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Current as of 20/02/17 07:39PM NZST

Fran O'Sullivan: Fletcher boost can hold CEO for long haul

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Mark Adamson is seriously in danger of morphing into a long-term chief executive.  Photo / Steven McNicholl
Mark Adamson is seriously in danger of morphing into a long-term chief executive. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Fletcher Building boss Mark Adamson is seriously in danger of morphing into a long-term chief executive.

Fletcher's greatly improved financial performance - it yesterday posted a 71 per cent gain in full-year profit and met earnings guidance - was underpinned by further guidance that 2017 ebit would be within $720-760 million.

Looked at rationally this could suggest Adamson is in for the longer-haul - and less intent on moving back to North America into the private equity space as was suggested by the Sydney rumour mill last October.

If so, Sir Ralph Norris can take a bow. When Adamson burst on to the Auckland corporate scene in 2012 he was seen as a rank outsider even though he had headed Fletcher's Formica division from Cincinnati.

It was little secret that he was underwhelmed by Fletcher HQ and Australasian politicians; he also questioned whether the company had the right people around the boardroom table to set Fletcher's strategic direction.

Fletcher's then chairman, the redoubtable Ralph Waters, had an iconoclastic reputation. Adamson's sharp-shooter approach was more in line with Waters' directness than the style of his own immediate predecessor as chief, Jonathan Ling.

As a private equity guy he wasn't afraid to "fart in church", as one director told me at that time.

His focus was to restructure the company - including his own executive team - and aggressively manage its financial performance.

When Norris became chairman in October 2014 feathers had indeed been well and truly ruffled.

The full story of how Norris smoothed Adamson's rough edges and lifted his sights on how he could become a great chief executive is one for another day.

But in his own way the chairman has hinted at how Adamson and Fletcher's HR executive Kate Daly have been a winning combination.

This was reflected when Adamson accepted the Supportive CEO of the Year award at the Human Resource Institute's awards in February.

He was recognised for his ongoing commitment to diversity, talent development, employee engagement and significant advancements in HR technology at Fletcher Building.

Norris recommended him, saying: "I have been very impressed with Mark and his commitment to making Fletcher Building a great place to work for a global workforce of more than 19,000. Among other things, Mark has chaired the Diversity Council with passion and purpose and has driven a focus on diversity and inclusion. One of our values is "Play Fair". Mark walked the talk on this, stepping out in pink to recognise Pink Shirt Day and make a statement against bullying in the workplace."

Time will tell whether Adamson has been captured by Auckland, Norris and Fletcher.

He now openly pumps the city as a great place for executives to work and live; points out the New Zealand tax system is more favourable and has indicated NZ has a stronger commitment to infrastructure development than Australia.

But is this enough?

There are big challenges on the housing front in Auckland.

Adamson's own background (almost a "Geordie" from County Durham) should make him empathetic when it comes to the difficulties young people face getting entry to affordable housing.

He is in the position to ramp up housing supply; form alliances with Chinese and other firms in the supply chain and assist others on to the "staircase to ownership" he has talked about with Finance Minister Bill English and Labour's Andrew Little.

There is no reason this cannot be managed in parallel with his ambition to grow Fletcher into a truly global business. Arguably this is in Fletcher's DNA. But is it in Adamson's?

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

Read more by Fran O'Sullivan

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