The race is on to replace Len Brown, but does the Super City want a chief executive in the mayoral chambers?

Incumbent Len Brown's announcement that he will not stand again has left the field wide open for next year's local body election.

An unusual number of heavy-hitting business figures have entered the conversation as a possible replacement Mayor for Auckland.

Former 2Degrees boss Tex Edwards has announced a run in typically colourful style, while Xero managing director Victoria Crone is actively testing the waters.

Former Telecom boss Theresa Gattung, more recently the business nous behind My Food Bag, had also been tipped to join the field, but this week told the Weekend Herald such a move was now off the table.


Otago University political science lecturer Bryce Edwards said local body politics was more welcoming to political outsiders from business and the community, compared with the competition for parliamentary seats.

The lack of party political machinery at a local level left more scope for the individual, he said.

"Those who do stand for political office tend to be maverick businesspeople. Your typical captain of industry isn't really interested in going into an arena where they'll earn less money and potentially be under even more public scrutiny," Edwards said.

The involvement of business figures in the race to be Mayor is nothing unusual in Auckland, where both Les Mills and Dick Hubbard stepped straight out of chief executive offices into the mayoral chambers.

Despite the merits, or otherwise, of candidates from the business world, their involvement in next year's election may be moot.

Bryce Edwards said a long-expected announcement that Labour Party MP and former Cabinet Minister Phil Goff would run made things much more difficult for rivals.

"My feeling is that [Goff] has got such an early lead in the campaign he'd be putting off the likes of Gattung and others in the business world because he's such a centrist candidate.

"He's going to be very hard for any candidate of the right to beat."

Victoria Crone

Victoria Crone, who enjoys kayaking in the sea near Parnell, is still testing the waters.
"I'm having a think about it, but haven't got any decision for you yet," she said of the mayoral race this week.

As managing director of Xero, and appointed only last year, her board are understood to be keen for her thinking to be quick. She acknowledged running for Mayor would require her to resign in order to concentrate fully on the race, but wouldn't be tied to a timetable.

Crone came to the accounting software firm after nearly two decades at Telecom and Chorus, where she was general manager of marketing and sales.

Her day job at Xero sees her take over large slices of management responsibility from founder Rod Drury as he builds the business offshore. Outside of the Xero office she also sits on the board of Aura Information Security and Wellington-based incubator Creative HQ, and is a keen participant in multisports.

She hasn't chased political office before, but did give a speech to the recent Labour Party conference on the future of work. She points to her experience managing the long-running "Gigatown" competition - wrangling officials from MBIE and numerous city councils - as giving an insight into local government.

"My skillset is very much around leadership and governance - and engaging with communities. Auckland is an incredible city, and can be even better," she said.

Tex Edwards

Edwards was unable to talk at length about his plans for the city this week, telling the Weekend Herald he was "on a boys' yacht trip off the coast of Thailand" and hence suffered from intermittent cellphone coverage.

Edwards, founder of third-player mobile provider 2Degrees, has long used his charismatic eccentricity to spice up his otherwise sober message that insufficient regulation is atrophying New Zealand's telecommunications industry.

His plan to run for mayor was announced in an appendix to a recent submission to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on communications regulation.

Readers who made it to page 30 were told of his plans for the mayoralty - including promises to build salt-water swimming areas in the central city and require mayors to live in decile one suburbs - while those who pushed on to the end of the submission were rewarded with a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Edwards partly split with 2Degrees in 2012, the dispute resulting in employment litigation. While still maintaining a minority stake in the company, and lobbying on its behalf, he does so under the banner of his KLR Investments.

He gives the appearance of being serious in his bid for local government.

"Aucklanders know that the city is in step-change mode as the population expands. This requires new ideas and fresh thinking. This year's rate increases are a warning signal to voters that the plan needs to be benchmarked and well-considered," he said from his yacht.

Theresa Gattung

Theresa Gattung, former Telecom chief executive and now co-founder of food delivery company My Food Bag, at her Mt Eden home in Auckland. Photo / Nick Reed
Theresa Gattung, former Telecom chief executive and now co-founder of food delivery company My Food Bag, at her Mt Eden home in Auckland. Photo / Nick Reed

Almost before it was begun, the mayoral quest of the one-time most powerful woman in business was ended.

Suggestions she was mulling a run, and had sounded out Auckland powerbrokers regarding what victory could look like, were resolved this week. Approached for comment, Gattung's PA said there would be no race, telling the Weekend Herald: "Theresa is definitely not running for Mayor so does not want to be interviewed on the subject."

While Gattung was unwilling to talk, it is understood she had concerns that were she able to win the mayoral race, she risked being stranded on a council dominated by left-wing opponents. The decision to withdraw from the race marks the stalling of a remarkable public comeback from Gattung.

She attracted plenty of critics during her term helming Telecom and left that job in 2007 after the Government effectively demanded the behemoth be sawn in two to neuter its market dominance.

After stepping back somewhat from public life, Gattung took on governance roles locally and in Australia. Her most high-profile play since involved providing the bulk of the starting capital and plenty of energy in co-founding the recipe and ingredients delivery business My Food Bag in 2013.

WIth Gattunng, celebrity chef Nadia Lim and business partner Cecilia Robinson, My Food Bag has been one of the standout start-up successes of recent years.