Business backgrounds in short supply

By Maria Slade

Politics, it seems, is not a natural career progression for business-people.

Few candidates putting up their hand for election this year can claim a business background.

National's ranks are dominated by farmers - who would no doubt argue that they do run their own businesses - lawyers, a few doctors and the odd diplomat.

Labour, on the other hand, is a party of academics, teachers and unionists.

National's star in terms of business credentials is leader John Key, a former merchant banker.

After 10 years in the New Zealand market, Key worked in Singapore, London and Sydney for US investment banking giant Merrill Lynch. He was in charge of several business units, including global foreign exchange and European bond and derivative trading.

Tukituki MP and 33rd on National's list, Craig Foss, was also in investment banking. He was a dealer for the BNZ treasury and worked for Credit Suisse Financial Products in London and Tokyo.

Cattle breeder David Carter, ninth on National's list, established New Zealand's first commercial cattle-embryo transplant company and set up what his website describes as the country's first theatrically themed restaurant, in Christchurch.

Piako MP and 19th on the party's list, Lindsay Tisch, was a self-employed management consultant and company director specialising in restructuring, refinancing and marketing.

Number 25, Epsom candidate Richard Worth, was chairman of large law firm Simpson Grierson, specialising in commercial litigation.

Chris Auchinvole, at number 42, managed a $30 million export company and operated his own small business exporting primary products.

As for Labour, one of its few claims to business fame is Waitaki candidate and number 17 on its list, David Parker. He was a civil litigation specialist and managing partner at South Island law firm Anderson Lloyd, a manager at Blis Technologies and a director of Fund Manager Holdings.

Number 27 on its list, lawyer Charles Chauvel, was a partner in Minter Ellison and also a director of the Lotteries Commission and Meridian Energy.

Business pedigrees are even thinner among the minor parties, except for Progressive leader and current Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton.

Anderton was export manager for carpet manufacturer UEB textiles and then ran engineering company Anderton Holdings for 13 years.

He says business experience was the most valuable thing he took into Parliament.

"It taught me some lessons in life, about having to turn up at work on a Monday morning - or a Sunday afternoon - and know that everything that you were to earn that week was going to come because of efforts you made, and if you didn't make them there wouldn't be any earnings."

He says understanding the risks businesses take and the pressures they're under helped him immeasurably in dealing with managers and decision-makers as Minister for Economic Development: "If they know that you know how this works, it takes away a whole layer of bother. So you get on to Plan B pretty quickly."

Former National leader and Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash says that while a wide range of backgrounds are desirable in Parliament, "to have a government which is substantially devoid of first-hand business experience, I think, is a real lack".

As an example, he notes that Labour is against allowing employers to hire people on a probationary basis. "I think the fact that they weren't willing to countenance that says an awful lot about their simple failure to understand how businesses function."

- NZ Herald

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