New NZ Shareholders Association chairman Tony Mitchell says he hopes to put some focus on KiwiSaver governance and fees as well as the traditional listed companies the organisation has targeted in the past.

Mitchell who has been chief executive of the NZ Marketing Association and had a career with companies like Nestle, Heinz and Nielson Research takes over from outgoing chairman John Hawkins.

Hawkins has been in the role for nine years, growing the member base and campaigning to improve director accountability to all shareholders.

He took over from founding chair Bruce Sheppard - who launched the association into the public arena with a series of high profile campaigns and protest at annual general meetings in the 2000s.


"This decision should come as no surprise. We expect companies to refresh their boards regularly, and we practise what we preach," Hawkins said. "Tony has universal support from our whole team, and I am confident he can take the association to the next level in its development."

Mitchell was an existing member of the association but was appointed after an extensive recruitment process by the board.

He said he hoped to build on and continue the good work done by Hawkins.

"John and Bruce have done a really great job of cementing a strong membership and delivering voice," he said. "We represent a significant number of investors and as a proxy we represent a significant number of votes at listed company AGMs."

First and foremost it was about looking after those interests and hold the board and management to account, he said.

"My plan is to continue to be vocal and increase the engagement with boards. We also play a big part in connecting investors at a branch level."

Mitchell said his corporate experience gave him some good insight into the challenges and complexities faced by boards.

"My background is in fast moving consumer goods, research marketing and analytics and I've worked for listed companies across the years but the role is to represent the shareholders and make sure their voice is heard."


Mitchell said he also hoped to bring younger members into the organisation.

There was a new generation of potential investors that were struggling to get into the housing market and would be well served by looking at other opportunities.

He also highlighted KiwiSaver as an area for more scrutiny.

With a 135 schemes out there from 29 different providers areas like fees structures were something that were worth focusing on, he said.

Hawkins steps down as chairman after about two years threatening to do so.

"Everyone has a use-by date. That's the same with all companies," Hawkins says.

Indeed, NZSA now routinely criticises directors who stay on boards more than 12 years.

Hawkins, 66, was the second NZSA chair, taking over from founder Bruce Sheppard, and helping to bring a strong dose of professionalism to the viewpoint of retail shareholders.

Hawkins was also an executive chair for a time until the NZSA appointed its first chief executive, Michael Midgley in February 2017.

"We've built a sustainable organisation that has real influence – that was one of the key things that I wanted to do, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure we provided value for our members and things they couldn't easily access anywhere else," Hawkins says.

He cites NZSA's voting recommendations, in which it states how it will be voting any proxies it receives ahead of a company's annual shareholders' meeting.

That practice started with an occasional statement in a few high-profile situations but then broadened into regular coverage of about 100 companies.

Hawkins says his parting gift to members will be a "standing proxy arrangement" that will allow both members and non-members to assign their proxies to NZSA on a permanent basis.

He will remain on the board until the next NZSA AGM on August 31 in Christchurch.

Among the skills Mitchell will bring to the NZSA board is his online skills, "an area we know we need to improve on," Hawkins says.

"We spent a lot of time finding the right person and we were lucky to have a number of really good candidates. We're confident we've got the right person. He complements and strengthens the team."

- Additional reporting: BusinessDesk