they can; not to stretch them out of their comfort zone, but to give them more challenges and scope when they’re ready. I get a real reward out of knowing that I’ve helped build someone’s self-belief in some small way.

“Leadership is a very humbling experience and if you’re not humbled by it and don’t have a low ego then I’m not really sure how you do it because it’s definitely not an ‘I’m out-in-front’ thing.”

RESILIENCE FROM CHALLENGE

Understanding how personal experiences help to make us more resilient and better equipped is also important to leadership, and Kristin is not ashamed to say she’s faced her own challenges. She’s now happily married to Jared Smith and has a five-year-old son, Caelan, but 10 years earlier with a different partner, things were not so bright. On top of enduring an abusive relationship, she suffered a storm of cyber bullying and public scrutiny when her high-profile domestic violence case went to court, plunging her into an extraordinarily difficult time in her life. Like others who have faced similar personal online attacks, she did question her worthiness, but, despite the odds, managed to renew her battered self-belief and let it grow.

“My amazing parents encouraged me to look at my life, which was pretty broken at the time, and see the opportunity to put myself and my life back together in a different way. Things happened in my life that were less than ideal, but I wouldn’t go back and change them now, even if I was able to, because what they’ve produced since then is so good.

“Sometimes I feel I have been tested more than my fair share but have come to the conclusion that everyone’s life is hard in different ways and that’s what is transformative about it. Facing challenges helps to change you from the inside; you learn that you are resilient and have strength, and that you are stronger than things are terrible.”

Following the case Kristin became involved with Shine, which provides services for victims of domestic abuse, and started working individually with women living in abusive situations. She has also worked with White Ribbon and men who are current or former perpetrators. In 2010, with Lesley Elliott, she co-founded the Sophie Elliott Foundation, and set up the Loves Me Not relationship programme, which is now run entirely by the New Zealand Police in 100 secondary schools. She is currently ‘on leave’ from the Foundation while she focuses her support on her own family. “My son and my parents need me right now and my spare time and energy needs to go into looking after them at this time.”

THE MOTHER JUGGLE

Like it is for many families and parents working outside of the home, Kristin’s life is a constant juggle of work hours, family time, personal time for exercise and home admin. Throwing in an extra task or two, like buying a new house – currently a work in progress – can cause the balls to come tumbling, so Kristin has support in place to keep things running as smoothly as possible. My Food Bag is a good example – it cuts out supermarket shopping and time spent menu planning, while providing good food for the family. She also has a nanny for Caelan two afternoons a week, and her parents help out with childcare as well. Two Pilates classes and a gym session each week are also in the diary but she admits rarely getting to all three – her priority is spending time with her family in the evenings and on weekends.

“I like to think of my day in terms of energy management because time management assumes every day will be the same, but it depends on how you’re feeling. Some things you do are exhausting and others make you feel energised so I try to be more mindful about my energy levels and change things around when I need to.”

And when life does bring you down, Kristin reminds us that, as women, we need to be the biggest supporters of each other. If a woman’s crown is off centre, just quietly adjust it for her, she says.

“My journey has been about resilience and learning that I’m stronger than the bad stuff that happens, and that’s the point of all of this. It may not always be pretty or graceful, but you do heal, you can move on, and you become more grateful for your life every day.