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NZ Herald business editor at large

Deloitte Top 200: Chief Executive of the Year - Mike Bennetts

By Christmas, Deloitte Top 200 Chief Executive of the Year Mike Bennetts will have wrapped one of the biggest corporate mergers of the decade.

The acquisition of Caltex for $758 million in May took Z Energy's market capitalisation to more than $3 billion

It has been a rapid integration completed, Bennetts says, at least three months ahead of schedule.

"Pretty much by December we'll consider the integration to be largely complete, or the bits that aren't done will fall into a "business as usual bucket."

The Deloitte Top 200 judges were impressed saying Bennetts was a "very deserving winner" of Chief Executive of the Year for 2016 and had "set the vision for what has been a great success story in the market for Z".

"He is an inclusive leader, leads from the front, and has delivered outstanding results for Z, not just in the last 12 months, but in prior years as well," adds judge Neil Paviour-Smith.

"In the year under review they have delivered significantly on the Caltex transaction which is transformative to Z and they have outperformed market expectations.

"He is an authentic leader, he is clear with his strategies and he is setting the company up for many successful years ahead."

The Caltex acquisition has been a huge success story by any measure and one that Bennetts is clearly proud to talk about.

Take the switch to a single IT system for example.

"We completed a systems cut-over on the night the transaction," he says.

In other words Z took control and immediately moved to a single integrated IT system.

It took some planning -- some 200 people handling 5000 tasks across six countries and over a one week period.

Watch: Company of the Year winner - Z Energy:

Video

"Normally when you do an M&A deal you take months if not years to put the two companies together into a common systems platform. So it was a risk. But it meant people didn't have to cope with two systems to run the company."

The speed of integration wasn't entirely a choice Bennetts says. "There were some things we had no choice over because that was the way Chevron wanted to sell the business and we took this risk on.

Z has a particular way of working. So we just challenged ourselves about what an extraordinary merger would look like.

"It wasn't that we were smarter than anyone else. We set ourselves on of those big hairy audacious goals and we figured out a way to get there."

It wasn't that we were smarter than anyone else. We set ourselves one of those big hairy audacious goals and we figured out a way to get there.
Mike Bennetts

Given the speed of the transition there have been some big financial wins too.

"From a nuts and bolts market perspective, synergy was originally disclosed to be savings of $25-30 million a year and we've upped that to $40-45 million based on what we've learned," he says.

"Its not often that you get to look at one of your competitors. They looked at us we looked them and we both discovered things that enable us to run the consolidated company in a more efficient and rewarding way."

The third success Bennetts' is keen to emphasise, when asked about the "different" year he's had in 2016, is around the cultural integration of the two companies.

We've been very mindful that the values of the company haven't changed ... the strategy hasn't changed. The people are largely the same. For many people we used to be the cute Kiwi company. Now we run the risk of being the big incumbent. Just keeping people humble and keeping there feet on the ground about that is a real area of focus for the last 5 months."

Photo / Dean Purcell
Photo / Dean Purcell

Bennetts notes that just four Caltex staff have opted not come across onto Z Energy contracts.

"We have put everyone from the Caltex heritage from a two day induction program about Z's values. I led that, that surprised a few people. They probably thought I'd do a 15 minute opening and leave them to it."

The workshops were designed to to give everyone in Caltex the opportunity to connect with Z on a human level, he says.

"We've done quiet a bit of work on culture to make sure that we are sufficiently respectful of the heritage that Caltex bring to the table. Because frankly we paid a lot of money for are largely intangible assets.

Watch: Chief Executive of the Year finalist - Patrick Davies:

Video

So its really important that we don't alienate our Caltex heritage colleagues and we get the best out of them."

From here is was time for the company to start focusing on strategy.

"We put the two companies together and got the obvious cost efficiencies out of that. Then what's now available us in terms of strategic choice ... and we're working on that one now and we'll have that figured out buy about the middle of next year."

The Deloitte CEO of the Year judges described Bennetts as inclusive leader who is well respected and liked amongst his team.

Its not often that you get to look at one of your competitors. They looked at us we looked them and we both discovered things that enable us to run the consolidated company in a more efficient and rewarding way.

He presented a picture of how Z was going to improve and he has executed what his plan was and delivered beyond expectations, they said.

Bennetts who has been in charge of Z Energy for nearly seven years now grew up in Howick and went to school in Manurewa.

He got into the oil industry at Europa in the early 1980s after dropping out from Auckland University one year into a law degree. Europa was the last of New Zealand's indigenous oil companies and while owned by BP by the time Bennetts joined in the sales team, it was run as a separate company.

It was there his potential was recognised by BP who later put him into a global elite of 150 staff with the most executive potential after serving in South Africa, and a stint back in New Zealand in the mid-1990s when he and his wife had two daughters.

Watch: Chief Executive of the Year finalist - Simon Moutter:

Video

After BP's "finishing school" which lasted 18 months in London, he was posted to Singapore as chief executive of the company's Integrated Supply and Trading business unit in the Eastern Hemisphere, an area covering Australasia, Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

This business unit had annual revenue of US$40 billion and 500 employees amongst 25 nationalities across nine offices.

"It helped sharpen me up around risk management and finance," he told Herald energy reporter Grant Bradley in 2010.

Before he took the job a subsidiary, China Aviation Oil, posted the single biggest trading loss out of Singapore since losses since those that brought down Barings Bank in 1995.

Bennetts helped put together a rescue package where BP invested in the company and provided capability at the management level.

Finalist: Simon Moutter

Chief Executive of the Year finalist Simon Moutter says his leadership style is evolving as the company moves from a period of rapid change to more stable footing.

"For Spark it has been the year when the turn around in performance became a reality," he says. "First and foremost that shows up with the customers' view of us. That's seen us regain number one in market share in revenue in mobile, to gain leadership in market share in Cloud IT services and to retain and strengthen our leadership in data networking as well."

The company was also making strong progress internally with the culture, he says.

"Spark was a company on a slow-burning platform," Moutter says. It was starting to be effected by technological disruption at the same time as the existing model remained lucrative.

Chief executive of the Year finalist Simon Moutter.
Chief executive of the Year finalist Simon Moutter.

"So for us to break out of that mindset of defensiveness and move forward we had to adopt two mental stances," he says. "The first was: 'don't die wondering'. If you're going to change course in a big business you have to do several very bold things."

The second part of the mantra was "be, do, have", he adds.

"You have to be it in your mind." You have to believe you have ability to do these things, to make the changes to change the brand, he says.

'Do' is you have to execute, do the work to make it happen. 'Have' is you get the results.

"We adopted those two lines of thinking and that meant we took on a lot. At one point we had two large scale initiatives being run in parallel to effect big far reaching change."

Moutter says his style has been very directional. "When you are in big change that translates, in some cases to a slightly directive set of decisions. That helps effect change because you give everyone clarity. They may not necessarily agree with every choice. But the choices are made clearly and the directions are set so accountability is easy to line up against that and you get a powerful execution."

People actually enjoy fast decision-making, he says. But as the pace of the change slows there is more time to be collaborative.

The judges said Moutter was a finalist in this year's awards not simply because he was delivering results for Spark in a tough market, but also because he was contributing in a wider sense with NZ Inc and with a range of diversity initiatives.

"Spark operates in a highly competitive environment and Simon has maintained a highly disciplined and focused resolve on shareholders returns and has managed to claw back on market share with their competitors.

"There has also been a very successful rebranding from the old Telecom to the successful Spark business."

Finalist: Patrick Davies

Ebos grew very quickly in the last full financial year. Growth was just under 20 per cent profit after tax and revenue grew by $1 billion, says Deloitte Top 200 Chief Executive of the Year finalist Patrick Davies.

"Consequently for shareholders there has been a big increase in dividends," he says.

"The year we are in now is continuing to track very well -- we think our underlying profit will be in the 7-10 per cent range."

Davies was named a finalist in the Chief Executive category, because Ebos had posted another outstanding year delivering shareholder returns, said awards judge Neil Paviour-Smith. "Patrick follows on from one of NZ's great CEOs, Mark Waller, so he had very big shoes to fill, but he has taken the lead even further in terms of delivering great success in Australia as well as New Zealand.

Chief Executive of the Year finalist Patrick Davies.
Chief Executive of the Year finalist Patrick Davies.

"Ebos is now NZ's third largest company by revenue in the Top 200 list."

Davies says Ebos has been an acquisitive business for many years but it's also spending a lot of money internally, investing in world-leading technologies to move products around.

Davies oversees five standalone business units across Australasia and says he remains very focused on acquisitions.

Ebos did a billion-dollar deal to buy Symbion and move into Australia in 2013. The share price has doubled since that transaction.

But since that big one, the company has pushed on and had probably invested about $200m more in various acquisitions in the past two years, he says.

"We're looking really actively. Behind the scenes we've probably got four or five investment opportunities we're looking at, at every board meeting we go to.

'The truth is that one or two a year might pop up so that means doing a lot of work that isn't seen by the external market.'

Says Davies: "It's important just to be visible and friendly. I trust other people to get stuff done and I'm very, very proud of the company. I think if we get a culture where people are accountable, competitive and proud of the company, we'll keep growing."

- NZ Herald

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