Lester Levy: One-man band?

By Ewan McDonald


Dr Lester Levy is an entertaining, provocative and inspirational speaker with a wealth of practical and applied experience. It says so on the Celebrity Speakers website, where he is a Gold Elite attraction, along with Rob Hamill, Mark Inglis and Billy Graham (the other one).

Today, it is his wealth of practical and applied experience that is interesting. In a curiously under-reported statement last Thursday, Mayor Len Brown announced that from November 1 Dr Levy will become chair of Auckland Transport, succeeding Mark Ford. Mr Ford was the CEO of Watercare, Rodney Hide's choice to lead the Transition Authority overseeing the merger of Auckland's eight councils, and has chaired the transport agency for almost two years. He has been back at the new, over-arching Watercare since early 2011.

Dr Levy is chairman of the Auckland District Health Board, Waitemata DHB and an adjunct professor at the University of Auckland Business School. Outside the public sector he is chair and director of Tonkin & Taylor Group, one of the nation's largest civil engineering consultancies. (We are emphatically not suggesting any conflict of interest).

But in a region of 1.4 million people that presents itself as the economic, business and entrepreneurial capital of New Zealand, the best brains in economics, business and entrepreneurship seem rather thin on the ground.

It seems whenever there's a big role to fill, big questions to ask about the future of Auckland, the answer is Lester Levy or Mark Ford. Christchurch, too: Mr Ford is in charge of the infrastructure rebuild.

CONSIDER THIS: one man will be nominally responsible for the healthcare of everyone from Wellsford to Otahuhu ("Waitemata" is misleading: the DHB extends from Te Arai Point to the Harbour Bridge, and across both coasts); buses and trains and ferries and roads and bridges and even cutting the grass on the berm outside homes from Wellsford to south of the Bombays (Auckland Transport, it has been estimated, controls 77 per cent of the Auckland Council's assets and spends half of your rates.) He will be boss to something in the order of 17,500 public sector employees - as well as his private sector responsibilities.

Financial reward is a little harder to account. The 2011 annual reports list the chairman's "expenses" at $40,732 for Auckland DHB and $67,000 for Waitemata DHB. Mr Ford honourably declined "expenses" at Auckland Transport for eight months while he was drawing a Watercare salary. However, taking the annual report's figures for other board members and factoring the proportion paid to Mr Ford, a reasonable estimate for the new chair is $52,500 a year. That tots up to $160,232.

Dr Levy has not been elected to any of these roles where the decisions of the boards he chairs, the organisations he leads, can affect the daily lives of everyone in the region. He has been appointed by the Minister of Health or the Mayor. That would not have been the case a couple of decades ago: the chairman of the Hospital Board would have been elected every three years. As for the transport agency ... it brings back into focus The Aucklander's our qualms about the lack of democracy and public input into the "council-controlled" organisations.

Dr Levy assures us he has "a very strong commitment to Auckland and New Zealand and am very ambitious for both. I believe all organisations have unrealised potential for greater performance and look forward to working with the board, management and all staff at Auckland Transport to serve our community in the best way possible."

Which is very practical and shows he wants to apply his experience. Now for the entertaining, provocative and inspirational philosophy that will shake the Auckland he will be responsible for so much of.

DR LESTER LEVY

57, born South Africa, has lived in NZ since 1978. Married, 3 children, lives Mission Bay

PUBLIC ROLES

Chairman, Auckland DHB

Chairman, Waitemata DHB

Chairman, Auckland Transport CCO from November 1

Adjunct Professor, Auckland University Business School

PRIVATE SECTOR ROLES

Chairperson and external director, Tonkin & Taylor Group

Director of Brilliant Solutions Ltd, LLC Ltd, Mentum Ltd;

Former director of numerous medicine-related companies including Healthcare Holdings, Integrated Hospitals, Ascot Hospital & Clinics, White Cross Healthcare

PREVIOUS ROLES

Management, 3M, Beecham Research Laboratories, SmithKlineBeecham

General Manager, Bay of Plenty Area Health Board

Strategic advisor, Prime Minister and Cabinet

Chairman, Communicado film and television company

Chief Executive, South Auckland Health

Chief Executive, Mercy Ascot private hospital group

Chief Executive, NZ Blood Service

Ewan McDonald is founding editor of The Aucklander.

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- The Aucklander

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