Denice Bennett-Rae doesn’t fluff around.  The chartered accountant was the financial controller for a multi-national US$35 billion corporate when she promptly decided to take on a University of Auckland MBA.

And then nearing the end of study, she made a calculated move that will see her career journey less likely to end in a corner office, and more likely to seriously contribute to the success of SMEs in New Zealand.

You could say fluff has become the stock and trade of the 43-year-old true-blue Aucklander. She is now chief financial officer of Bay of Plenty not-forprofit Energy Options, a 2009 Deloitte fast-50 listed, award-winning company that aims to create healthier, insulated homes while being kind to the environment. Its turnover has increased 170 per cent in the past few years.

Bennett-Rae says a not-for-profit needs to operate in the same way as any SME – make a surplus to survive through smart-thinking and witty problem-solving. “It’s vital that business processes keep up with growth. And in an SME or not-for-profit, you have to be more of an all-rounder. You get the latitude you wouldn’t elsewhere.” Personal growth, along with growth in business nous, is something she says comes with the MBA territory.

Her move to Energy Options also meant a move to Whakatane, where wine and food appreciation opportunities are scant, but there is,  hankfully, Ceroc dancing. And the opportunity for Bennett-Rae’s other “hobby”, study, can be sought anywhere. She’s thinking about building on her MBA with a PhD.  She chose the MBA because, as an accountant, Bennett-Rae didn’t want to do a master of finance. “I wanted something that would give me a broader business base.” In her role at the time, the company’s managing director had left - twice. “I’d stepped up to fill the breach. And I thought, ‘I can do this’, but didn’t want to be boxed into being the ‘finance person’.” So she began MBA study in 2008. She wanted to become a CFO. Then the MBA happened. She wanted to become a CEO. Goals began to shift.

The well-defined parameters of the course suited Bennett-Rae’s no-nonsense approach. “It was lockstep. It started and it finished. It would be fair to say that my initial goal was simply to have the MBA. But I quickly worked out there were some valuable group experiences to have along the way.” The unique strengths of the MBA group were just as important as the content of the course. “It was really energizing and kind of neat to be in an environment with similar people who were there to achieve the same goals and outcomes.” “I think any one of us would say the same - we gained as much, if not more from the others in the cohort than the lecturers standing up in front of us.” The cohort was operating in an environment where friendships and networks were made for life. “The University of Auckland MBA has broadened my thinking, added to my thinking and solidified my thinking on where I want my career to go.” “Working for someone else is not going to be enough. Before, I would’ve been quite happy to for the rest of my life.”

Bennett-Rae was headed for a big chair in the corner office. Now she wants to influence, wants a ‘place at the table’. “I’ve considered pursuing independent directorships, going into governance. Or setting up a consultancy for growing SMEs.”

The University of Auckland Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) has intakes in January and June each year, and welcomes applications from SME leaders. Find out more at  

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