The entrepreneur



By Brenda Ward, JUNO

Diane Foreman says she doesn’t have money for money’s sake. “It’s to have options. It might be to sit on your bed all day, if that’s what you want. Without money, you don’t have options.”

Foreman knows about having limited options. She was a solo mum with two small children who couldn’t see herself building wealth in her job as a receptionist for a medical practice. But then she met the couple who would change her life, Bill and Mary-Pat Foreman, and discovered they had many interests in common.

Years later, when Mary-Pat died, Bill Foreman remembered the lively receptionist with an interest in business, and they later married. Despite her business aptitude, Foreman says when she joined Bill’s plastics company, Trigon, as a board member, she wasn’t taken seriously.

She recalls her first, icy board meeting. “The board, in my opinion, was filled with misogynistic men who thought: ‘She’s the blonde bimbo wife.’ But I was tenacious.”

Foreman knew she would succeed. She immersed herself in every part of the business, under the mentorship of her husband, until she knew as much about it as he did. So, when Bill fell ill, he asked her to take over.

“I was an apprentice to him for several years and I ended up as CEO. I worked at Trigon, and learnt at the top level of the business.”

When they sold the company to a US firm in 1996, Bill gave her the profits to invest. 

“Bill said, ‘You’re going to be good. I want you take every dollar and invest it. What’s the worst that can happen?’ I said: ‘We could be living on the streets.’ He said: ‘Well, what a great journey that would be!”

She laughs. “I knew that I couldn’t screw up.”

So, from setting up her first businesses at ages 10 and 13 – selling eggs and running a babysitting agency for her school friends – Foreman showed her skill by growing a business empire.

She’s invested in a recruitment company, retirement villages, residential and commercial real estate, and the Mercy Ascot Hospital; set up 10 retail furniture stores in the US; and owns a hotel in Takapuna. But probably her best-known investments are in ice-cream.

She bought a dairy company, Emerald Foods, from Mövenpick, and the local rights to the iconic brand. She also started the New Zealand Natural brand, which exports ice-cream to 35 countries, and owned the popular Killinchy Gold range.  

“I was really proud to have all these things in my life,” says Foreman. “Bill had this huge trust that I wasn’t going to destroy his legacy. I did make mistakes, but I learnt some great principles.”

No one questions the skills of the invincible blonde now. She’s been the deputy chair of the New Zealand Business Roundtable, and one of the highlights of her career was being named New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009. She has been a world Entrepreneur of the Year judge in Monte Carlo and this year will be chairman of the London judging panel.

Foreman is passionate about helping others succeed in business. She says hiring is crucial and you should surround yourself with the absolute best, have a business plan and never grow faster than your profits.

You should understand want your customer needs, not what you think he wants. And when the business is successful and paying dividends, it’s time to take money off the table. Buy a rental property or a commercial property, invest in PIE funds – diversify.