Diabetes no barrier to success for business graduate

Being diagnosed with type-1 diabetes at the age of 22 has changed the course of Graeme Sutherland’s life forever.

22 Jun 2021

Originally from Marlborough, as a boy he’d always wanted to join the police force when he grew up. To prepare for his future dream career, after high school he studied for a certificate in law enforcement and even signed up as a volunteer at Victim Support.

But those plans were blown out of the water when a doctor advised Graeme that he had diabetes, and unplanned heavy bouts of exercise could potentially cause him to fall into a diabetic coma.

Following the shock diagnosis, he spent three days in hospital contemplating his future.

“I’d always been someone who knew exactly what I wanted to do; I had this path all tracked out for my life, and then suddenly one day boom it was all over, and I thought, what am I going to do?”

Graeme ended up working at Inland Revenue for several years, at a time when the organisation was going through a period of major transformation and technology upgrades.

“I was inspired by their shift from pure administration to a focus on continuous business improvement, internal marketing and improving the customer experience,” he says.

Graeme quickly rose through the ranks of management at Inland Revenue. “After a few years I fell into various leadership roles there, leading change management projects and supporting 200-plus employees.”

Keen to expand his knowledge base, at the age of 28 Graeme decided to enrol in a Bachelor of Business degree at the University of Waikato in Tauranga, majoring in Marketing and Strategic Management.

“As a mature student and father-of-two coming straight from the workforce, it was a really nice change for me to have that focused period of time where you can dig deeper into areas of study that you’re interested in. I enjoyed working alongside people from many different walks of life, because I really believe in the power of diverse thinking.”

“There are definitely some stand-out lecturers at the University of Waikato, and their enthusiasm for their subject really starts to rub off on you!”

For the Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) component of his degree, Graeme successfully persuaded local Tauranga firm BlueOcean Consulting to take him under their wing for a summer internship.

“I wanted to find a place that really understood the strategic side of marketing, as well as having the skills to deliver the tactical and organisational sides.”

After two months interning at BlueOcean, Graeme had impressed his bosses enough to be offered a permanent role as a junior marketing associate.

What made Graeme’s studies even more challenging was that he was blessed with two more children during the course of his studies; one of whom he delivered unassisted - at home on the bathroom floor - while in the middle of writing an assignment!

He is now the proud father of two boys and two girls; aged 5, 3, 2 and eleven weeks.

Dr Huw O’Connor, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Waikato in Tauranga, describes Graeme as one of the best students he has ever had the privilege of teaching.

“The papers in the marketing discipline can be challenging; requiring students to grasp the intricacies of consumer psychology, semiotics, digital environments and integrate these with the commercial realities of the marketing environment," says Dr O'Connor.

“Among my students, Graeme is outstanding, and has consistently produced academic work at an A-grade level. He is enthusiastic about the content, willing to ask questions and offering relevant examples and insights that have assisted the learning experience of the class as a whole.”

“From my observations is never shy to assist his student colleagues either. He has demonstrated leadership in group work, bringing together and encouraging teams of students with disparate levels of ability to produce work that illustrates a deeper understanding of the course content," says Dr O'Connor.

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