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Katy Kunkel began her career as a marketing guru in Auckland, before opportunity arose and she jetted off to New York City to further her career. Fast forward 20 years and Katy is still there, now with her husband and four children. We spoke to Katy this month about her life in the US and the decision to spend three months a year back home, her experience racing in the Rebelle Rally, and her plans to find connection between her two homes in the future. 

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What's your background? How did you end up in the USA?
My mum was from Southern California, so we always had Americans coming and going growing up. Disneyland, the Dukes of Hazard and all things American were very magical to my generation. I grew up in South Auckland, sailing and fishing on the Manukau Harbour and skiing competitively on Mt Ruapehu. At 15, I was selected for the NZ national development ski team and accepted into a Ski School in Vermont. I made lifelong friends at Burke Mountain Academy and gained a love for the east coast of America.

I returned to New Zealand for University where I discovered my creative side. That ultimately took me back to the US to pursue a career in Advertising. I landed my dream job working on Pepsi at the tail end of the Madmen era in New York City, where I met my American husband, Pete. Four Amerikiwis later….


You've raised a family there. What differences have you noticed compared to your own upbringing?
I love America and New Zealand and have been blessed with friends, family and strong communities in both. Each has unique natural beauty if you have local knowledge off the beaten path.

I think the biggest difference is the pace. New Zealand’s stride is slower, more thoughtful, less urgent, which is fertile ground for ingenuity and creativity. New Zealanders are wonderfully spoiled for choice when it comes to recreation, so the options to unplug are second to none. New Zealanders who are conscious of this blessing and strive to protect it seem more connected to the land and sea versus the ones falling prey to digital distractions.

Another difference is the general kiwi mentality to see problems as opportunities. It’s part of our wiring and encourages a healthy desire for risk. We make a real effort instill these values in our kids. And being barefoot.


Why is it so important to you to keep your New Zealand connection alive, not just for you but for your family?
I have always had one foot firmly planted in New Zealand. I’m physically drawn to my roots and deeply proud of New Zealand. When we lost my mum to cancer and my dad was diagnosed with early onset dementia, my husband not only supported but encouraged our decision to make time with ‘Popa’ a long and beautiful goodbye. That led to a lifestyle change that came with great judgement and massive juggling of work and school. Four years later, our kids haven’t fallen behind (whatever that means).


Tell us about the Rebelle Rally. What got you into something like that?
The Rebelle Rally is the first women’s off-road navigation rally raid in the United States. If you love driving and competition, it’s the ultimate challenge (testing skills over 8 days from Lake Tahoe to the Border of Mexico). As soon as I saw the highlight video, I had to to do it. A kiwi friend and I teamed up and Kea connected us to Tim Alp at Jucy. Adventurous as always, Tim agreed to sponsor us, and we dived in head-first, placing Top 10. It was insanely challenging and a blast. So much so I have worked with the Rebelle team since to help grow the event and tell the stories of the incredible women and partners who enter it.


How has Kea played a role in your journey? How do you utilize the power of connections between Kiwis abroad?
Living in both countries, I have developed a strong perspective of both landscapes. When a kiwi company is trying to break into America, it can be really daunting. I love connecting the dots and thinking both creatively and strategically how to do that. Kea knows where all the dots and dead bodies are, so it’s a good fit. And the team are just great people. They make things happen, and more importantly, like to do it over a good old-fashioned, long kiwi lunch.

What projects are you working on now?
Living on both the Chesapeake Bay and the Manukau Harbor, I saw an opportunity to create a formal government-to-government exchange and private sector information transfer. The Chesapeake and Tampa Bays in the US have made leaps and bounds in terms of restoration, and since the Manukau Harbour needs serious attention, it seemed obvious to me to create a collaboration of experts vs. re-creating the wheel.

The Rebelle Rally covers more than 2,000 kilometres of stunning terrain across the Nevada and California desert. It is the first women’s off-road navigation rally raid in the United States. Registrations for 2020 are now open, find out more on the official website.

Are you a Kiwi building a business overseas? Kea can help. We can provide personalised introductions to industry leaders for insights and advice. For more information, check out our Kea Connect service.
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Part 12