Tuesday, 02 May 2017 12:55

The high and long-haul flier

Written by  Peter Burke
Colleen Bermingham-Brown Colleen Bermingham-Brown

The board of Omapere Rangihamama Trust is considered a strong one. Its Far North farm is one of the three finalists in this year’s Ahuwhenua Trophy for New Zealand’s top Maori sheep and beef farm.

Omapere has a separate farm committee, which deals with staff and the management of the property and reports back to the main trust. A big effort has been made to get well qualified people on the trust and it’s taken the unusual step of appointing a trustee who now lives and works in Germany and commutes across the world for the annual meeting and six monthly meetings.

Colleen Bermingham-Brown has worked in Germany with her husband for the last four years.

She recently took a job in Bonn, recruiting and managing about 2500 volunteers worldwide who work for the United Nations. The couple have four children.

Her mother was from Kaikohe and her grandmother and grandfather were also from the Far North; she is one of 3532 owners of the trust. While Bermingham-Brown was brought up in West Auckland, she was taken on regular trips back to Kaikohe by her mother to keep her connected with her whanau.

After leaving school she quickly moved into the corporate world.

“I am trained as a nurse and have a nursing degree. But in the 1990s there were no nursing jobs so I ended up working my way into human resources recruitment,” she told Rural News.

“In some ways they are quite similar, because nursing was about getting people well and HR is about helping people find jobs and bettering themselves. I worked in London and Australia for recruiting and consulting companies in my 20s and in my 30s came back to NZ.”

Once back in NZ, she worked for Westpac on leadership and talent management then became head of the first Maori business unit in a bank. Her last role with the bank was head of corporate and community engagement. This background in people management persuaded Bermingham-Brown to put her name forward to be a trustee of Omapere Rangihamama.

“It was my time. I was ready and I was always interested in a governance career and I wanted to spend more time back home,” she explains. “So I went where I knew; this is where I knew and where I was comfortable.

“It also helped with my journey discovering my Maori side, because I had lived overseas for so long. It was also a platform for me to discover a bit about who I was and what it meant to be Maori,” she says.

Today, Bermingham-Brown is comfortable in her role and can walk in Maori and corporate worlds and on the other side of the world.

When she was about to move to Germany with her husband (who also works in HR) four years ago her term as a trustee of Omapere was due for renewal and she wondered what might happen.

But the Omapere trustees were not about to let a talented young person slip away; thanks to Skype and Facetime and other technologies her fellow trustees are just a screen or phone call away – and it works.

“When the board meetings start it’s midnight for me and they go through until about 6am my time; so it is a big commitment for me because I do a full day at work and then front up for what amounts to a night time board meeting,” she explains.

The challenge for Bermingham-Brown has been to change what she describes as a sense of hopelessness among the beneficial owners of Omapere, which she discovered when first becoming a trustee. She says the trust was in debt and they were afraid of losing their land, but this has now changed and her people are more positive about their future and think anything is possible.

As a trustee of Omapere Rangihamama, Bermingham-Brown has been a strong advocate for providing scholarships for young people to get them better educated and to regain their self-esteem and make a valuable contribution to their people and NZ as a whole.

 

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