Case study: Jane Mitchell

Jane Mitchell, of Central Otago, has a diverse background in primary industries, resource management and conservation. Currently she manages Okiwa Holdings Ltd which is involved in viticulture, property, aquaculture and fishing. Jane is a current trustee of Sport Otago and has been a director of SOE Landcorp, Otago Polytechnic and Marlborough Conservation Board. She is a past chair of Otago Deer Farmers and Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards. She was awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship in 2007. 

I did quite well at school and was quite academic, but I grew up in a rural area so after a brief flirtation with Medical School I went to Massey University and did a bachelor of agricultural science.
That was in the mid-1980s and jobs were hard to find so, when I finished my degree, I moved to Marlborough to do casual work for the Catchment Board. While I was there I trained as a soil conservator, and I developed an interest in conservation and resource management, and eventually I started working for the regional council.  

I've always been quite career focused and had a growing interest in agriculture. When I was 30 I got married and bought my first farm in the same year. Learning to be a full-time farmer and mother was very difficult and I felt quite isolated in a small, unfamiliar rural community. So I got involved with the local Plunket committee and set up a small family-friendly discussion group for women and non-established farmers to help them get involved in social events.

After a while I started to think that I would like to do more, so I applied to the Kellogg Rural Leaders Programme – a development course for emerging agribusiness leaders. That was a fantastic way to develop my skills, build my confidence, and make contact with people who hold similar interests to my own, and it was after completing the programme that I really started to develop an interest in governance.

As I became involved with different groups, I felt more and more that governance was the space where I would like to work permanently. I began to compare myself with other people – not just women – I knew in governance positions and worked out what building blocks I would need to be a good board candidate.

One of the best things I ever did was applying for a scholarship through Rural Women New Zealand to do a five-day company directors' course with the Institute of Directors. Although boards still look at my knowledge of the farming industry and my understanding of governance, it was that Institute of Directors' course that gave me the training, experience and credibility I needed to be taken seriously as a candidate.

I guess you could say I've had to self-guide my career, and I occasionally think I would like to have a mentor to guide me. I think we all have mentors along the way, though – think of your job referees, for example. There are always people around you who you can learn from.