How the CEO of The Designers Institute stays balanced

Designers Institute CEO Cathy Veninga. Picture / Garth Badger

Multicourse feasts, bubbly from morning to night, a blur of socialising - none of these Christmas "traditions" factored for Cathy Veninga last year. Instead, she spent 10 days in silence at Auckland's Vipassana Meditation Retreat, aiming "for time out in a quiet structured environment to re-calibrate".

"My role as CEO is very much about networking, communication and relationship building - in other words, talking. On the retreat it was easy and felt natural to be silent. You realise how much we disturb others and are so easily distracted. We miss the subtleties in our daily 'mind noisy' lives."

Veninga has been with the not-for-profit organisation The Designers Institute of New Zealand since 1998 and became the first CEO in 2005. "I live and breathe my job because of my passionate and enduring respect for the contribution designers make to our lives on so many levels. The young emerging talent I see coming out of design schools is awesome and our future is in good hands."

Her team is working on a case to put to the Government on the value of design, and continuing to build international relationships that highlight New Zealand design. There is also the big task of organising the annual Best Design Awards, now the largest awards programme in New Zealand.

"To be honest, there is no average day, nor average hours I might work ... that's the life in a not for profit," she laments, explaining that she relies on strength training, a healthy diet and mindfulness practices to balance this workload. "I expect a lot from myself as CEO so I need to know that my energy and health is up to the heavy schedule of the year."


I'm inspired by design and designers - the way they think, the way they approach and solve problems, and that they are customer-focused influencers.

I always look forward to my training sessions with Sean Hughes (he trains a range of New Zealand and international professional athletes) at Next Generation.

For me, the TRX is the ultimate training tool that develops my overall core strength from the feet up, giving me balance, stability, co-ordination and flexibility as well as a cardio workout.

Harvest Wholefoods have maintained their ethos on fresh and verified organic produce. The veges, nuts and seeds are always fresh due to high turnover. Their organic free range eggs are high on my weekly shopping list.

I love Tune in Radio which I have on my iPhone... so many genres of music to choose from. I haven't bought a CD in years.

My biggest challenge is getting enough to eat in the middle of the day given I'm in and out of meetings ... a container of nuts on my desk or in my car helps. My plan for 2015 is to establish a better routine for nutritious lunches.

A wardrobe essential is a pair of new Pedro Garcia sandals from Lineage. They have the right amount of studded bling to be beautifully elegant.

A CEO can be a highly politicised role where you can feel isolated - no one to safely download to. Graham Mead, at Intuitive Wellbeing, is my go-to guy for getting me through the tough spots.

I use Neutrogena Sport Face every day, all year. It's non-greasy so goes under makeup.

Psychology has always fascinated me. I guess I have the creative's spirit of angst that has made me want to "search".

I still love that adrenalin rush when an event such as the Best Design Awards comes together.

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New Zealand Herald

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