You might expect someone whose role is to curb corporate bad behaviour to be rather grimly demeanoured or at least imposingly suited in dark navy. Jane Diplock is petite, pink suited and charming. She is also sharply intelligent and passionate about the work she sees as a vital component for successfully building New Zealand's economy.
"I have to say this is one of the most interesting, exciting and challenging roles I've had. Fundamentally it is about trying to be part of the jigsaw which goes into making a robust healthy capital market in New Zealand. My passion is to grow the cake so there is more for all of us--and we do that by encouraging confidence in domestic and international investment."
Being chosen to chair the international body of regulators last year was, she says, a great honour--and one that is also good for New Zealand because it helps enhance the country's international reputation, which in turn makes this a more attractive place for overseas investors.
"If international fund managers put just one or even half a percent of their assets into New Zealand, it would grow our market enormously. We need to attract that capital and we can--we have so many assets in this country. But we need to have all parts of the jigsaw appropriately organised. We need a strong exchange and a strong regulator--without those you won't get the investment."
New Zealand can already boast a fairly honourable reputation. As Diplock pointed out in a paper on public sector reform last year--this is a country with one of the least corrupt governments on the planet. We ranked third (two places ahead of Australia) in Transparency International's most recent "corruption perception index".
But what we didn't have until recently, says Diplock, is the appropriate infrastructure of regulation.
"We had a very light-handed approach which can lead to exploitation of the market--and we've seen a couple of examples of that. Now we have, by and large, the law in place to give people confidence and to give the commission the capacity to take appropriate action when necessary."
The Securities Commission also took a lead in developing a set of corporate governance principles for New Zealand, designed to help local boards maintain high standards of behaviour. Published last year, these cover ethics, board performance, board committees, reporting and disclosure, remuneration, risk management, auditors, plus shareholder and stakeholder relations (see Management, The Director May 2004).
Looking back on a career characterised by the twin themes of law and finance, Diplock's current role might seem a logical step, but it wasn't an entirely expected one.
"I don't think anyone wakes up one morning and says they want to chair the NZ Securities Commission and in a sense I'm sometimes surprised that this is where I happen to be working."
That could be because most of Diplock's 55 years have been spent across the ditch. Raised in a semi-rural environment near Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, she was educated in Sydney.
"My original qualifications were in arts, law, education and economics. I entered the public sector initially as a lawyer and ended up heading a cabinet division of the Premiers Department in the New South Wales government. At that time I was greatly assisted by the mentoring of Gerry Gleeson, secretary of that department, who gave me many exciting career opportunities and who was willing to risk a young woman in senior roles, which was not common at the time."
She then made the leap into the private sector with Westpac where she did a bit of a deal.
"I told them that what I knew about government is what you might call a rapidly amortising asset--in about two years it will be of no use to you or me--so you really need to train me as a financier. And they did just that, which was fantastic in terms of my education because in a sense it was an aspect I needed if I was going to extend my career horizons. …