Last year's Mood of the Boardroom survey — conducted in the lead-up to the general election — saw a whopping 94 per cent respond "No" to the question: "Should either party concede Prime Ministership to Winston Peters on an interim basis to achieve power?" and incited some on the nose responses, including: "FFS", "Heck no" and "Winston doesn't have the work ethic to be Prime Minister even for a couple of weeks."
And yet Peters, 73, found himself in exactly that position — albeit outside the terms of the Coalition Agreement — when he stepped in for six weeks during Jacinda Ardern's maternity leave.
"Winston's natural statesmanlike qualities shone through strongly as Acting Prime Minister," said Beca CEO Greg Lowe. "He looked comfortable in the role!"
A real estate boss, who was critical of Peters in last year's survey was magnanimous, conceding "as one who was concerned, I thought Winston proved himself very well".
"Winston has pleasantly surprised business — he has mostly been measured and level-headed," added a professional director.
When asked how Peters performed during his six-week tenure as acting Prime Minister, 59 per cent of respondents felt that he performed better than expected, 40 per cent thought he performed to their expectation. No one responded that he had performed worse than expected (just 1 per cent indicated they were unsure).
A banking boss suggested Peters came across as an elder statesman, and had "shown himself to be a safer pair of hands in government than we expected".
But some questioned why Peters can't continue this mantle, with a health care chief executive bemoaning "why can't he perform like that without the title? When he holds the titles, he performs well — not when he is outside throwing stones."
EMA chief executive Kim Campbell noted "his experience was clearly on display, and he had his eyes fixed on the history books".
Others were pungent — "No upsets. But policy slowed down and Jacinda was in trouble straight after," noted a Wellington-based lobbyist.
Of the minor party leaders, Winston Peters was top of the table in his rating for leadership by New Zealand chief executives and directors — just ahead of Green co-leader James Shaw — scoring 3.1/5 on a scale where 1 = not impressive and 5 = very impressive (and up from his rating of 2.8/5 in last year's Mood of the Boardroom survey).
Peters who holds the foreign affairs, SOEs and racing portfolios was also near the top rankings for his performance as a cabinet minister, receiving a grade of 3.2/5 (compared to the rating he received last year for his performance in Opposition of 2.6/5).
Political commentators have suggested there are cracks looming in the Coalition Government, with some claiming Peters is "muscle-flexing," "outsmarting and outmanoeuvring Labour" and "trying to pull off a massive shift in power within the Coalition".
Political uncertainty has contributed to the current level of business confidence, but some suggest Peters has helped mitigate the fall in business confidence.
For instance, respondents have acknowledged NZ First's potential role in modifying aspects of the employment legislation currently in front of Parliament to get a more business friendly outcome, particularly in the regions and for small business.
"Even though it pains me to say it, without Winston Peters' involvement, business conditions would be way worse," said a travel and tourism boss.
However, there is some scepticism as to whether Peters has New Zealand — or New Zealand First's best interests at heart: "Winston Peters was OK as acting Prime Minister," says the head of a telecommunications firm. "Unfortunately, New Zealand First's stated and explicit goal has nothing to do with a better New Zealand — just to keep itself relevant for the next election."
There are concerns over special pleading. For instance, Inland Revenue officials have warned against the tax breaks Peters obtained for the racing industry, saying they could cost the Crown up to $40 million in lost revenue.
A professional director was more direct: "Winston has done better than I thought in some ways… but balancing the money thrown at the provincial growth fund and racing industry is pork barrel politics at its worst!"