Rob Campbell is highly respected for his thought-leadership and advocacy on governance matters.

His willingess to speak freely on issues, such as advising directors to take a more hands on approach, has been a real asset to the business community.

But, said the Deloitte Top 200 judges, it is the track record of financial results in the companies he chairs over a lengthy periods, which marks Campbell out as the winner of the 2017 QBE Insurance Chairperson of the Year.

"There is a clear link between his chairmanship style and the performance of those companies," said judge Dame Alison Paterson.


His 30-plus years of governance and investment experience has been invaluable in his chairmanships — such as at Guinness Peat Group. Campbell became chairman of the GPG holding company in 2011 and oversaw the disposal of various investment assets, with the group's focus transitioning to their investment in Coats, the world's largest manufacturer and distributor of sewing thread and supplies.

The role the experienced chairman played at GPG was also noted by the Deloitte Top 200 judges as an example of Campbell's willingness to take on challenging companies that are in tough spaces.

More recently, Campbell has overseen the successful listing of retirement village operator Summerset Group, and, has guided Tourism Holdings Limited (THL) on its global growth strategy.

Since Campbell became chairman of Tourism Holdings in August 2013 it has achieved a substantial uptick in financial performance.

In the half-year to 31 December 2016, Tourism Holdings posted EBIT (earnings before interest and taxation) of $18.7 million.

This compared with $7.2m for the half-year to December 2013.

Over the course of his chairmanship, the market has observed a clear change in strategy, and "could see Rob's fingerprints on it," said the judges.

THL's progress since Campbell's appointment was considered particularly impressive by multiple market analysts, who commented that it is often hard to see the chair's contribution to company performance: "But with THL, Rob has had a significant impact, which we could see," explained Dame Alison.


"An outstanding chairman is one who understands the industry, has a clear strategic view and establishes a strong and constructive relationship with his CEOs to deliver outstanding returns to shareholders," Dame Alison added.

"Rob Campbell has demonstrated this with Tourism Holdings, which has an annualised five-year return of 63 per cent."

A tangible example of Campbell's influence is Tourism Holdings' contribution to a tourism infrastructure funding report to the Minister for Tourism in December 2016.

The report, developed alongside Air New Zealand, Auckland Airport, and Christchurch Airport, proposed the creation of a $130 million annual fund to address tourism infrastructure challenges, funded by a National Tourism Infrastructure Levy alongside an equal contribution from the Government.

"He has positioned Tourism Holdings as a leader in the tourism industry which, in 2016, overtook dairy as the highest contributor to New Zealand's GDP," Dame Alison said.

August 2017 saw a prediction that earnings per share for Tourism Holdings would grow by 49.34 per cent over the next three years.

Campbell is set to become chair of SkyCity on January 1, 2018, succeeding the 2016 Deloitte Top 200 Chairperson of the Year, Chris Moller.

Campbell was described as a chairman who maintains close working relationships — characterised by sustained and regular contact — with the chief executives of the companies he governs.

In an interview for the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom election survey, Campbell spoke frankly about inequality.

"The people who are at the wrong end of inequality really have genuine social and financial needs that are not being met under the current system," he said in a video interview.

"There is an increasing recognition among the business community and the wider community that things have got a little stale.

"If I can use a word from a previous National Prime Minister, maybe we need to be a bit more aspirational."

When awarding Campbell its Beacon Award, the NZ Shareholders Association said he had a willingness to speak out on issues "without fear or favour", citing his comments advising directors not be tick-box governors, manage the managers, and, criticising the limited imagination of some boards and a disconnect between reality and how bankers and other finance professionals are remunerated.

Finalist: Jan Dawson, Westpac

Jan Dawson.
Jan Dawson.

Jan Dawson has an impeccable pedigree performing at the highest level in everything she undertakes.

Appointed chair of Westpac NZ in 2015, she has presided over impressive results, with annual cash earnings for the Kiwi arm of the Australian bank rising by almost 10 per cent in the year to September to reach $970 million.

Dawson is deputy chair of Air New Zealand and is a director of Beca, AIG New Zealand and Meridian Energy.

She has served as a trustee of the National Maritime Museum since 2012, was president and chair of Yachting New Zealand for six years from 2007-13, and was deputy chair of Counties Manakau District Health Board from 2010-13.

"Typically, where Jan is not chair of companies, she is often found serving in the the role of chair of the audit committee," said Deloitte Top 200 judge Dame Alison Paterson.

"This is a valuable application of her many years of prior experience as a partner, chair, and chief executive at KPMG."

The judges were impressed by Dawson's performance in governance roles across a variety of industries.

"As an example, it was under her leadership that KPMG committed to the sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup held in NZ in 2011, Dame Alison said.

"It was a bold move made without KPMG International support and firmly established the firm among the major New Zealand accounting firms.

"She is correctly described as incredibly competent and competitive".

Dawson has offered her governance expertise to a variety of community organisations.

She also entered uncharted waters this year, following her appointment as Vice-President of World Sailing.

Finalist: Peter McBride, Zespri

Peter McBride.
Peter McBride.

Peter McBride's understated style has come to the fore since he took over the chairmanship of Zespri International in 2013.

McBride has overseen the kiwifruit exporter's strategies as it rebounded from the Psa crisis which decimated the industry and eroded grower returns.

"In addition to managing the Psa crisis and the response, Peter McBride has shown extraordinary leadership in dealing with the Serious Fraud Office investigation into Zespri's commercial dealings with Chinese agents," said Deloitte Top 200 judge Dame Alison Paterson.

"His strategy to ring-fence — to minimise the operational impact over the several years of an investigation involving significant cost and demand on resources — has been effective, and rewarded by the announcement in the first weeks of November that the SFO would not be laying charges."

"Issues may be ongoing," said Dame Alison. "But BAU (business as usual) has not been impacted as the positive results show."

Earlier this year, Zespri forecast net profit of between $98 million and $103m in the year ending March 31, 2018.

After trading around $1.50 two years ago, Zespri shares now command around $8 on the Unlisted share trading platform.

McBride was particularly commended for the impressive growth of the company's Psa-resistant Gold3 (G3) kiwifruit variety.

In August this year, a green kiwifruit orchard in Te Puke sold for what was believed to be a record price of $500,000 per canopy hectare, with a total price for the 3.6 acre (1.46ha) orchard of $1.8m.

The buyers said they were planning to convert the orchard into the G3 variety immediately.

Zespri's performance in recent years has resulted in "huge wealth creation" for New Zealand growers.

"This is a reflection of strong growth borne out of prudent governance decisions under Peter McBride's leadership," Dame Alison said.