Challenging times create chances as some firms struggle

Investment bankers should do well in the coming year if the respondents to Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey are to believed. Forty eight per cent expected more mergers and acquisitions in the coming year, while only 32 per cent said there would be less. Ten per cent were unsure.

Bill Gallagher, chief executive of the Hamilton-based electric fence group Gallagher, sees potential in the downturn. "I would say my view is that it is neutral to more opportunistic."

"In challenging times there are a few companies not doing so well. And that creates opportunities."

But Lance Jenkins, chief executive of investment bank Goldman Sachs JB, says while he's not brimming with optimism, maintaining merger and acquisition activity would be steady.

"The pipeline is okay but it does not look as attractive as it was this time last year. We have gone from 4.5 per cent growth and we are going through a slowdown, but it is not a crash.

"The US economy remains strong, Europe is not great, but it is not a disaster, and Asia driven by China has been much stronger for longer. I do not think it is a time for doom and gloom." Corporate governance Managing resources sustainably and maintaining robust standards of corporate governance are high on the agenda for most business leaders.

Asked if business activity and Government regulation should be directed to achieving sustainable outcomes for business as well as for the community and the environment, almost 90 per cent replied in the affirmative. Just 7 per cent replied no, while 4 per cent were unsure.

A clear majority (55 per cent), however, believe compliance is hindering business performance. Twenty per cent of respondents said compliance costs were having no effect, while a quarter were unsure.

Respondents generally believed better standards of corporate accountability were good for business, but the standards had to be taken up wholeheartedly. Corporate governance had to be more than "box ticking".

"Compliance must be part of a board's responsibilities. But, in some instances, it has become almost an obsession and that is not desirable," said one leader.

Another said: "Overall I think corporate governance is tolerated as a necessary component of maintaining investor confidence. But no amount of governance control will stop committed fraudsters. That issue is not well understood by those seeking to ramp up governance practices."

ASB managing director Hugh Burrett said business also needed to engage with the community. "I think that is the healthy situation because we are all in this pot together."

Meanwhile, respondents highlighted the compromise between sustainability and the wealth of economy.

Many feel regulations such as the Resource Management Act and the Government's commitment to the Kyoto protocol has tipped the balance away from wealth generation.

One business leader said the Government did not seem to recognise that taxes could not be increased indefinitely.

"If there is a belief that it is important for New Zealand's development to join Kyoto, there has to be a trade off. We must then ask what are we prepared to forgo because we just cannot go on adding more tax."

The leader added, however, that many developments requiring business to think of the environment were to be welcomed.

The quota management system for fisheries would ensure New Zealand did not suffer the same fate as many countries in the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, many of the country's waterways had been cleaned up.

Bill Gallagher echoed a wider sentiment when he said a clean environment was the product of a rich economy.

"Just go to India. I am having trouble getting capital works underway. The Resource Management Act is inhibiting industry."

Information technology Peter Thompson, director of real estate agent Barfoot & Thompson, is one who is authorising more investment in information technology.

The real estate industry was being transformed as technology forced estate agents to provide higher levels of service.

Potential house buyers came to real estate agents with a particular property in mind, while they also expected agents to front up regularly with suggestions.

"We are dealing with fewer people on a one-to-one basis, but we are giving better service so that is bringing more people into the market," Thompson said.

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