Eighty per cent of chief executives are worried about a personal attack from Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.

The New Zealand First MP has come under harsh criticism recently for his attacks on private business and business leaders.

"Shane Jones is two-faced," a banking boss said in the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey.

"He's happy to come along to your corporate box, drink your wine, eat your buffet and watch the rugby, and tell everyone how much he's in touch with the business community and turn around the next day and slag you off to get a cheap headline. At least with Winston Peters and some of the Greens you always know where you stand."


Jones has put the banking sector under fire — echoing the concerns of the bank workers' union over the closure of rural bank branches — and has publicly lambasted Fonterra, The Warehouse and Air New Zealand on other issues.

Read more from Mood of the Boardroom 2018:

Mood of the Boardroom: 150 CEOs deliver their verdict on the Government
Government report card: CEOs rate performance of Cabinet Ministers
National leader Simon Bridges yet to win over NZ business leaders
Winston Peters viewed as 'pleasant surprise' by business leaders

Amid reaction to Fonterra's recent announcement of its $196 million net loss for the 2018 financial year — Jones urged the dairy company's new chief executive, Miles Hurrell, to "get out the hedge clippers and start pruning people".

The revelation that almost 6000 Fonterra staff earn more than $100,000 a year — 750 more than in 2017 — sparked Jones to say: "based on this performance, they don't deserve the minimum wage".

His remarks were picked up by the boss of another dairy company, who said: "The latest comments regarding staff in Fonterra needing to be fired is frighteningly naive and misguided. "Perish the thought anyone takes him seriously."

With several powerful portfolios under his belt — including Infrastructure, Regional Economic Development and Forestry as well as associate roles in Finance, State-Owned Enterprises and Transport — it is obvious Jones carries huge weight in Cabinet when it comes to commercial issues.

But despite his commercially oriented portfolios, the CEOs have awarded him a mere mid-pack rating on his performance in his ministerial portfolios of 2.55/5 on a scale where 1=not impressive and 5=very impressive.


In the 2018 Herald survey, Jones' bombastic statements were met with heavy criticism from CEOs: 80 per cent of respondents were concerned about Jones' practice of personalising his attacks on companies; 15 per cent were not unconcerned, and 5 per cent are unsure.

Deloitte CEO Thomas Pippos said this is "politics at its worst".

There was a flood of pithy responses including, "pathetic populist posturing", "appalling", "totally inappropriate", "short-sighted political point scoring", "play the ball not the man", "he's a grandstander" and "he is a bully".

Jones later defended his comments on Fonterra, saying they were just a joke.
"I'm a politician, I'm a retail politician," he said. "You want a hefty payout, I want 5 per cent at the next election. It's pretty simple."

His approach was too cynical for some.

There was agreement by some respondents that Jones' antics should be perceived only as tactics to boost his personal popularity and that of New Zealand First — with one suggesting his tactics are straight out of the "Trump" playbook.

But though there's little doubt Jones is playing up to the electorate and polishing his image as the self-styled "champion of the regions", EMA chief executive Kim Campbell concedes there is some truth behind his statements. "Much of what he says has a ring of veracity."

"They need to be challenged," agreed The Icehouse's Andrew Hamilton.

As to Jones' future, a real estate CEO suggested Jones is trying to make a name for himself, so when NZ First leader Winston Peters steps down he will be seen as the next leader — but cautions "in the meantime, he is damaging his reputation with such attacks on major companies".

If so, said a legal firm boss, "Peters has to get Jones under control.
"That sort of behaviour from a Minister of the Crown is very hard to explain to potential overseas investors, who see it as banana republic behaviour."