Suzanne Snively was born in the United States and came to New Zealand on a Fulbright scholarship in 1972. Her undergraduate years were spent at a liberal arts college, Reed College, with an academic focus, requiring every undergraduate to attend two years of shared lectures that covered the history of western civilization, 2 years of a foreign language, 2 years of a science subject as well as several terms doing physical activity. Weekly tutorials, capped at 7 students, were held for all subjects. Freedom of thought and speech were key principles, and everything was on the table for discussion.
While at Reed, Suzanne worked half-time at the Office of Economic Opportunity, a US agency set up by JF Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan mandated to test poverty alleviation programs.
Amongst others, her professors at Reed included her senior year thesis supervisor, Carl Stevens, (industrial relations mediation/negotiation, health economics) who taught half time at Harvard, Arthur Leigh (monetary economics) and Millie Howe (income distribution). Her senior year thesis was about the public provision of health care to assist in alleviating poverty. It included an analysis of Kaiser Permanente’s Service wrap around health services. While researching for her thesis, Suzanne was also seeking a federal grant for drug rehabilitation of returning Vietnam War Veterans called Janus. The program received $3 million dollars in federal funding and is still in existence today.
Suzanne served on the Reed Council which was composed of half students and half faculty. She became President of the Council and was the student rep on the committee to select a new Reed college president (Vice Chancellor). Another role was to engage speakers to come to the campus and amongst these was Milton Friedman (whose son also attended Reed). Friedman spoke on campus two times while she was at Reed and a lot of preparation went into questions from faculty and students to encourage him to think about whether his monetary policy was conducive to reducing poverty. For Friedman, everything hinged on equality of opportunity. It wasn’t until later when Suzanne had children that it became clear that everyone is starting from a different place even when born into the same family. In 1970, Seventeen Magazine changed the policy for its annual August college (university) edition to select women who were thought leaders on campus. Suzanne was one of the top 10 college women for the magazine and was taken to New York to stay at the Plaza Suite Hotel for the photo shoot and to be interviewed along with the other 9 women student leaders by David Frost.
When it came time to apply to graduate school, Suzanne decided to apply for study overseas prior to going onto law school. As her mailbox was full of anti-apartheid, anti-Vietnam, Black Power and “Stop Eating California Grapes” literature, many of the other circulars had fallen out. Reed was very focused on its students applying for overseas scholarships. Fortunately, her studies with Millie Howe had described how New Zealand was renowned in the 1960s for having one of the most equal income distributions with very low recorded rates of unemployment, apparently little poverty and the fourth highest GDP per capita. Suzanne’s studies with Carl Stevens had discussed the greater availability of government-funded health care to vulnerable populations.
“I thought I needed to go and see what New Zealand’s secret is, so I can bring [that knowledge] back to the US and change it for the better,” she said in an interview.
When Suzanne arrived in New Zealand on 21 February 1972, there were 212 people registered as unemployed and people joked to her that everyone knew their names.
Her 1972 Honours Year at Victoria University was a rich experience. The class comprised two women and three men at the core plus another Fulbright scholar and some other part-timers. John Zanetti taught methodology, sprinkled with lots of Karl Popper. FJL Young led the VUW Industrial Relations Centre with Noel Woods and Ted Keating. They built strong relationships with the Department of Labour, the Employers and Manufacturers and the CTU. Brian Philpott brought national income accounting to life via the works of Cambridge Economist, Richard Stone. Les Castle’s previous experience at MFAT, his leading role with the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs (he raised $100,000 from the US-based Ford Foundation, a lot of money in the day) and his close association with public policy via Treasury Secretary Henry Lang provided helpful context for scoping her Fulbright research.
Despite a successful Honours year, it was difficult to gain acceptance as a career woman and an American in New Zealand. So, Suzanne made plans to return to the US to complete a law degree. Then, days before her departure, in unexpected circumstances, she met television interviewer Ian Fraser (who later became head of TVNZ). He was a much more perceptive interviewer than David Frost. Suzanne and Ian settled in the Wellington suburb of Kelburn, where they raised their 3 children.
Denis Rose employed her at the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research where she learned from Kerrin Vautier and eventually took over running Conrad Blythe’s Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion. She was part of the Quarterly Predictions Team, specialising in forecasting the consumers price index and the government’s budget deficit. It was a high point in New Zealand economic forecasting. The forecasting teams of NZIER, the RBNZ, the Treasury and later Inland Revenue and Infometrics, met regularly to compare forecasting models, assumptions, and trends.
Frank Holmes recruited Suzanne in 1980 to work for the New Zealand Planning Council chaired by National Government Energy Minister, Bill Birch. There she contributed to two reports examining the tax system. The analysis let to options for simplifying the tax system and addressing the impact of fiscal drag on the progressive personal income tax rates.
Paul Baines then invited Suzanne as the first economist to work for sharebrokers, Jarden and Co. The research division was expertly led by Brian Gaynor and included Ray Thomson and Lloyd Morrison. Her decision to work there was based on the opportunity it provided to widen her economic knowledge so that her income distribution research would be taken more seriously.
Suzanne began part-time work at the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) in 1986 after submitting her thesis and receiving a Masters with Distinction
While working at DSW, Suzanne was approached by Dr Carol Shand to join Help, the Sexual Abuse Foundation, and by Aucklander, Barbara Goodman, to join the Women’s Refuge Foundations. One of her first contracts when joining Coopers in Lybrand in 1993 was to do the research for a report, The New Zealand Economic Cost of Family Violence. This report became the basis for similar overseas studies including in the UK and the US.
The Housing Corporation of New Zealand recruited Suzanne to join in 1988 to produce a housing model. This was followed by a contract with the Department of Health from 1990 to manage the mainstreaming of people with disabilities into the community.
While she was working on part-time contracts with the public sector, Suzanne took on some Board appointments. Roger Douglas appointed her to the Reserve Bank Board starting in November 1985.
Through her association as an inaugural friend of Circa Theatre, Suzanne met Edith Campion who appointed her to R A Hannah’s Board as the Shareholder’s representative in 1987. As well as the shoe company, Hannah’s had several subsidiaries including Modern Bags, Warnocks and Dress for Less. It has shoe factories in Wellington and Whanganui.
Suzanne Chaired Cosmopolitan FM between 1987/89 while it applied for one of the first licenses in the FM frequency.
In 1989, Wellington City Council appointed Suzanne via a competitive process to join the Board of Capital Holdings. This was the name of the Local Authority Trading Enterprise (LATE) overseeing the city’s commercial entities. At that time, the WCC was involved in many commercial activities and Capital Holdings had 10 diverse subsidiaries including port, meat, milk delivery, energy, property companies and so on. It also governed WCC’s interest in Wellington Airport and Suzanne was appointed to represent Capital Holdings on that Board as well for a couple of years.
Minister David Caygill appointed Suzanne as a member the Sir Spencer Russell Committee on the Taxation of Charities and Sporting Bodies in 1989. As a result of the economic analysis carried out by the committee, the incomes of volunteer organisations remained untaxed and the tax rebate available to those making donations was increased.
Sir Basil Logan included Suzanne along with Malcolm McCaw and Richard Miller to carry out an independent review of Wellington City Council in 1990/91.
Suzanne attended both Expo 88 and Expo 92 to accompany her husband on New Zealand National Days. She was an economic commentator on radio and for the Dominion newspaper describing the opportunities for New Zealand business and tourism.
Suzanne approached Coopers & Lybrand for a job in 1993, where she was invited into the Partnership in 1996, shortly after that merging with Price Waterhouse to become PwC and she remained with the firm until 2010. While at PwC, she was lead partner in projects relating to strategies for MSD, IRD, DIA and other government agencies. She also led several economic strategy and social impact studies.
In 1993, she became a Judge of the Business Kapiti/ Howowhenua Electra Business Awards, becoming the Chief Judge in the mid-2000s. These are one of the longest existing continuously improving business awards.
As chair of Fulbright New Zealand from the mid-1990s until 2004, Suzanne and the Executive Director, Mele Wendt, led and implemented a strategy that increased the number of Fulbright awards, promoting the awards to potential funders both in terms of the educational and economic value gained.
Suzanne also chaired the Board of Mary Potter Hospice at this time, working with the Board and Management on activities that led to increases in both its revenue from donations and from the government. This enabled the service to provide strong support for its nurses, clinicians and staff across the wider Wellington west-coast region.
Other Board roles during that time include:
- HealthCARE Wairarapa/ HealthCARE Otago
- Whititeria NZ ITP (2002 – 2013)
- WNZL, Chair (2009-2013)
- Weltec ITP (2010 – 2013)
In 2009/10, Suzanne was appointed by then Whanau Ora Minister, Hon Dame Tariana Turia, to the Whanau Ora Task Force chaired by Sir Mason Durie. The focus was on the development of wrap around services that would lead to greater whanau wellbeing and through this, increased economic productivity. In 2014, Suzanne was invited to join the Board of Te Pou Matakana, the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency.
When PwC Director, Alex Tan, promoted Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) as an organisation for Suzanne to consider joining, her initial answer was no as she was looking to work with organisations that had aspirations that would increase economic wellbeing. Upon learning that active members of this non-partisan organisations were from four major political parties, Suzanne saw the potential for it to become a vehicle for a long-term economic strategy for New Zealand. Suzanne was the chairperson of the New Zealand chapter of TINZ, addressing corruption, from 2011 until her retirement in November 2020. She led two projects to examine the strength of New Zealand’s national integrity system.
As a TINZ lifetime member, Suzanne is the Project Director of the Financial Integrity System Assessment which aspires to attract investment to New Zealand’s financial system because of its demonstrated integrity. This will provide investment for growth in scale, leading to the quality jobs that underpin income equality and poverty eradication.
Other roles where economics has played a role include: Chair of the Agriwomen’s Development Trust (2011-13), Director Health Research Council (2010 – 2019), External Director, Army Leadership Board (2013 – 2019), Director of New Zealand Opera and the Opera Foundation since 2010. Director Experience Wellington from May 2022.
In 2017, she was invited by the Minister of Finance to Chair the Independent Expert Advisory Panel for the Review of the RBNZ Act. Suzanne chaired the Phase 1 which led to the adoption of the RBNZ’s dual objectives of price stability and maximum sustainable employment. She chaired Phase 2 of the review until October 2021. This was followed by time on the Deposit Takers Act Steering Committee and the Transition Board leading up to the new governance board for the Reserve Bank from 1 July 2022.
In 1993 Suzanne received a New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal. In the 2005 Queen’s Birthday Honours, she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to business. In 2013 she was named Wellingtonian of the Year. In the 2021 New Year Honours, she was promoted to honorary Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to governance.
This year we are pleased to mirror these honours and make Suzanne a Distinguished Fellow of the New Zealand Association of Economists. The criteria for this award specifies it awarded to “distinguished New Zealand economists to recognise their contribution to the development of economics (and its application).” Looking at Suzanne’s career development and achievement there cannot be any doubt that she has focussed on the application of economics in informing public policy with a fifty year commitment to poverty alleviation and social justice.
- Member NZ Association of Economists (since 1974)
- Member of Institute of Directors (since 1991)/ Certificate in Company Direction (2009)
- Member NZICA for non-accounting Partners (1993-2010)
- Member NZ/ US Businessmen’s Council (since 2005)
- Inaugural Member, Global Women Network (begun 2009)
- Member of the Advisory Committee for the VUW Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Business
- Member of the Rotary Club of Wellington