Matt McCarten: We may hear that penny drop

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Sir Owen Glenn. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sir Owen Glenn. Photo / Dean Purcell

Apart from Sir Owen Glenn, was anyone really surprised at the meltdown within the organisation he set up to inquire into child abuse and domestic violence?

His executive director, Ruth Herbert, and operations director, Jessica Trask, have left - their last day at the office was Friday.

Given the abruptness of their parting of ways was described as a "breakdown in relationship" between the two key leaders and Glenn, we can safely assume their departure wasn't pretty.

At least one member of the 25-member advisory group resigned. Other members will soon join them, given the high reputation that both Herbert and Trask have within the social advocacy sector.

That's probably why Glenn moved quickly to appoint a six-member board consisting of a judge, a tax lawyer, a sports director, a corporate director, a former race relations conciliator and himself.

The only one I recognise with any background on the topic of the inquiry is the former race relations conciliator.

It's instructive that Herbert was immediately replaced by a former ministerial private secretary to Steven Joyce and given a new title of chief executive. The new chairman's announcement that the new board and a chief executive "indicates a more corporate approach" explains all. Good luck with getting the people who actually deal with family abuse on side.

It's going to be difficult for Glenn to have his new-look inquiry taken seriously now.

Having a board with little experience in the social sector, and only one woman member, charged with producing a serious and credible report into child abuse and domestic violence beggars belief.

And that's the problem.

I don't know Glenn personally and he's certainly someone to admire.

I know successful tycoons like him. They are winners because they are goal- and ego-driven. They are ruthlessly determined to get their way and many of them display psychopathic traits.

They feed on competition and love being the emperor surrounded by vassals.
Successful tycoons are used to obedience - what the master says goes. Anyone who hesitates is put to the sword.

As the years roll, their good fortune multiplies. The mansions, the yachts and the private planes soon aren't enough. While accolades and even a knighthood are recognition, the real driver is adulation and respect.

Glenn's funding of the Auckland University Business School and naming it the Owen G Glenn Building, with PhD scholarships in his name as part of the deal, are revealing.
Now we have this inquiry which is also named after him. This is a report Glenn wants presented to the United Nations. It's a global stage on which he can make his personal mark on history. Good for him.

But here's the key to success. To ensure his place in the sun he needs the support of experts in the anti-violence community.

Terminating the employment of the two senior inquiry managers and appointing a compliant board is what any powerful boss does in the corporate world to successfully get his or her way.

But, in the volunteer and social development sector, they play by different rules. These people see their work as a mission and gladly do it for little reward and, in many situations, do it for nothing.

They cannot be bought and certainly will not be bullied. The action to terminate sends an unpalatable message.

I wonder if the penny has dropped for Sir Owen about the problem he now has.

- Herald on Sunday

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