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NZX Chairman Andrew Harmos tells Tamsyn Parker the new CEO's job will be to grow the market organically

NZX chairman Andrew Harmos says he has the Rugby World Cup to thank for helping to bring new chief executive Tim Bennett back to New Zealand.

Bennett, who took over from long-standing chief executive Mark Weldon this week, was in town for the cup and got so inspired by the passion of his compatriots he decided to apply for the top job at the stock exchange.

"We had a very large number of applicants for the NZX role. The short list came down to seven with four New Zealanders living abroad and three living in New Zealand," says Harmos.


Harmos says the board was impressed by Bennett on a number of scores: "His strong intellect, ability to deal with and manage complexity, his appreciation for the strategic platforms that NZX had created and his passion about growing them and NZX's people, the strong desire to capitalise on the tailwinds and support those capital markets initiatives that were likely to be dialturners for New Zealand."

Like Weldon, Bennett has come from a management consultancy background but he is much older than Weldon was when he stepped into the top job.

"Mark was like a founder for this business. Mark was in his early 30s when he took on the NZX role, Tim is 46. He will be coming into a mature business."

During his time at the NZX Weldon expanded its business to include investments in other exchanges, as well as setting up dairy futures and buying into the grain exchange.

The company bought into a number of rural publications and was criticised by many for diversifying outside of its core role as market operator.

Harmos said the NZX had to diversify and become less reliant on new products coming to market. "Mark saw around the corner on that."

"The capital markets and the rural sector really need to be friends. We have invested in that and we see the opportunity to role that out more broadly. We are committed to that."

Harmos said Bennett's job would be to expand on the current business and grow the NZX organically. Bennett will also be charged with building industry relationships. Weldon was not widely liked in the Auckland investment community and relationships were strained at times.

"Tim will get around and meet as many people as he can in a short timeframe.

"One of his key performance indicators will be building relationships."

Internally first off the mark will be appointing a new head of markets. Fiona McKenzie left the role last year to take up a position at the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and Harmos said the new appointment had been left for Bennett to make.

The NZX will enter a new phase of listing growth this year with the partial float of state-owned enterprises.

First off the block is Mighty River Power, expected to float in September, with Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, Solid Energy and a further sell-down of Air New Zealand expected over the next few years.

Harmos said the new Financial Markets Authority had begun to engender confidence in the markets while the proposed partial floats of the state-owned enterprises would provide new products for Kiwis to invest in.

"We see the mixed ownership model and its success as a critical dial-turner for New Zealand. It has had this impact overseas, with state owned enterprises making up most of China's and 38 per cent of Brazil's stock markets and accounting for 28 of the emerging world's 100 biggest companies.

The opportunity is to create national champions with the capital and governance to compete on the world stage, from headquarters here in New Zealand.

"It's not an end in itself - but we look at it in the context of a piece in the jigsaw of New Zealand's overall economic plan and in the context of what we would like New Zealand to look like in 10, 20 and 30 years time.

"In broad terms - a strong and competitive domestic environment that supports locally based firms to succeed in global markets from a base in New Zealand: strong job creation and income generation, greater scale and relevance as a country with high levels of productivity, a stronger tax base and wealth and savings levels that allow us to achieve our egalitarian and social goals."

Harmos said he believed the mixed ownership model was also one that local authorities should consider. "Does Auckland Council really need to own car parks?"

It could also be used to help rebuild certain public assets in Christchurch.

"It is a unique opportunity to overcome the capital constraints associated with the present 100 per cent owner, to provide mixed ownership model companies with access to new capital for growth and a unique opportunity to encourage wide participation by a new generation of New Zealand investors.

"It is so important that New Zealand retail investors - first time and seasoned - are given every encouragement, opportunity and preference, to participate. Investor education will be critical and the Crown's advisers should be directed to focus on these and other NZ Inc outcomes."

Harmos said Fonterra's plans to launch Trading Among Farmers later in the year could also provide a model for other co-operatives in New Zealand.

"I would like to think we will continue to generate strong returns for shareholders and share price appreciation. It's just a question of getting more volumes on to our platforms."

Harmos confirms last term

NZX chairman Andrew Harmos will step down within the next three years.

Harmos was re-elected to the board at the stock exchange's AGM but said it would be his last term as chairman. "I will actively encourage someone to take over."

The Auckland-based corporate lawyer has been an NZX director since 2002 and chairman since September 2008 when Simon Allen, now chairman of the Financial Markets Authority, stepped down.

He could have decided to leave the board at the recent AGM but said it would have been "doing a disservice to the company to have too many changes in one year."

Harmos said one of the chairman's most important jobs was to appoint the right chief exective and ensure there was planning in place for his own succession.

"There are some great people I would like to groom for the role."

One name talked about as a replacement is James Miller. Miller joined the board in 2010 and has recently been named to join the board of Mighty River Power ahead of its partial float. He was formerly with broking firm ABN Amro Craigs.

Harmos said it was difficult for some who wasn't involved in the markets to be chairman. "James is early in his governance career. But I certainly see him as one to groom."

The chairman is appointed by the board.