A man in a beanie and jeans walked up the steps to The Old Library last Thursday, looking hopeful when he heard music ... and quickly retreated when he realised it was a name-tags and bubbles drinks party. "Oops" he said. "Not for me!"
It may not have been for him but the guest list was certainly varied. The party was the official farewell for Marsden Pt refinery CEO Ken Rivers and the guest list was living proof of the operation's importance to the economic and community life of Northland and the retiring CEO's unmatched contribution to extending those roles.
It was a "This Is Your Life" of the refinery and Ken Rivers' nearly five years at the helm.
What other party would see coastguard, Ruakaka Surf Club, Northland Rugby Union, iwi representatives, NorthTec, Bream Bay Conservation Trust, Northpower, local authority leaders, Northland-based contractors of all sizes - engineers, scaffolders, insulators to name a few - Minister of Energy and Whangarei MP Phil Heatley, and members of the refinery management team exchanging small-talk with drinks in their hands?
Mr Heatley said more than any other refinery CEO he had ever known, Ken Rivers had done the job with his head and his heart - "you are a guy with a wonderful balance between the two".
He said Mr Rivers was a trustee on the Northland Events Centre, which had attracted "huge opposition", but had been so successful in its first year of operation; made a "tremendous contribution" as a board member of NorthTec in a programme to lift performance there over the past three or four years; and raised consciousness of workplace safety locally and nationally as a result of the award-winning success of safety programmes introduced at the refinery.
The CEO had been instrumental in getting the politicians to agree to building a second pipeline from the refinery to Auckland. "There was a certain amount of dithering going on at political level about the need for another line when Ken quietly told the elected representatives that if the one existing pipeline was knocked out Aucklanders would have access to just three days worth of gas before it all ran out. Result: a second fuel line to Auckland will be commissioned next year."
Above all, Ken Rivers had driven the $365 million CCR project, starting this year, which would be "absolutely huge" for the Northland community in economic terms.
Refining New Zealand chairman Dr David Jackson said the most important job for any board was the right CEO - "if you get it wrong it is a disaster, if you get it right, as we did, it is brilliant".
"Ken had come from a very, very successful career with Shell Oil. After the interview he said to us 'what do you want me to do'? And that's actually been the tone of Ken's tenure with us." They had worked together to create a vision and a strategy to reach for new goals. A leadership team had been created which he believed was one of the best in New Zealand and their achievements had seen world-leading companies visiting the refinery to ask "how are you doing this?"
Mr Rivers said he and his wife Carole had been honoured to live in New Zealand and especially in Northland. "I quickly got a permanent grin on my face which had grown with every passing day."
He joked the refinery CEO was the job of his dreams, "running my own business with someone else's money". He said the refinery had still not fulfilled its potential but the CCR project offered the potential for the refinery "to run to the fastest beat we will ever have. Let's make it go as far and fast as we can."
CCR (Continuous Catalyst Regeneration Platformer) will lift the refinery's capabilities up to 80 per cent of all New Zealand's fuel needs, providing a more reliable fuel source for the country. Construction will create about 300 on-site jobs and hundreds more off-site over the next four years.