As a child growing up on a dairy farm in the Wairarapa, Nicole Schaef’s career dreams ranged from bus driver to hotel owner to real estate agent. Business was always in her blood. “My most memorable game was when I subdivided up my parents’ section and wrote a blurb about each section and tried to sell the land back to dad,” she said. “I also had a roadworks business where I would stop my mum and dad on the driveway and ask for payment before they could leave.”

Schaef attended St Matthew’s Collegiate College before completing a Bachelor of Business Studies at Massey University in marketing and management. Top results helped her secure a spot on the Countdown graduate programme in February 2016.

“Coming into Countdown I had no idea of the roles that existed, and I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she said. “After being exposed to the different areas of the business, I learnt very quickly that I had a passion for category management.”

Her childhood experience growing up on farms led her to the Meat and Seafood team, where she embraced the chance to be a part of and influence one of New Zealand’s largest industries. “It is really rewarding to see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to get the meat products on the shelf,” she explained. “Our customers are our priority and knowing I am a pivotal part of helping to make Kiwi lives a little bit better every day is really important. It’s essential I can have something to cater for all Kiwis, from customers on a budget to those who want inspiration or to treat themselves.”

Schaef admitted that most people would see her age and gender as her biggest challenge but is adamant that this is not the case. “For me, this has never been a challenge,” she said. “I’ve had equal opportunity from day one, and that is evident in my career progression.” However, the strong women in her life have inspired her throughout her education and career. “Each one proves that I can do anything I set my mind to and it's nice having such a strong network of women around me.”

In her spare time, Schaef plays hockey for the Auckland University Premier Women’s team, enjoys running and going to the gym and watching the cricket during summer. She has travelled to Australia, Singapore, America and France, but her favourite place is back home in the Wairarapa. “When I’m back on the farm with my family, with the peaceful landscape and lifestyle and, of course, with mum’s roast.”