Marion Cowden (nee Oliver)


After leaving Matamata College I headed to Auckland to study science at Auckland University.  I graduated three years later with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Mathematics and applied Mathematics.  Along the way I acquired a husband and a daughter.   I turned my attention to earning an income and worked in a range of roles, as an actuarial assistant, a systems analyst and a management services officer.   During this time I completed a commerce degree majoring in economics.   I subsequently moved jobs and went to work for the Audit Office as an assistant auditor and continued studying to complete the requirements for admissions to membership of the (then)New Zealand Society of Accountants.


I stayed with the Audit Office for some twelve years becoming in turn an auditor, audit manager and director.  During that time I shed a husband, remarried, had a son and moved to Napier to run the local office.  That second marriage also ended in divorce in the mid-1990s.


In the late 1980s I again changed roles and went to work for one of the big accounting firms as a management consultant and during this time began a governance career with directorships on the State-owned enterprise, Works and Development Services Corporation and Carrington Polytechnic.  This aspect of my working life was put on hold after about 6 years and resumed in 2010.  In the early 1990s I left the accounting firm and moved to Wellington to take up an internal audit role with a large government department.  After about a year I moved into the position of Chief Financial Officer for the department.   I subsequently resumed study and completed a Master of Business Administration (with Distinction) at Massey University.   A move to the Health Funding Authority as Chief Financial Officer followed in the late 1990s.   By this time my daughter had married and was the mother of the first of what would be four grandchildren.


Faced with the merger of the Health Funding Authority into the Ministry of Health I decided it was time to look for new opportunities and moved to Sydney at the beginning of 2000.  I worked as a contractor for a year, including several months as Finance Manager for the Royal Botanic Gardens.  At the end of 2000 I secured a role in Canberra as General Manager Finance and People with the Australian Federal Police and worked there for the next two and a half years.   Early in 2000 I spotted an advertisement in the Economist for a Director, Corporate Services with the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.   I applied for the role and six months later took up that role, living in London and experiencing everything that London, Britain and Europe could offer.   My contract was for a total of six years and I enjoyed the opportunity to travel and explore.  One of my personal missions during that time was to track down the memorials or graves of three of my uncles, all Matamata men, who had served and died during the first and second wars.  That search took me to Runnymede, where the missing airmen’s memorial is located, to Caterpillar Valley in the Somme near the location where the New Zealand soldiers first engaged with the opposing forces in 1916 and to Egypt and the Sinai where the NZ Mounted Rifles had fought the Turks, also in 1916.


In 2009 I returned to Wellington and life took on a new direction.   In 2010 I gained a new partner and we are both very settled in our life in Wellington enjoying theatre, opera, walking and travel.   My plans to build a portfolio of governance roles began to take shape the same year and I now work as director or trustee for a range of organisations across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.  I have also had the privilege of serving, first as a member and then as chair of the independent Audit and Oversight Committee for the World Health Organisation in Geneva over the past four years which has seen me return regularly to Europe for meetings of the Committee.