A love of shopping and a canny eye for business has enabled Dunedin lawyer Susie Staley to carve rewarding twin careers in law and corporate governance.
A member of Otago’s first female legal partnership, Susie was appointed a member of the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) for a three-year term in October 2018, the latest in a long list of diverse governance roles.
Her services to governance and business were recognised in 2014 when she was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
- Susannah Adair (Susie) Staley MNZM
- Entry to law
- Graduated LLB from Otago University in 1988. Admitted in 1989.
- Partner at Staley Cardoza Lawyers (incorporating Russell Cassidy Lawyer), Dunedin.
- Speciality area
- Property, commercial, trust and estate law.
After having expressed an interest in being involved in broadcasting entities, Susie was interviewed and offered a seat on the BSA board.
“I have been to one meeting already. There is also a new chair – District Court judge and former Chief Censor Bill Hastings. I think it will be fascinating. And I will have to watch a lot of television.”
Susie’s extensive CV includes chairing Maritime New Zealand and she is currently chair of Save the Children New Zealand and Mosgiel retirement village operator Chatsford Management.
She chaired ID Dunedin Fashion for 14 years and has been on the board of numerous entities, including PGG Wrightson, Dunedin International Airport, Otago Child Care Centre, is a former president of the Otago Chamber of Commerce and a former chair of the Otago branch of the Institute of Directors.
She was a panel member of the Enterprise Awards for Industry New Zealand and a member of the performance and risk advisory board for the Ministry of Transport.
A sobering experience in her work with Save the Children was visiting the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan in 2017, while at a Save the Children member’s meeting in Amman.
“It was a very sobering experience … 80,000 refugees from Syria. It was an experience that puts one’s life into perspective.
“When I finished with ID Fashion in 2015 I saw Save the Children were looking for someone to join their board. Mum was always a great supporter of them so I put my name forward. When I got there they asked me to be chair.
“My job is a governance role to help drive the organisation and I think we are doing a good job.”
Susie’s late father Robert was a self-employed builder from England who initially came to New Zealand as an assisted migrant. Her late mother Valerie McPherson was from Dunedin. Both Susie’s mother and grandmother had degrees from Otago University.
The family moved from Dunedin to Auckland, then to England when Susie was five and travelled back and forth a few times. “We settled in England when I was nine and didn’t come back to New Zealand until I was 14.”
Brother Michael works in Hong Kong and her other brother Sam works at the Tekapo army camp.
Her husband Mark Wilesmith is a former JP Morgan banker in England, and works at Otago University as an academic administrator. Her son Chris works in a vineyard in Cromwell and Mark’s son James works at JP Morgan in England.
There are no other lawyers in the family.
“I have a large three-quarter acre garden in St Leonard’s, where the university vice chancellor’s house is, on the way to Port Chalmers. I am fascinated with gardens. I have saved Monty Don’s Italian Garden TV series. It is fantastic.
“l’m interested in life and the universe, so I read a lot and watch a lot of TV and Netflix.
“I read anything and everything … chick literature … a biography of Michelle Obama … and I love books set in Italy and France.
“I love crime stories and have read the whole gambit of dark Scandinavian novels. I like Louise Penny’s Canadian Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and Martin Walker’s Inspector Bruno, set in a lovely French village.”
Susie travelled extensively with her parents in the UK and Europe. “I’m a big fan of France and Paris and spent about five weeks in Paris with my friend and travelling companion Kate Walker, who, in 1990, became the first female president of Otago District Law Society.”
“I always wondered what lawyers did, and I am still wondering. Coming from England it’s a split bar and also it’s not your God-given right to go to university.
“I went to Logan Park High School where the parents of everyone in my class were at the university. In England if you wanted to get into a tertiary institution you had to apply to eight or nine and if lucky you got into two or three and then you chose.
“I didn’t immediately go to university. We rebelled - the seventh form was small and most of us went and worked, or tried to work. There were no bar jobs then and the drinking age was different.
“I went on the student job scheme, finally got a job at Ross Dowling Marquet Griffin and eventually became a partner in that firm.
“I was always interested in what a lawyer did. I’m not a court lawyer now - I would have quite liked to have been - but I think what I do like is I am a very transactional – I like a beginning, middle and end – I like to get something done.”
With a job as a law clerk Susie worked in various Dunedin law firms through her degree.
“I was asked to do honours in political studies, which I loved, but didn’t finish an honours degree because I was pragmatic and figured I wasn’t diplomatic enough to be a diplomat.
“They also took the very top calibre of students. So I thought it was better to earn a living in law and that’s how I fell into it.
“I also fell into the more business side. In my last couple of years at Otago I did banking law and intellectual property and did quite well in them. I went back to Ross Dowling and Co and worked primarily in the area of company and commercial law.”
Holiday is home
“Mark and I love music. He is mad on The Beatles and is a big Paul McCartney fan. I love Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Buddy Guy, David Bowie, the Chills, Alicia Keys and Six60.
“I went to film festivals as a student but not much recently, apart from a documentary on British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. I have no favourite actors or directors.
“I drive a silver BMW X3 - about four years old.
“We don’t have any pets. Our cat Nixie died a few years ago, near the end of her cat life.
“We have a favourite holiday spot - we call it home. We are fans of the Mackenzie Country because we have family there and it is also a sensational environment.
“Sometimes staying at home is a great holiday, in my back garden, with the best neighbours in the world.
“Michelle Obama would top my dinner guest list and she could bring Barack if she wanted. I think she is so articulate and their world view is also mine. They love music so it would be fun.
“Rod Stewart would be fun to have. I think he looks a decent guy and would be a great conversationalist. And Paul McCartney.
“I am known for my bruschetta, and with a different range of toppings. And a fillet of roast beef, lots of green salad from the garden, asparagus (I don’t grow that yet), herbs, tomato and basil salad, potatoes dauphinoise and something lemony for dessert.
“Central Otago wines would be served – of course.”
“The most notable and surprising moment in my legal career came when Rachael Cardoza and I sent up this practice more than 20 years ago.
“We didn’t know it at the time but we were the first female legal partnership in Otago - which caused a lot of comment we were unaware of.
“It was quite a brave thing. I was a partner at Ross Dowling Marquet Griffin, Rachael was in another firm and we set off on our own. It felt brave at the time.
“My son was about 10 at the time and I had a requirement to learn a living. We set ourselves up in the Octagon and we are still here.
“In my other career in governance, being at Tower was not easy. It was my first major directorship.” Susie was elected by policyholders to the Tower board and served for 16 years, including a spell as chair.
“I chaired a lot of due diligence committees. It was a time when we were de-mutualising, with High Court action coming at us.”
As chair of Maritime New Zealand, Susie headed a New Zealand delegation to the International Maritime Organisation in London and New Zealand was elected to the organisation’s council during her term.
“I was inaugural chair of ID Dunedin Fashion for 14 years. ID Fashion – which promotes the Dunedin fashion industry - was a huge achievement and did a huge amount for Dunedin. I spend far too much money in shops and I was there for my governance skills rather than fashion.
“I was once told I could be idle and speak French. It’s been suggested I would not have been a bad agent for someone in the fashion area, but that’s a difficult world.
“Away from the law something artistic appeals. But I’ve always had an imperative to earn a living and I’m not sure I could do that in the artistic area.”