There is a strong mood for change among the 118 respondents to the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom Election Survey.

Some 88 per cent see Ardern as the lightning rod which could catapult Labour to power at the September 23 election. But their appetite for regime change is tempered by Labour's failure to be upfront about its intentions on major polices affecting business, like capital gains.

With less than a fortnight to run before final polls close, chief executives remain divided on whether to "call time" on the third term National Government.

"I think the National Government has been a very credible and stable manager that deserves respect for its approach in managing the country," said a tourism boss. "However, it is arguable that they have come late to issues such as water management, local infrastructure and transport investment with a piecemeal, below par approach.


"They need to get ahead of these issues and signal a strong intent as these are real issues that affect voters."

The survey - which is taken in association with BusinessNZ - has been in the field during one of the most volatile elections in New Zealand's recent history.

The Herald delayed surveying until August 14, so as to more accurately capture the mood in the nation's boardrooms after a period in which Ardern took over Labour's's leadership from Andrew Little, and Greens co-leader Metiria Turei was forced to resign following an admission of benefit fraud.

"They finally have a charismatic leader," said an investment banker. "People these days vote with their eyes - she is much more appealing that Andrew Little!"

There is a clear perception that the National Government - driven by its own fiscal focus - left it too late to make major investments in housing and infrastructure to underpin the massive uptick in immigration numbers in recent years.

ICBC chairman and former Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash said the Government has failed to adopt policies designed to increase per capita growth, and many of the other problems (increasing wealth inequality, poverty and homelessness) are a direct result of the Government's failure to deal with the unaffordability of housing.

Vector director and former Deloitte Chairman of the Year, Dame Alison Paterson said Government action on some important issues had been slow. "On the other hand, it takes time to turn a super-tanker... and the tolerance for change in the population is slow."

If National was to get a fourth term it needed to abandon its "steady as she goes" approach and be more aspirational in its approach to the big ticket items including water, climate, homelessness and poverty.


English presided over New Zealand's finances for eight years before becoming prime minister. There was the GFC. Pike River. Three earthquakes.

But nothing prepared him for the political quake that is Jacinda Ardern.

"Labour's got to seriously think about some of the policy that they are bringing to the table," said Mainfreight group managing director Don Braid. "As long as that's not thought up on the fly and has had some decent thought behind it before they release it, then she's definitely got this current Government on the run in my view.

"She's got youth and she's got energy, and she's almost - without blaspheming - the John Key effect for the Labour Party, isn't she? And perhaps that's what the younger vote is looking for, perhaps that's what the non-voter has been looking for; someone to hang their hat on."

Deloitte CEO Thomas Pippos counters that "this next period the result will turn on Bill's ability to sell his dream for the future vis a vis others (Jacinda) - in both cases using the canvas he has helped materially shape and build as Minister of Finance.

"A risk is that his focus will be on the canvas that now exists when the general populous has banked that, and are now looking for what will be painted on it."

But Ardern's propensity to make "Captain's calls" on important matters like capital gains taxes are a major negative. "Now is not a time for experimenting with a Labour Party coalition whose policies are unchanged and its leadership has devolved on a doctrinaire and inexperienced political activist with no real world experience," said a law firm boss.

Beca's Greg Lowe noted however that, "Jacinda is quickly learning to present a more moderate approach than when she first became Deputy Leader. "It remains to be seen if she can modernise entrenched Labour policy."

The election comes after a lengthy period of economic growth. But there are tensions.

"The Key Government was negligent with the house price outcomes which is a very difficult, inter-generational issue now to resolve," said an energy sector boss. "English was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance during that time so has to shoulder some of that blame, and therefore putting the party's interest ahead of New Zealand."

An energy chief cautioned that though New Zealand was enjoying good returns for dairy exports, export education and tourism, all had vulnerabilities which could wipe the smile from our country's face pretty quickly.

"I think many of these risks concern business -- not just for ourselves but more broadly for the wellbeing of our society. I think currently we are all marching on hoping that Trump does not pull the trigger and that the Chinese (with all the levers available to them) manage their economy to avoid a crisis of the kind some consistently predict."

National's future

CEOs were split on who they thought would make the best Opposition leader if National should lose the election - which is a clear possibility on its current poll ratings.

Some 27 per cent thought Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett had the right attributes to make the most vigorous leader; others opted for Steven Joyce (20 per cent) and Judith Collins (17 per cent).

"Paula has the guts and determination to make a fine opposition leader - she has time, energy and whakapapa on her side," said an agribusiness chair.

Tourism boss: "Paula or Steven would be a good stopgap, but it ultimately needs someone to come from outside the system."

There was a clear sentiment it was time for generational change.

Chief executives once again put English at the top of the Cabinet rankings on his performance over the past year. The Prime Minister rated 4.13/5 on a 1-5 scale where 1 = not impressive and 5 = very impressive.

His rating was down on prior years when he held the finance portfolio.

English's successor as finance minister, Steven Joyce, was rated 3.71/5. Nikki Kaye was next on 3.62/5 followed by Amy Adams (3.58/5); Bennett (3.56/5); Chris Finlayson (3.49/5); Simon Bridges (3.18/5); Anne Tolley (3.11/5); Todd McClay (3.05/5). The remaining ministers all rated less than 3/5 when it came to their performance.

When it came to ranking the minor party leaders, they placed Act's David Seymour top of their list with 2.85/5 with NZ First's Winston Peters narrowly behind at 2.76/5. The other leaders: James Shaw (Greens), Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox (Maori Party), Gareth Morgan (The Opportunities Party) and Peter Dunne (United Future, who bowed out before the survey was completed) all rated at less than 2.5/5.

Spark managing director Simon Moutter says whoever wins, restoring stable and consistent Government post-election will be a priority. "Whoever leads needs to move quickly to maintain momentum by establishing a stable team in Government."

CEOs on the big questions

Do you expect to increase or decrease your number of staff in the next twelve months?

Increase: 52.14 per cent

Are you expecting profit growth in your business in the next twelve months?

Yes (increased profit): 74.58 per cent

Are you expecting revenue growth in your business in the next twelve months?

Yes (increased revenue): 82.20 per cent

Are you more or less optimistic than you were one year ago about (scale where 1 = much less optimistic and 5 = much more optimistic) about:

The general business situation in your industry: 3.41

The New Zealand economy: 3.07

The global economy: 2.53

What impact do you feel the following domestic factors have on business confidence in New Zealand and within your industry (scale where 1 = no concern and 10 = extremely concerned)?

Congestion in Auckland: 7.40

Adequacy of transport infrastructure: 7.36

Growth pressures in Auckland: 7.13

Housing unaffordability: 7.09

Skills and labour shortages: 6.81

Regulation: 6.72

Labour productivity: 6.29

Adequacy of water infrastructure: 5.35

Competitiveness of personal tax rate: 5.09

Competitiveness of corporate tax rate: 4.78

What impact do you feel the following international issues have on business confidence in New Zealand today (scale where 1 = no concern and 10 = extremely concerned)?

Cyber security: 7.64

"Trump" factor - US political instability: 6.47

Protectionism: 6.30

Competition for global talent: 6.22

Chinese economy deterioration: 6.02

Introduction of US trade border taxes: 5.72

Terrorism: 5.49

Potential for nuclear war: 5.47

Supply chain security: 5.41

Currency volatility: 5.08

The Mood of the Boardroom CEOs Election Survey was in the field from Monday August 14 to Friday September 8, 2017.