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Catherine Drayton

Christchurch Airport Board Chair

Meet Catherine, Chair of our Christchurch Airport Board and professional director. She shares with us what attracts her to being a director and her love of travel and adventure.

You’re a professional director and Chair of our Board, what attracts you to being a director? I used to be a mergers and acquisitions expert. I have lived for significant periods of time in five different countries. I used to travel hugely to experience a wide variety of cultures, value sets, and landscapes. I left Central and Eastern Europe to return home to look after my mother and didn’t work for four years. All those things, and more, make me a ‘variety junky’. When I could think about working again I looked for something that would provide me variety.

So, I like being a director because I am exposed to a variety of sectors, teams, goals, organisational models etc.  For me it is important to be able to make a difference: whether it’s in an executive role or a non-executive (director) role. So, I like being a director because I am in a position to make a difference.

Most memorable Christchurch Airport experience?

  1. Appointing Malcolm as Chief Executive
  2. The first day the Emirates A380 flew into Christchurch
  3. All the members and supporters of the Muslim community who came through our terminal to be with their fallen after the Mosque shootings.

Have you ever lived outside of New Zealand? I have lived overseas for a third of my life: 18 months in New York (on a NZ salary with a tax break – I was broke); 3.5 years in London (mostly working in the North of England or mainland Europe, including a year commuting to Holland every week); 15 years in Central and Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall came down.

We’ve heard you like to travel, so can you tell us a bit about that? I have always been attracted to, and comfortable with, environments unknown and different. The first country I ever visited outside NZ was Morocco. I embrace cultural difference. It really makes me challenge my values and my behaviours. Experiencing that is also a very effective way of building what everyone deserves – respect.

Most memorable: My first solo backpacking experience was to Syria. I was 25. It was Ramadan. I learnt I was resilient and people are fundamentally kind. I learnt to respect a different culture and not judge another culture. I realised, as an agnostic, that all great religions have a lot in common and not to lose sight of that. That trip was a turning point in my life.

Another turning point was the first day I had a semi-automatic pointed at my face. I found I knew, instinctively, how to go to my calm, thoughtful, space. I have leveraged that skill throughout my career. And yes, I had that experience more than once in my life!

Most obscure location: Lake Assal in Djibouti to see the salt slabs transported by camel caravan by the Afar peoples to Sudan and Ethiopia.

Would go again in a heartbeat: I fell in love with an Israeli when I was young (I met him in Southern Peru, walking a mountain) and went to Israel more than 20 times during the First Intifada. However, I never went into what became “Palestine”.  There is a walk – Masar Ibrahim, Abraham’s Path, that takes 21 days and is 330km long – through Palestine and it’s on my bucket list.

From an urban point of view, my favourite city is Istanbul.

What are you happiest doing when you aren’t working? Being on one of my adventures – travelling, sometimes travelling to walk.

Biggest life accomplishment? Finding choice (it took me a long, long time) and I held onto it.

Tell us one thing that most people wouldn’t know about you? Most people think I am an extrovert because I am “noisy”. Actually, I need time and space to regroup and recharge. I need way more time than most people. I am good at creating the space to get that time and I have a whole range of diversionary tactics so it’s not so obvious.

What’s something are you looking forward to? Getting back to travelling. At the end of October, I was supposed to have been returning from a month in Madagascar. In December/January, I was supposed to have been doing 12 day walks in Patagonia and then spending two weeks in the Falkland Islands, in a range of isolated cottages adjacent to some fantastic wildlife.

And, of course, I look forward to getting our ‘big birds’ flying back here.

In your view, what has the pandemic meant for the airport? COVID-19 has been tough for our people, our customers, our tenants, our suppliers, our wider stakeholders. We planned the best we could for a pandemic. We had tried to make ourselves organisationally as resilient as we could be. That’s helped us and helped our stakeholders. But, it’s been tough for everyone.