Head of Business for NZME

Business bosses want new Super City candidate

Len Brown and John Banks. Photo / Greg Bowker
Len Brown and John Banks. Photo / Greg Bowker

Wanted: A new mayoral candidate with plenty of verve, business smarts and charisma to sharpen the leadership contest for the new Auckland Council.

That is the clear message sent by a big swag of Auckland's business power-brokers in the Herald's 2010 CEO survey.

Fifty per cent of chief executive respondents believe a new mayoral candidate should be sought to contest the leadership of the Super City in the October election. Just 17 per cent of them appear satisfied with what is (still at this stage) a two-horse race between John Banks and Len Brown.

"Most Aucklanders were expecting a tough challenge for this role," said Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett. "So far they have been disappointed."

Neither main candidate achieved a particularly high rating from the respondents on whether they had the "vision, drive and execution skills to ensure the Auckland Council succeeds".

Banks scored a rating average of 3 out of 5, Brown 2.5 out of 5. Auckland City's Banks also out-pointed Brown on all leadership attributes bar one.

Just who gets to lead Auckland is vitally important to the future success of the New Zealand economy.

"We only have one shot at an internationally competitive city that can attract top talent and investment," one media boss said.

"If Auckland isn't efficient then growth aspirations won't be met," commented a the head of a professional firm.

When the Herald began surveying early last month for the 2010 Mood of the Boardroom report, Brown initially received higher scores than was reflected in the final outcome. Unfortunately for the Manukau City mayor, chief executives marked him down after his reputation took a dive when a controversy blew-up mid-month over his credit card bills.

"Len Brown's recent conduct causes me to question his judgment," the boss of a major exporting firm observed.

A law firm head described Banks as a "proven performer" in managing complex change and demonstrating vision and leadership. But others noted that he polarises opinion. "The first mayor needs to be a consensus builder so that the various factions can move towards common ground," said Foodstuff's Tony Carter. "Balancing that, the mayor needs to be a consensus builder as a weak person won't achieve anything."

Barfoot and Thompson's Peter Thompson suggested Brown was still too new to council politics to have built credibility. "His turn will come."

Another said both Banks and Brown were much more politically interested than policy-oriented, and, questioned whether either would have the pragmatism to deal with critical commercial issues like the Ports of Auckland shareholding.

NZX chair Andrew Harmos suggested someone with proven leadership skills, like The Warehouse founder Sir Stephen Tindall, should enter the race.

The new candidate should be "someone with guts, who can take some hits (and has taken some hits), someone who understands business, someone with good relations to Wellington, but not someone who is a career politician," said a finance CEO.

Given the lack of overwhelming confidence in either Banks or Brown, it's perhaps not surprising that more chief executives say the Auckland Council's CEO, rather than the mayor, will be more important to the Super City's success. Doug MacKay has been appointed as interim chief executive for the Auckland Council for a two-year period from November 1.

Respondents believe the new council should focus on setting a clear vision and direction, putting Auckland on an internationally competitive path, making the mega-council merger work and establishing challenging KPIs for council-controlled organisations. Keeping rates down was seen as a much lower priority.

Setting a clear vision for Auckland was important if the new council - which wraps together the present eight local authorities of Auckland into one structure - is not to become bogged down in factional fighting and local concerns.

There was no clear confidence that declared candidates for councillor roles on either main ticket - Citizens and Ratepayers and City Vision - had the vision, drive and execution skills to ensure the success of the Auckland Council.

Among comments were: "too many of the existing crop have declared their interest in standing"; "the democratic structure does not allow for selection on skill matched to job requirements"; and "even C&R has too many has-beens who never were". A clear majority - 56 per cent - believed there were "too many retreads" at the expense of new blood; 40 per cent were unsure.

Just one-third of chief executives think the new council-controlled organisations will have sufficient independence to do what's best for Auckland. About 44 per cent are still unsure; 22 per cent believe the CCOs will not have sufficient independence.

"It's a good question... clearly there needs to be political oversight. But they are big businesses in their own right that need good people to lead and run them," was a common refrain.

Others said much will come down to the capacity of those appointed as directors of the CCOs.

- NZ Herald

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