New Zealand Law Society - Granddaughter of Hawaii “groover” on work, babies and being herself

Granddaughter of Hawaii “groover” on work, babies and being herself

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Pip Greenwood
Pip Greenwood

Pip Greenwood was worried what returning to work would be like after having her first child at 39 – until a wine-making friend told her that if it was what she wanted, she would work it out.

“That was good advice. If that’s what you want, you will make it happen,” says Pip, a senior partner at Russell McVeagh and a leading commercial lawyer.

Balancing work and motherhood was hard, but she had support from her investment banker husband David Gibson, their parents and Karen their nanny – who has been with the family since Pip’s daughter Kate was born 12 years ago.

Philippa Mary (Pip) Greenwood
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Canterbury University in 1987. Admitted in 1988.
Senior partner at Russell McVeagh, Auckland.
Speciality area
Commercial law, securities offerings, M&A, takeovers and general corporate advisory.

“For long periods all I did was work at home and the things that suffered were friends outside and looking after my fitness and health. There were important things to do with the girls and other things to let go. Oddly, I’m finding it harder now, as Kate and Lucy, who is nine, get older, than when they were little - they require more time.

“That’s where having a place at Onetangi, on Waiheke Island, came in – we could retreat there and sleep for the weekend.”

A finalist in the board and management category of the Women of Influence Awards – winners of which are announced at a dinner in Auckland on 7 September – Pip joined Russell McVeagh as a partner in 2001 and is a former chairman of the firm’s board.

Previously a member of the New Zealand Takeovers Panel, she won New Zealand Dealmaker of the Year at the Australasian Law Awards in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2016.

Nominated for a Women of Influence award by Russell McVeagh competition specialist Sarah Keene, Pip says it is a marvellous event “in the sense it brings recognition to a whole lot of females doing really wonderful things”.

“Westpac and Fairfax Media are major sponsors and it’s a wonderful night with wonderful stories of what women have achieved. I took my husband one year – he thought it was marvellous but said there needed to be more men in the room to hear the stories.”

Double standards 

Asked if it is fair to ask new Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern about having babies, Pip says she hasn’t given it much thought.

“There is a double standard because a man wouldn’t be asked that. Journalists comment on a woman’s dress, makeup, and if they look nice. I was at an AGM once when the female director who was standing for re-election was asked from the floor who was going to cook her husband’s dinner.

“I had children later - I was slightly older, I had built my practice. One of the key issues for women is you are trying to build your business at the same time you are in your prime child-rearing time. That’s really hard.

“If Jacinda Ardern wants to have a baby if she’s Prime Minister wouldn’t that be fantastic. You don’t have to be off-duty all the time being a loving and caring parent. Guys do it all the time.”

Pip met husband David while they were both acting for Fairfax when it came to New Zealand and bought into media group INL.

David left investment banking in 2016 and now works from home on his own entrepreneurial projects, including establishing amphibious boat company Penguin Boats, developing a beer brand on Waiheke called Heke Beer and putting together a school community app for Auckland’s Diocesan School.

“Most of my time is taken up working or with the family. Our parents are in Auckland. I like walking, and with a group of girlfriends from university have done a few half marathons. We did Waiheke this year and last year did Queenstown and Hawke’s Bay.”

Irish literature

A trustee of the Auckland Writers’ Festival, Pip loves literature and reading. “I don’t write myself but I keep a journal and write things in it, little sayings, poems, things that resonate.”

A lover of Irish literature, Pip rates former Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright and Colm Toibin among her favourites.

“I read a lot of Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout. The Irish observe human character very well and I like how they use language. Irish society has been through a lot and have a lot to write about.

“I loved going to see Scottish poet and UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. I’ve seen her twice at the Writers’ Festival. I admire her understanding of language and the power of language. With poetry every word matters.

“I enjoy fashion, clothes and New Zealand labels, such as Zambezi and Liz Findlay – she’s a real artist. There is a lot of fashion talent in New Zealand.

“Sometimes we have an obsession with the bright shiny toys of people overseas. But we are misguided about that, sometimes we don’t back ourselves, and think because someone is from ‘away’ they must be better.”

When London called

Work has taken Pip to London, where she worked for international law firm Linklaters for a couple of years before moving to their New York office.

“They wanted me to stay in London. But with the arrogance of youth I said I would like to go to the New York office or might just go home to New Zealand. I had a lovely time.”

Working in New York, Pip spent a lot of time travelling to Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, and acted for Latin American banks, borrowing money on the euro market.

Her brother was doing a PhD in genetics at Columbia University and her cousin Jane Cunliffe was trade commissioner in New York. Jane is now trade commissioner to India.

“An investment banker living on 5th Avenue we were having dinner with asked why I wanted to go back to New Zealand. He said nothing was happening there.

“I knew 20 years ago what the world is waking up to now.”

The eldest child with two younger brothers and no other lawyers in the family, Pip went to law school because her cousin Jane did.

“I’m from a family of teachers and I wanted to go to teachers’ college but Mum said I had to go to university first and get a degree. I thought I would do that then go to teachers’ college.

“Jane was flatting in Christchurch at the time, her parents worked for the UN and I think were in Sudan when she was at university, so she was in and out of our house a lot.”

Westport and Hawaii

“I thought law looked okay and fell into it. My father was a former treasurer of Skellerup and Mum was a primary school teacher. They were both from Westport and we spent all our childhood holidays there – a beautiful part of New Zealand.

“My grandmother had a bach close to Charleston, where the Nile River comes down to the coast, sort of on the beach right by the river.”

“I haven’t been to as many places overseas as I’d like. I backpacked around America on my way to London when I was 24-25. I’ve done lots of Europe, Scandinavia, especially Norway. Asia is next.

“We love Hawaii. It is a magical place and I love its history.

“My Grandpa, Horace Greenwood, used to live in Hawaii for six months of the year and six months in Westport. I have a Hawaiian step-grandmother, she was quite a bit younger than Grandpa and she’s still alive.

“When we were growing up Grandpa would appear in Christchurch in the 1970s in his Hawaiian shirt and white slacks and bring a case of pineapples off the plane. Can you imagine that?”

“He was such a groover. He brought us exotic lollies and amazing Barbie dolls. He was so glamorous. He swam every day and was doing yoga in Westport in the 1960s - way ahead of his time.

“I love music and used to play the violin very badly. I was in the Christchurch school of instrumental music orchestra. One brother played the flute, one the trumpet, and I played the violin. But I don’t have a natural gift for instruments.

“I like popular music, love going to concerts and saw Adele - she is incredible, such talent, we were in the presence of musical genius. The girls always bring in a bit of music. And I like classical as I get older - Mozart and Puccini.

“I’d love to come back as a singer and sing better than I do. I used to think Madonna but I’ve gone off her. Maybe Adele.

“I don’t have the time to watch a lot of TV. David is a big Netflix fan.”

Young turk

“Like quite a few people I fell into law. I was very lucky I got a job in Wellington at Buddle Findlay and worked with Denis Clifford (now a Judge of the Court of Appeal). I enjoyed working with him.

“I had an attitude - a personal mantra - that I was going to try my best. I was really young and am a year younger than my year group at university. I started university at 17 and was working at 21.

“At university I didn’t really understand what law was about and then when I first started working it kind of clicked. It’s not that I loved law from the minute I arrived but just put my head down into it and said ‘I am going to try my best at this and if I don’t succeed I haven’t let myself down’.

“Then I enjoyed it. There were two women partners at Buddle Findlay at the time and I thought there’s no reason why I couldn’t be a partner.

“I like the client interaction, helping clients solve problems, the problem-solving aspect of it. And helping people achieve their objective.”

FloJo the spoodle

“My husband bought me an Audi convertible but I am a huge VW Golf fan and would like one of those.

“We have a gorgeous designer spoodle dog – part cocker spaniel, part poodle, called FloJo. We got her at the time of the London Olympics (2012) when there was a lot discussion about Florence Griffith Joyner, considered the fastest woman of all time, still holding the world records in the 100m and 200m she set in the late 1980s.”

Oscar Wilde is Pip’s first choice for dinner guest.  “He is such a wit. He was a genius. What must it have been like to be gay in his time?”

“And I’d like to meet Jane Austen, a keen observer of human nature with a very dry wit. What would I serve? Food and wine, lots of red wine. Wine doesn’t quite agree with me, but on a visit to the United States we found an Oregon Pinot that is delicious.

“The biggest challenge and the biggest job I ever did was the Telecom demerger in 2011. That was huge and transformational and involved about 18 months solid work. I was working on a contract for Chorus and a contract with the government, but also with the separation of Telecom into Spark and Chorus.

“I lived and breathed it. It was not for the faint-hearted. About three of us working on it late into the night. I enjoyed it, it was intellectually stimulating, involved a lot of people and changed the face of telecommunications.

“John Key had this vision for fibre and everyone at the time said it was stupid and ridiculous. But what a vision, it was brilliant. He was on to something. In today’s world the speed of access to the internet is important for business and the community. It makes a difference.

“I have been lucky, I enjoy what I do. If you are passionate about something its part of the journey. The rest follows.”

And as her favourite writer Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

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