Shona Glentworth

Words by Virginia Winder

Describing herself as “just a girl from Eltham”, Shona Glentworth has forged a career of doing things first while thinking on her feet.

The owner of Implement, has an MBA, spent time at Harvard Business School, was a trailblazer in areas of the dairy industry and is now dedicated to helping people be the best they can be.

“I meet people where they are at,” she says.

“A lot of what I do is for frontline staff, rather than executives.”

Focusing on people, process and performance, the New Plymouth woman says she often works with stressed managers. “They are all good people who have been given responsibility but may be getting overwhelmed with work, life and commitments. They may be asking ‘how does career fit with family’?”

“I’m about helping people have better relationships with their staff.”

Shona facilitates workshops, runs courses and directs organisational learning to help people know what they are doing and where they are heading.

One of her roles is to help people put strategies in place to reach their goals.

“I get people who say ‘yeah, nah, I don’t do goals’.”

But with a smile and gentle but firm prodding, Shona turns the resistant ones from doubters to enthusiastic goal setters.

She can also look at an organisation’s processes and strategies to help with planning and clarity.

“I get their words and give them back to them,” she says. “I’m not there to teach people, but to uncover what they know.”

Shona began her working career as a laboratory technician in the dairy industry. In the mid-80s, the 27-year-old woman from Eltham, was promoted to lab manager.

“All the previous lab managers were men with PhDs.”

Her new role coincided with a time when the industry was increasing its quality assurance and she was the forefront of that change. “It was a brand-new field. Nobody knew how to do what we were doing, and we made it ups as we went along.

“As part of that process, we were starting to look more at people.”

That was the beginning of her move to focus on staff, managers and the way people and organisations work.

Her next role was as a training co-ordinator for Kiwi Co-operative Dairies.

In 1993, when the NZQA system was first created, the government gave money for training.

Again, Shona found herself learning on the run to implement a unit standard-based training programme for the dairy company.

That’s also when she decided to further her own education, so began an MBA.

The week she began her studies, a merger between Kiwi Dairies and the Tui Dairy Company in Manawatu was announced. “They created this organisational development team and I was the team leader.”

“This was the beginning of self-managing teams, so we were an experiment.”

Sitting around a table, Shona and fellow team members looked at organisational development and charted a course for Kiwi Dairies. “We began the move from a hierarchical command and control company to something that was more team and people orientated.”

From there she moved into a strategy role as the mergers to form dairy company giant Fonterra were starting to take shape.

Back then, Craig Norgate, who went on to be Fonterra’s first CEO, put Shona in charge of communications, even though she had no background in the area.

During this time Shona and other senior executives were sent to overseas learning institutions to extend their knowledge and help the company become more global.

She went to Harvard Business School in Boston, firstly to Singapore for a month and then back to Harvard for another month.

“For a girl from Eltham who worked in the dairy industry for 25 years and married a Taranaki dairy farmer at 19, all of a sudden I’m in a lecture room with people from all around the world holding my own,” she says. “But getting indignant because New Zealand wasn’t mentioned in anything.”

Shona found the whole experience fascinating and for some time kept those international links.

Her corporate career ended when Fonterra became fully fledged in October 2001.

“I was still married to a Taranaki dairy farmer and all the executive jobs were going to Auckland, so I left and went to Practical Education.”

She spent two years as the general manager of the New Plymouth-based institute, until she was made redundant. “That added to my experience.”

With time and space, Shona began to think about starting a business to focus on her strengths – organisational development and processes, implementing strategy, goal setting and supporting businesses and their people to be the best they can be.

“I’m about turning ideas into reality,” she says.

“My belief is it’s the strategy that helps you navigate those changes.”

With a smile, she refers to an exchange between the Cheshire Cat and Alice in Wonderland in Lewis Carroll’s classic fantasy novel:

Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”

The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

Without conscious decision-making to lay down a strategy towards a goal, people tend to drift of somewhere, Shona says.

For a few years, she has helped judge the Employer of Choice for the Taranaki Business Awards.

“The winners of these awards are amazing businesses. I believe you have to run an organisation from your heart and your head.”

For several years, she has worked with the not-for-profit sector and loves it. “When I work with them, I recognise that they are so heart driven. My job is to work from the head.”

A strong woman, who strives for equality and equity, Shona ensures that nothing she does in her work makes others feel less than her. “I meet people where they are,” she says, repeating her mantra.

Her latest challenge is to learn Te Reo Māori through Te Wananga o Aotearoa. “I do whakapapa back to Ngāti Ranginui in Tauranga.”

Shona, a life-long learner, is open-minded and curious.

She’s soared to corporate heights, but always remains ground as “just a girl from Eltham.”