The Best HR Executives in New Zealand | The Hot List
The Best HR Executives in New Zealand |
The Hot List 

Redefining success


The executives on HRD’s Hot List for 2024 have significantly advanced the standing of HR within their respective organisations in novel ways, enabling the sector to significantly increase its influence on employee experience and organisational success.

The best New Zealand HR executives think globally and act locally to get ahead of industry trends while prioritising the wellbeing of their people.

In the current climate marked by restructuring across various industries and the importance of ensuring a positive employee experience in times of change, the leadership of this year’s Hot List winners is all the more exceptional.

Their outstanding contributions to the HR industry include:

  • launching a Regenerative HR program aimed at growing employees into empowered people inspired to serve an organisation’s greater vision and work with a sustainable mindset 

  • implementing private healthcare for an organisation’s entire workforce

  • demonstrating that HR is not just a supportive function, but a strategic partner in organisational success


“This is what’s hitting home for people at the moment,” says director and founder of The People Project, Jaime Gallocher.  “We’re zooming in and out all the time, asking what the business needs and, strategically, what the people in those organisations need at the grassroots level.”

Mark Lewis, Connetics
“I can’t stress enough how great it’s been to build my team and work with capable people to deliver data-driven and evidenced-based solutions that impact the bottom line”
Mark LewisConnetics


Mark Lewis – Head of people and culture at Connetics

Influential HR leader empowers employees to reach their full potential


As an HR executive who navigates the intricate challenges posed by the energy trilemma of sustainability, equity and resiliency, Lewis has consistently demonstrated his commitment to enhancing employee engagement, reducing turnover and optimising workforce management in an incredibly tight labour market.

These accomplishments evidence his track record of turning HR challenges into opportunities for growth:

  • successfully reduced turnover from 24% to 18% in 2023 through a combination of data-driven retention strategies, improved onboarding processes and fostering a culture of continuous development

  • implementing a workforce planning strategy and aligning recruitment efforts with the company’s strategic goals to stem headcount decline, realising steady growth in 2023

  • halting the decline of vacancies from 67 in November 2022 to less than 25 in September 2023

  • receiving numerous awards, including HRD’s Hot List in 2021, 2022 and 2023, and HRDNZ’s Manager of the Year in 2022

  • partnering with GirlBoss NZ CEO Alexia Hilbertidou to recognise trailblazing young women who are defying stereotypes and creating change with the GirlBoss Awards 



“My approach has been one of innovation and strategic talent development and recognising that challenges are not roadblocks but opportunities to find new solutions,” explains Lewis. “I aim not just to keep pace with industry evolution but to position Connetics as a leader in the ever-changing energy landscape.”

Staying at the leading edge of the HR profession and sector has allowed Lewis and his team to address talent shortages by proactively:

  • empowering leaders to deliver engagement and retention activities

  • taking the lead on effective talent management strategies

  • employing forward-thinking recruitment initiatives

With a leadership approach shaped by a belief that positive workplace cultures are essential to organisational success, Lewis upholds a standard that he hopes will inspire and motivate others to create environments that take holistic views of employee wellbeing in their HR practices, helping to secure future investment.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my career has been building teams from the ground up to introduce new capabilities into organisations,” he reflects. “What makes it even more special is the continued desire for collaboration and the fact that people want me to be part of their journey as much as I want to be part of theirs.”

Karen Meredith, PeopleEX
“If you lead with heart and good intentions, you can ignite and unite people for a better purpose”
Karen MeredithPeopleEX


Karen Meredith – People partner and founder of PeopleEX

HR executive positively impacting people and the planet


Driven by a desire to make a beneficial impression on society and the environment, Meredith’s innovative approach to harnessing the change-making power of HR to help companies create a more sustainable and fairer world has landed her on this year’s Hot List.

The HR executive, who has two decades of sector expertise and credentials in sustainability knowledge, launched PeopleEX's Regenerative HR, which uses HR principles and products to support the systems companies currently operate, to enable the business to become more sustainable.

This transformation is achieved by using the United Nations’ sustainable development goals as a framework, enabling HR teams to understand the breadth of sustainability across people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships and making links to people’s daily activities that can support sustainability action.

“I fundamentally believe that we are delivering and driving our purpose, which is about ‘people for better,’ connecting and working in partnership with people and business leaders to stimulate growth and better social and environmental outcomes,” she says.

Meredith attributes her ability to make significant industry contributions to several factors, including:

  • leading more with her heart than her head, trusting her instincts to determine if a decision is the right one

  • putting herself in other people’s shoes to understand their different perspectives and reactions from a place of empathy

  • having the right people on her team


“Leaders are only as good as the team around them and, if you can, connect, develop and nourish the team because it’s the good people that make organisations successful, not the other way round,” she remarks. “I had the privilege of working with some incredible people, and I still do; the PeopleEX team is the best I’ve ever worked with, and I love it.”

The Hot List HR executive’s notable accomplishments include:

  • partnering with the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRNZ) to upskill and educate the HR community; PeopleEX was a finalist in the 2023 HRNZ awards for Building Sustainability through People 

  • setting a target at PeopleEX to have 30% of its client base from the not-for-profit sector and offering these clients a discounted rate; gifting 50 hours of HR services to a Wellington charitable trust

  • taking PeopleEX through the B Corp certification process

  • receiving HRDNZ's Most Innovative Team award in 2020 when she was a director at PwC


Kate Batkin, Medenterprises Services
“We are the first doctor recruitment agency in the world to be B Corp certified, and it’s an awesome process to be part of for the business and personal development”
Kate BatkinMedenterprises Services


Kate Batkin – Chief People and Capability Officer  

Making a difference in employees’ lives is top priority for HR executive


Since joining Medenterprises, Batkin has been instrumental in restoring trust, credibility and respect to the HR team at the medical recruitment organisation. She has achieved this by:

  • building capacity within the HR team

  • fostering a positive and inclusive work environment

  • promoting the growth and development of employees, where everyone is contributing to the firm's success and wellbeing

The HR executive thrives in the values-based business and takes pride in advancing healthcare through well-placed medical staffing that ultimately leads to better patient outcomes.

“It’s a rewarding mission to be a part of,” says Batkin. “I also love the challenge of getting up every day and knowing that my role and day will be so varied and full of surprises.”

Leading the implementation of fully subsidised healthcare for the Medenterprises team across New Zealand and Australia is among her most notable achievements for its strong impact on their employees' lives.

“Because we deal with thousands of doctors each year, we know the state of the public health system,” she remarks. “Taking that stress away from our staff, who have now been able to get treatment and surgeries, has been an incredible and rewarding initiative.”

Also among Batkin’s outstanding accomplishments are:

  • leading Medenterprises to achieve B Corp certification with a score of 100.7 (pass is 80)

  • increasing eNPS from 2 to 41

  • introducing a formal remuneration framework utilising strategic pay

  • upskilling staff for new roles


Batkin has continued to push to the forefront of the HR industry by stretching her limits in taking on new challenges. For example, she applied and got a senior HR role while still in her 20s and spent seven years leaning into that challenging role, paving the way to her current position and ability to make a more significant impact.


Best HR executives in New Zealand view challenges as opportunities

Meredith emphasises that HR professionals stand primed to connect the UN’s sustainable development goals at every stage of an employee’s lifecycle.

“We know that things taught and learned within organisations have ripple effects on our outside lives,” she remarks. “It’s both an overwhelming challenge and the most incredible opportunity for HR to drive a focus on sustainability and teach about the different ways we can act to help the planet.”

In addition to driving sustainability through people with her clients, Meredith has developed PeopleEX’s sustainability strategy in collaboration with her team. She noticed that each team member began making more sustainably conscious decisions in their personal lives.

Batkin says that New Zealand’s recent government change may lead to shifts in the employment landscape. She prioritises keeping on top of legislative changes to ensure compliance. The HR executive also notes that fast-evolving technologies, such as big data and AI, impact the HR space in everything from employee experience to decision-making.

“We’re already starting to use that for some of our more administrative tasks, which is exciting,” she says.

Lewis notes that his organisation’s energy sector customers constantly juggle sustainability, equity and resilience. He sees the same challenges in his workforce when the demand for a highly skilled workforce outstrips supply. 

“These challenges present opportunities for innovation and strategic talent development,” he remarks.

Gallocher attests to the industry-leading approaches of these HR executives.

“It’s important that in HR, we are not seen as just focusing on people and capability,” she explains. “We’re saying, as a business partner, how are we commercially adding value to these businesses because people are the biggest asset to an organisation. I believe that is what sets out a high-performing HR director or up-and-coming HR practitioner.”


The Best HR Executives in New Zealand | The Hot List

  • Adéle Pieterse
    Chief People and Culture Officer
    Loyalty NZ
  • Brynlea Hunter-Morpeth
    Chief People & Culture Officer
    AIA NZ
  • Celena Harry
    Chief People Officer
    Mitre 10
  • Gil Sewell
    Kaihautū Tikanga | Chief People & Culture Officer
    Ember Korowai Takitini
  • Heather Polgase
    People and Culture Director
    Spark New Zealand
  • Jackie Holley
    General Manager, People and Culture
    Wellington International Airport
  • Karly Boast
    Vice President of People Experience
  • Kate Daly
    Managing Director, People + Culture
  • Katie Thomas
    Group People and Culture Manager
  • Kelly Pankhurst
    GM, People & Culture
    Anderson Lloyd
  • Ken Brophy
    K3 Consulting
  • Kirsty Dallinger
    Director of Human Resources
  • Laura Warren
    People and Culture Director
    Te Pukenga
  • Loren Thomas
    Head of People, Strategy & Experience
    Trade Me
  • Lynette Reed
    Managing Director
  • Melissa Crawford
    Tech with Heart
  • Michelle Russell
    GM Talent & Culture, NZ & Pacific
  • Monica Ayers
    Chief People Officer
    New Zealand Post
  • Natasha Holloway
    General Manager – People
    Fliway Group
  • Phillipa Gimmillaro
    Chief People Officer
    Hind Management
  • Ryan Ghisi
    Head of People Operations and Experience
  • Susan Doughty
    Diversity Works New Zealand
  • Susan Lowe
    Chief People and Safety Officer
    Alpine Energy
  • Toni Grimshaw
    Chief People Officer
    Te Tari Ture o te Karauna – Crown Law



As part of our editorial process, Key Media’s researchers interviewed the subject matter expert below for an independent analysis of this report and its findings.



In September 2023, the HRDNZ team conducted a survey on the New Zealand HR sector to find the most influential leaders who had contributed significantly to the industry over the previous 12 months. To be eligible, candidates must be at HR director or similar level and have at least 10 years of HR experience. 

The team aimed to identify individuals who had led new initiatives in the HR space and advanced the standing of HR within their respective organisations. The team also considered previous awards won by the candidates.

By the end of the research process, 27 key figures were selected for their leadership, innovation and industry contributions.