I feel bad for Ralph Norris. I know there are those who want his head on a platter - and he's served that - but for some it will never be enough.

They'd like a public flogging, or for him to forgo all his money. I'm surprised there's not a petition yet from the most petty of us, to have his knighthood stripped off him. That's how we roll these days. Someone stumbles, let's cut their head off.

The upshot is, I believe Ralph Norris. I believe that he took the helm of Fletcher Building when it was already in trouble, that he tried to stem the flow of carnage to the best of his ability, that there were some things he just couldn't get an accurate read on, because it was either withheld or not passed on. I believe his version of it all because he has an exceptional corporate track record, and because he's done the noble thing. He's accepted he's at the top of the food chain and that therefore the buck stops with him. He's taken responsibility: he's quit.

But that's not enough for some people. People who hate success and wealth and anyone doing well, those people will want him to "pay" and to suffer. Those people have probably never run a board or a company in their lives. They're the same people who claim it's so easy to read the news you could get a monkey to do it. Put those people in a live studio reading an autocue in front of half a million people, or get them to front an annual shareholders meeting, and they'd probably stare blankly like a possum in the headlights, floundering to get a coherent word out of their mouths.


These are the same people who will argue that he should've personally been across every single thing, the contracts, the legals, the ins and outs of every single department and every document.

Show me the chairperson of any board, anywhere in this country, who literally knows every minute detail of what's going on, inside every single aspect of every department of the company.

The job of a board chair is to entrust to their leaders, their management and their executive. It would be an unwelcome imposition to most managers, if the chairperson of the board got in the executive's face every day, second-guessing their every movement.

A full house in attendance as Fletcher Building chairman Sir Ralph Norris addresses shareholders at the Fletcher Building AGM in October last year. Photo / File
A full house in attendance as Fletcher Building chairman Sir Ralph Norris addresses shareholders at the Fletcher Building AGM in October last year. Photo / File

It's not how it works. Boards can only act on the information they are given. They rely on that information being correct. And perhaps that's the only wriggle room for questions around what happened here.

Did Ralph Norris ask enough of them?

What's forgotten in all this baying for Norris's blood, is the price he's already paid.

Reputation, stress, image, branding. For a man like Ralph Norris, that's his stock in trade. You just need to look at his face and stature when he fronted the press. This has weighed heavily on him and challenged him in ways most of us will probably never understand. If business is your livelihood, and up until now, one with a glowing track record, then this failing at Fletcher's is going to be as bad as it gets.

It takes a lot of balls to come out and articulate exactly how it got so bad. He did that. He articulated it. He didn't mince words. To pay the ultimate price - to forgo your own job.

I think that's enough. I don't think we need to actually destroy the man as well.