Top of my Business Heroes list for 2011 is Mainfreight's Don Braid
What I like about Don is his ceaseless focus on what it takes to build a great international company from New Zealand. While newbie Labour leader David Shearer talks about his vision of multibillion-dollar Kiwi companies renowned for their creativity and innovative vigour one day taking the world by storm, Braid is already doing it. I got to talk a lot with Braid and Rakon's visionary leader Brent Robinson on the Prime Minister's official visit to India.
Neither CEO really could spare five days away from the office. But they were happy to lend their weight to John Key's mission to boost the chances of opening more doors for New Zealand businesses through the upcoming free trade deal with India. Cynics tend to scoff at such visits as "junkets".
But it is noticeable that Asian political leaders always bring along a posse of their own business leaders when travelling Downunder. It's harder for NZ business leaders to match this as the NZ business pool is tiny by international comparison. What is noticeable about Don's management style is his complete lack of pretentiousness. He doesn't subscribe to management mumbo jumbo that "reducing headcount" is the first line of response to challenging times; rather it is a sign of management failure. Pity more CEOs are not of this school.
The "bling boys" - Air NZ's Rob Fyfe, NZX's Mark Weldon and Infratil's Lloyd Morrison - are still up there for visionary leadership and their collective pride in wanting to secure a better future for New Zealand and its businesses.
At the top table, Joan Withers has made an impressive debut as chairman of Auckland International Airport and Mighty River Power. Withers' skills will be tested when the Government sells shares in Mighty River Power this coming year. It will be the first SOE to go down this route during the Key Government. But there is a good story to tell. Particularly the ability, under CEO Doug Heffernan's leadership, for Mighty River Power to expand offshore through geothermal power ventures.
My Bureaucrat Hero of the Year is NZ Trade and Enterprises' Peter Chrisp.
Chrisp's stated aim is to connect New Zealand with the rest of the world and "grow companies of scale". He believes this is absolutely core to New Zealand's very survival. He's an aggressive note-taker and regularly blogs. On the PM's India mission, he sat up in the "back of the bus" with the bulk of the business mission members instead of with other mandarins in the PM's first-class cabin. Like Don Braid his own desk is out in the open office area.
Chrisp's most important insight was to convince NZTE staffers that their customer was their business clients; not self-important Cabinet Ministers. It was a long overdue mindshift. But the big test will come when Chrisp goes after the tough stuff. Building capabilities across sectors is not an easy ask. NZTE still faces considerable scepticism from the business community. His clear strategic focus is winning converts; helped by presentational skills which have plenty of cut-through and focus.
Political Hero of the Year: Former Act leader Rodney Hide
A confession: Like most commentators I dissed Rodney. The Act brand had become damaged during the latter part of Hide's leadership. But on reflection, it wasn't Hide's leadership that dealt Act its near fatal blow. But that of Don Brash who stabbed his so-called close friend in the front to take control of the party. The story goes that Act donor and businessman Alan Gibbs was so incensed by the cold-hearted manner of Brash's coup that he requested him to apologise to Hide before agreeing to chip in funds to the party's election fight campaign.
But why I am awarding Hide as my political hero is for his stewardship of one of the truly significant reforms during Key's first term in Government. Hide deserves considerable accolades for having the cojones to lead the major reform of Auckland's governance and see it through when all the doomsayers were claiming it would result in the destruction of democracy in our biggest city. Hide has a good focus on the bottomline. Maybe he should give Mayor Len Brown a run for his money at the next Auckland Council elections.
At the political top table you can't go by Key, Bill English, Gerry Brownlee and former Cabinet Minister Simon Power, who either held the fort steady during a dreadful crisis-ridden year or as in the case of English and Power managed (respectively) the tax-switch into effect and the successful introduction of the Financial Markets Authority. Phil Goff also deserves plaudits for holding Labour to 27 per cent on election night.
I am not concentrating too much on the negative side of the ledger this year.
But I can't go past the extraordinary revelations that have been coming out of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River Coal Mine disaster. There must surely be a way for the Key Government to get some official Australian help to persuade former Pike River CEO Gordon Ward to come back to NZ and front-up to the inquiry. His successor Peter Whittall has been left carrying the can and the responses from chairman John Dow have been underwhelming. Mining management is clearly an area where New Zealand needs to lift its overall performance if we are to realise a good return from our natural resources.
On the bureaucratic front, Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley was roundly ticked off for toasting the laying of the Bridgecorp prosecutions with the defendant's champagne. Expect Feeley to modify the SFO's chest-thumping style in 2012 as it gets past its sometimes rather feverish times and settles into the hard yards of ramming home high-profile prosecutions like the upcoming South Canterbury Finance fraud case.
My political zeroes for 2011 are the Labour Party dimwits who refused to properly unite behind Goff. The party could have been in with a chance if Labour had not tried to bury its leader and had worked harder to drive up its share of the vote. Goff has swung his support behind Shearer but it is noticeable he has no intention to retire from politics. The game isn't over yet.