Philanthropy now major focus after stellar business career Christopher Adams

Chris Liddell

Chris Liddell - Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and philanthropy.


Chris Liddell seems momentarily lost for words when asked which career achievement he's most proud of.

To be fair, the 57-year-old has plenty to choose from.

The highlights begin rolling off his tongue, including becoming Microsoft's chief financial officer and helping engineer one of the biggest sharemarket listings in history -- the US$23 billion float of General Motors, which took place in 2010 when he was CFO of that company.

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Liddell says he hopes his career convinces other Kiwis they can become internationally successful in business.

"I believe New Zealanders are as good as anyone in the world -- we prove that all the time on the sportsfield, but not as often in business," he says.

He is the current chairman of accounting software developer Xero, while his past roles also include being the CFO of International Paper, a chief executive of Carter Holt Harvey and co-CEO of investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston.

Philanthropy has become a major focus in recent years, including through his role chairing Next Foundation, an environmental and education fund.

He has today been appointed a companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and philanthropy.

Speaking from the United States, New York-based Liddell says he is a proud New Zealander and delighted to be recognised with the honour.

The great thing about business is it creates wealth and the great thing about philanthropy is it can use that wealth to make society a better place.

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Liddell says he sees philanthropy as a natural extension of his business career. "I don't see them as two separate things -- just a natural part of life's journey."

Liddell says he came from a "relatively poor" background.

"My father died when I was young and left my mother with five kids at school," he says.

"If it hadn't been for the New Zealand education system and all the other things that we benefit from in New Zealand, I wouldn't have had the opportunities that I've had."

In 2014 Liddell and his brother John, a top army officer, donated $1 million to Mt Albert Grammar, their former high school.

We're creating a global media and entertainment business.

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The cash went to MAGS Foundation, a charitable trust aiming to create a $10 million fund by 2022.

Next Foundation -- funded by philanthropists Neal and Annette Plowman, best known for bankrolling the restoration of Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf -- will invest $100 million into environmental and education projects over the next decade.

It's latest investment is Project Taranaki Mounga, which is aiming to transform the ecology of Egmont National Park.

Meanwhile, Liddell last year became CFO of US talent agency WME/IMG, which recently acquired the Miss Universe Organisation -- the owner of pageants including Miss Universe and Miss USA -- from US presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

"We're creating a global media and entertainment business," Liddell says of WME/IMG.

He is also a former director of the New Zealand Rugby Union and New Zealand Sports Foundation, and past patron of the University of Auckland's fundraising campaign.