Trump gets advice from a sound Kiwi

Chris Liddell. Photo / Doug Sherring.
Chris Liddell. Photo / Doug Sherring.

The appointment of Chris Liddell as special advisor to Donald Trump puts a New Zealander in a position of influence in the White House. It is a powerful appointment, with Liddell joining an executive group in the West Wing.

It indicates that Trump respects Liddell's track record in managing change in a big organisation.

Liddell is to lead a new White House Strategic Development Group. Its job is to turn Trump's agenda into reality.

Liddell will also be an important connection with the private sector. The 58 year old New Zealander has a good understanding of what is required. He has spent two decades in senior corporate roles, much of that time in high-level jobs in America.

He went from International Paper to Microsoft and then General Motors, where he helped the giant carmaker back into the black after six years of hefty losses.

Unlike some in Trump's cabinet, whose members are going through bumpy confirmation hearings, Liddell does not carry controversial baggage into the White House.

Moreover he already knows what is needed to construct a new administration, having run a transition team for Mitt Romney when the Republican candidate stood unsuccessfully for president four years ago. This time, Liddell gets to complete the task, and take it further.

Trump has indicated that he wants change in America, sooner rather than later.

Liddell would seem to be on this page. His leadership style is decisive and transparent and clearly delivers results. He was in a minority who thought Trump could win, and has told how he placed a bet at very good odds on the prospect of the outsider becoming the commander in chief when the pundits felt that Hillary Clinton would succeed Barack Obama.

His career trajectory from a Waikato town to Washington marks him out as ambitious, determined and focused. The son of a Matamata teacher and homemaker, he studied engineering at the University of Auckland and did a post-graduate degree at Oxford in the UK. He had a stint in the Army before joining an investment bank.

One of his frequent comments is that he has gone from the best small country in the world to the best large country. He has not looked back in career terms, but he has not forgotten his roots either. He lives in New York, but remains a New Zealander.

In New Zealand, Liddell was on a trust which restored the ecology of Rotoroa Island, put his talents towards the Knowledge Wave, a group which sought ways to raise the country's performance, served on the NZ Rugby Union board, and currently chairs Xero Corporation. He has backed the work of Predator Free New Zealand, and has supported scholarships at his old high school, Mt Albert Grammar.

At Microsoft, he got the former All Black skipper Sean Fitzpatrick to tell his staff about the qualities which helped with the team's success.

Last year Liddell remarked that he expected Trump would drift to the centre, and be more moderate in governing than what his campaign rhetoric suggested.

Liddell is now in a position where he - along with a group of high level appointments - will potentially have Trump's ear. The next few months will show how clearly the New Zealander's advice is heard.

- NZ Herald

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