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Diane Foreman: Queen of the arena

Diane Foreman has a fresh new outlook on her success.
New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year Diane Foreman has a fresh new outlook on her success.

In the past three decades, Diane Foreman has gone from struggling single mum to one of the most powerful women in Asia. She has been named New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year and is a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. But according to Google, what people most want to know about her is her age.

“I’m going to be 55 in September,” she says, seated in her lavish Auckland home, “but why would anyone care about that? If you Googled businessmen Ralph Norris or Eric Watson, would age come up in the search bar?”

Diane admits she is trying to find out where she fits again, after selling the multi-million dollar export company Emerald Foods. The business, founded in 1985, manufactures ice cream for brands such as New Zealand Natural and Mövenpick. Diane will begin her next chapter by releasing her first book, Diane Foreman: In the Arena, and embarking on a whirlwind book tour.

Also on the agenda is spending more time with her family – Nichola (35) and Amy (34), whom she raised as a single mum, and Josh (24) and Charlotte (18), her children with her former husband, businessman Bill Foreman. Diane, who has been dating farmer and economist Jason Smith for six years, is also a doting grandmother to Luke (14), Seb (7), Chloe (7), Liam (5) and little Lexi (13 months).

“I don’t have a mad social life – my life is centred around the family and the dining room table,” she confesses. “When I was struggling up the ladder, I was always putting the business first, and I’ve learned now that it was not the right thing to do. To be truly successful, it’s always got to be family first.”

Diane says her years as a single mum were harder than running a successful business. Clockwise from left: Nichola, Josh, Diane, ex-husband Bill, Amy, Charlotte and grandson Luke.

Diane admits the work-life balance was much easier to achieve once she had money, and she still believes running an international business is a walk in the park compared to being a single mother.

“When you’re up making school lunches at 3am, that’s tough,” she stresses. “Those are the women I admire – out there on their own with little money and support.”

Son Josh, whom she adopted as a baby, is the last of her children to fly the nest – he’s moving into a flat while he completes a postgraduate diploma in Clinical Exercise Physiology. Diane beams with pride when she talks about his achievements, which are all the more impressive given that Josh is profoundly deaf. At the age of two, he became the youngest person in New Zealand at that time to receive cochlear implants.

“When we fostered Josh, we fell in love,” Diane says smiling. “I remember this beautiful moment. I was feeding him in the middle of the night and, as we looked at each other, I think our hearts joined together.“

Josh says while he grew up with a nanny taking care of his day-to-day needs, he always knew his mum was there for him. During a rebellious phase as a boarder at the prestigious King’s College, it was Diane who got him back on track.

The businesswoman has a special bond with son Josh, who she adopted as a baby.

“Mum drove over to the school and I remember her saying, ‘Look, Josh, you have two ways you can go. Go this way and it will not end well, or you can start acting with some integrity,” he recalls.

“It was a defining moment in our relationship,” adds Diane. “From that moment on, Josh has never caused me a second’s worry.”

Josh maintains a special relationship with his birth family, and has even enjoyed holidays with his biological grandparents. Diane says it’s the same for her daughter Nichola, who is also adopted. But their arrangements are a far cry from Diane’s own adoption experience. Having grown up feeling very different to her family, there was further heartache when she finally tracked down her birth mother.

“She said to me, ‘I didn’t want you then and I don’t want you now,’” Diane recalls. “I just had to handle that.”

Now, Diane is set to embark on yet another quest, one most Kiwis take up in their twenties – the OE. “When I was 20, I was changing nappies, while my friends were sleeping on couches in Earls Court in London. So I’m doing it the other way around.”

Diane is planning to spend a year in the UK capital, but there’s no doubt she’ll still be focused on business. ”I’m always looking out for the next big thing,” she says.

Proof for Google, then, that Diane Foreman is more than just a number.

WATCH: Diane Foreman talks about her new book

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A selection of Diane’s fast 50 tips from In the Arena:

  • Never go into business with friends or lovers

  • Expect little, give a lot

  • Look after yourself so you can look after others

  • Drink two litres of water every single day

  • Never hire someone with dirty shoes

  • People who move quickly, think quickly

  • Never want something so badly you can’t walk away

  • Always have a Plan B (and C and D)

In the Arena by Diane Foreman, Random House, RRP $40.

Anastasia Hedge

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