John Key has won almost universal support from leading chief executives for a second term as prime minister.
Ninety-eight per cent of the CEOs surveyed in the Herald's 2011 Mood of the Boardroom election survey say Key deserves another three years in the country's top job.
The 100 chief executives - and a handful of company chairmen - who contributed to the survey, also ranked Key above his Labour opponent Phil Goff on all measured attributes. They singled out Key's leadership skills, his ability to form a coalition government and trustworthiness as his top attributes. They also rated his management and economic management skills highly - important factors during his crisis-ridden first three year term.
"I think John has made a great start but I also think he should front up to some of the more difficult issues in a more robust way," said an agribusiness CEO. "If he does not do it now he will lose the window to make the substantial change which we need."
"I think he is trustworthy and capable of creating a vision and strategy but the party's reliance on polling to give it direction will not take us forward," said South Pacific Pictures' John Barnett. "Vision requires seeing things that haven't been done, articulating them and instigating them, not asking the public for their assessment of what has happened."
The CEOs marked Key down on his failure to put forward a compelling vision and strategy for New Zealand and his political courage.
"John Key is one of the most liked PMs we have ever had," says a professional firm chief executive. "I think he could sell hard messages to New Zealanders and take them with him if he had the courage to explain why.
"He is a good communicator. He is commercially savvy and New Zealand needs him to lead the way."
Most chief executives who commented on Key singled out the need to use his political capital as a popular prime minister and take action in the best long-term interests of the country. "We would prefer John to take a stronger leadership role rather than conforming to consensus opinion," adds Don Braid, Mainfreight's managing director.
Unfortunately for Phil Goff, though many chief executives applaud his party's election promises to tackle sacred cows like a capital gains tax, compulsory super and hiking the age of eligibility for National Super, it is clear Labour's line to business is still off-the-hook. "Phil's a pleasant person - he's pretty smart when you meet him one-on-one," says Westpac's David McLean. "I just don't think he's got the cut-through. I was impressed when they said they were going to have a policy-based campaign and the savings and super policy was good."
Chief executives rated Goff's experience and trustworthiness, and his courage. But crucially, he is now seen as too much in the clutches of Labour's union constituency rather than as the pro-business politician who successfully drove the China-New Zealand free trade deal and paved the way for the Trans-Pacific Strategic Partnership negotiations. They described him as "Mr Vanilla", an old-fashioned Labour politician "promoting a 1960s-style union agenda that is detached from the real world" and "carrying too much baggage from the Helen Clark Government era."
"He should have articulated a vision and stuck to it," says a creative sector CEO. "A few elections ago Labour had a five-point policy which was their simple message. I don't get any sense of that focus today."
Ninety per cent of chief executives say Bill English will make the make the best finance minister in the next government. "Bill has done a stunning job - great fiscal prudence and a thoughtful, sound approach during tough times", said Porter Novelli's Jane Sweeney.
Another said Don Brash was the best qualified to lead policy, "but politically the most maladroit". Labour's David Cunliffe would have his time in due course "unless he is party leader".