Executive Interview Series | Bella Katz | New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

By Jennifer Galvin-Rowley

This conversation is brought to you by Galvin-Rowley Executive. We have known Bella for many years, and have found her career story varied and very interesting. Having started in marketing, as an Account Manager, Account Director and eventually Head of Marketing across various businesses, Bella then opened her own Branding and Marketing business, which led her to multiple freelance writing roles, as a go-to expert in her field of marketing and business. Eventually, she also become the Australian Business Columnist with the New Zealand Herald.

Bella returned to the corporate environment with Zagame Automotive Group, where she started as Audi Marketing Manager, and eventually moved into the position of General Manager, Group Marketing. Currently, Bella is a Non-Executive Director for the Prahran Market and over the last three years has moved from Advisor (Consumer Retail) to Advisor (Food & Beverage, Consumer Goods) then most recently to the role of Trade Commissioner for the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is the government agency charged with helping New Zealand businesses to grow internationally. They use their extensive knowledge and global networks to help exporters of all sizes make better decisions and connect to the right partners and investors within New Zealand.

Photo: Dame Annette King, High Commissioner for NZ, Bella Katz, Trade Commissioner and Jacinta Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Name: Bella Katz | Company: New Zealand Trade and Enterprise | Role: Trade Commissioner | Years In Role: One Month, Three Years with NZTE

To start this conversation, can you tell us what initially attracted you to this Trade Commissioner role for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE)?

I’m an expat New Zealander, and despite leaving more than 20 years ago, I always maintained a connection and love of the country, people and brands. I spent my formative years in New Zealand and felt a sense of pride in seeing New Zealand businesses succeed overseas.

I knew of NZTE many years before applying for a role; ultimately, it came down to timing. A position came up as an advisor for consumer retail businesses exporting to Australia. I was starting to explore my next career steps, wanting to move from pure marketing into broader business advisory.

I interviewed with the Trade Commissioner at the time; the role seemed perfect, and, more importantly, I got the sense that she’d be a fantastic boss. I was so right, and she turned out to be my biggest champion when her tenure ended, encouraging me to step into her former role as Trade Commissioner.

Is there are common career path that leads to becoming a Trade Commissioner?

Once upon a time, you would have had to have a government career to step into a Trade Commissioner role, but one of the great things in more recent years is that your commercial experience is highly valued. I have some incredible global colleagues at NZTE who are deep specialists in their industry – manufacturing, food and beverage, tech, and consumer goods – and they joined NZTE because they wanted to use that know-how to help New Zealand companies grow. There’s a sense at NZTE that you work for a cause rather than a job, applying your life’s learning to support New Zealand companies as they start or mature in their export journey. It’s incredibly satisfying, and many varied career pathways can contribute.

Most importantly, you need to deeply understand the market you’re working in, be a great connector, and have wide networks, varied experience, and leadership skills. It pulls together the threads of a rich career, and I love that the role values broad skills rather than super niche ones.

So far, what has been the most exciting or interesting thing you have done in your role as Trade Commissioner?

I officially stepped into the role three days before our New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, travelled to Australia with a trade delegation of 30 Kiwi businesses. I travelled for a week with the delegation in an exciting, exhausting, exhilarating and hugely successful mission. It was a baptism of fire, and I loved every minute of it.

What are the benefits of trade between New Zealand and Australia?

Australians and New Zealanders are so interconnected. We share the same time zone, language, humour and a real bond between the countries, governments and people. While Australia is more challenging to do business with, it’s a fantastic place for New Zealand companies to start their export journey. For an NZ business that wants to grow, you only have to focus on Melbourne or Sydney to reach the equivalent of the entire population of NZ.

For Australians, there is a trust that comes from doing business with New Zealand too, and a recognition of the quality of products and services that originate from NZ. There’s a collaborative spirit that, through the shutdowns in other parts of the world, brought NZ and Australia even closer together.

Did any of your previous jobs stand out as being, in reflection, pivotal points in your career? If so, can you describe this for us?

A lot of my career was shaped by chance rather than strategic plotting – someone offered me a role, or I started in one business, and an opportunity there evolved into a more significant opportunity, and so on. I also loved to travel and, for the first decade of my career, I worked in Auckland, Tokyo, London, Sydney before landing in Melbourne.

Even though my work was always in marketing and developed into more strategic marketing as I matured, I worried that my career was too varied across multiple industries. On reflection, that variety of marketing roles across many sectors (luxury goods, automotive, tech, manufacturing, B2B) brought me exactly where I needed to be. It’s precisely this multi-sector knowledge, international experience and relationship-building that makes you a good TC. It feels like every experience has led to this point, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ve also continued to study over the years, contributing to my development. I did a Postgrad in Marketing, a series of Brand courses led by Mark Ritson with the Australian Institute of Marketing. Most recently, I graduated from the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Every course has brought new skills to my professional toolkit.

What does a typical working day look like for you as a Trade Commissioner?

I’m part of a global NZTE network of more than 400 worldwide, so a typical day involves conversations with colleagues in New Zealand, Australia, and worldwide. Our simplified goal is to help New Zealand companies grow bigger, better and faster in their chosen export market.

Here in Melbourne, there’s also a team of 10 advisors who are all deep specialists in their industry and work with hundreds of NZ companies. We help them with everything from advising on business structure, governance, and the best channel to market and prepare them to pitch and win business in their chosen fields. A day may include meeting with the founders to understand their commercial goals for Australia and get a sense of their capabilities and any gaps we can help with; meeting with Australian businesses or great organisations like Global Victoria, to see if there are collaboration opportunities. NZTE also encourages ongoing learning, so there’s often a session during the week to hear from other markets, industries or experts in the organisation.

There has been much discussion about gender equity in the workplace recently. As a female with a key leadership role, what advice would you offer other women working in your industry?

Of all the companies I’ve ever worked in, NZTE has by far the best culture. Gender equality and diversity in the workplace are woven throughout the entire organisation. Our teams are from all walks of life, and numerous ethnicities, with many women in leadership roles. Working here has made me reflect on previous places of work and, in a way, has spoiled me, as there’s no way I’d stand for any inequity in the workplace.

Anyone in a leadership position bears the responsibility to create an equitable place of work, and, as we move into leadership roles, we have to make sure no one falls behind.

I recently spent a week with an amazing group of women as part of a Women in Leadership Study Tour, hosted by Sam Mostyn and organised by the Trans Tasman Business Circle. The learnings that came from that week have lingered with me since the tour ended, and the group chat that we maintain is encouraging, supportive and full of ideas and inspiration. There are some brilliant people, strength in numbers, and champions who will help you grow professionally. Find those people and stick to them!

Can you tell us about someone that you have had professional inspiration?

Two people immediately come to mind, both former managers of mine: Gary Watson and Vanessa O’Neill, and I feel lucky to have crossed paths with them both in my career. These two outstanding individuals are not only incredibly smart and always learning but warm and generous to everyone around them. That’s my kind of leadership.

What is one thing you know now about women and work you wish had known earlier in your career?

Success may look very different later in life from how your younger self imagined it. It’s not worth the worry, and your pathway to “the dream job” may be wonky and go backwards, forwards and sideways along the way. Also, I don’t know that there is a single dream job – there are many, and they evolve along with your professional evolution.

What would be your top time management tips?

I love a good list, and sometimes I add things to the list I’ve already finished so I can cross them off with dramatic flair! I’m learning new tips along the way, such as the importance of blocking off time to get work done, no meetings, no Zooms, just that quiet hour or so to do or think. I also feel so strongly that when you work with brilliant and capable people, your job satisfaction goes off the charts, and you help one another’s time management. Talented people help balance the scales during those inevitable times when you feel overwhelmed – and then, you help them back.

Do you have a favourite book or podcast that inspires your business direction and motivation?

I’ve just read Belonging by Owen Eastwood, which was an excellent read about how a sense of connection can develop strong and successful teams. I also read a lot of fiction, not just business books, but escapist fiction never goes amiss (I just read The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale – so good). I’m a huge podcast fan. I can recommend some recent ones: Scamfluencers, Wondery’s Business Wars, Against the Rules by Michael Lewis, The Dream, Spectacular Failures…love a good scam expose podcast.

Find out more:

Visit Bella Katz on LinkedIn or find out about the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

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