Callaghan Innovation chief executive Mary Quin has resigned from the government funding agency after three years in the role.

As inaugural CEO, Quin provided the leadership and vision the organisation needed through its start-up phase, said deputy chair Robin Hapi in a statement.

Quin said it was an ideal transition point for new leadership, after the board last week signed off on a plan for the future direction of the organisation.

She wants flexibility to pursue other professional and personal interests both in New Zealand and overseas and will leave on July 31. Quin was recently appointed to the board of Westpac.


Quin has refused media interviews on her resignation this afternoon.

General manager external relations Justin Brownlie said the move was Quin's own choice rather than any push from the government or board.

The 62-year-old returned from 37 years out of New Zealand to lead Callaghan Innovation after having spent most of her life in corporate America.

She achieved worldwide fame and wrote a book about her experience being kidnapped by terrorists while travelling in Yemen.

While writing the book she moved to Alaska where she started a small business and then served as chief executive of NMS, a services firm half-owned by native Alaskans servicing remote oil fields and other Arctic activities.

When interviewed after first taking up the Callaghan role, Quin told BusinessDesk that the role seemed tailor-made because it used everything in her career background including her PhD in materials engineering.

Last year, in response to criticism over research and development funding being corporate welfare, Quin said company feedback indicated grants were a cost-effective way of motivating firms to spend more on R&D and helping them grow bigger, faster.

But one of the difficulties in measuring their impact is the time lag between the research being done and revenue starting to flow from any product or service developed from it which can take between two to ten years, Quin said.


Callaghan Innovation handed out $138 million in total grants last year.

The agency is appointing an interim chief executive while starting the search for a permanent replacement.