Andrew Barnes: Putting the balance into working life
Our business hero could have coasted into retirement. Instead he sparked a global sensation, writes Damien Venuto.
Our language got the word "hero" from the ancient Greeks. In their stories about figures such as Heracles, lesser humans could learn qualities worth emulating in their own lives.
So who do we applaud as a hero today? Is it the person who makes the most money? The one who beats the toughest odds? The one with the best back-story? Or the one with the biggest influence on the most people?
There's no shortage of moneymakers, epic stories or influential decision-makers in New Zealand business. But this year, we've gone for someone who challenged the entire concept of the nine-to-five as our New Zealand Herald Business Hero of the Year.
Andrew Barnes, a rich-lister with a net worth estimated at about $150 million, came to New Zealand in 2013 to snap up Perpetual Trust and Guardian Trust, which were then merged into the business now known as Perpetual Guardian.
As a former director of Macquarie Capital who had worked in the finance sector for a number of years, the UK-born Barnes had means, but even for him, snapping up Perpetual Guardian was still a risky move.
"Most of my money was locked up in a previous deal and I got close to a situation where I couldn't pay the mortgage," he says.
"In business, a lot of it is about appetite for risk: can you accept the fact that you're going to sail extremely close to the wind, especially if you're an entrepreneur? You have to be able to go through those moments, rather than just go 'No it's too hard'. That, in my mind, is the essence of entrepreneurship."
At this stage, the 59-year-old could have played it safe and coasted into retirement, eventually selling his business and picking up a few hobbies to see him through his golden years.
But his appetite for risk hadn't quite been satisfied, and in early 2018 he made the bold move of giving his 200 staff members a four-day week. At first, it seemed like a publicity stunt but Barnes has stuck with it because he saw the potential. What he didn't expect was for it to spark a global sensation, spreading across 77 countries, prompting debates between UK politicians and featuring in legislation proposed in Russia.
The idea germinated from a moment of curiosity while Barnes was paging through the Economist about two years ago. It was largely an academic piece about productivity, but he immediately wondered if it might apply to his business.
That single article prompted a change that eventually turned his offices into an experiment monitored by academics intent on gauging the impact of a four-day week on the workforce. From the start, Barnes knew that no one would buy into the concept unless it was tested independently.
Productivity lifted by 30-40 per cent across the teams at Perpetual Guardian, and those results have since been replicated at other companies around the world.
"From a business proposition it makes absolute sense," Barnes tells the Herald.
"But the next part of this is that it has a significant impact on things like health, climate, infrastructure and family cohesion. All of these things are soft issues, but they are the big issues that are facing the world at the moment."
The point of the initiative is to slice away at the hours when workers procrastinate, and focus and reward the times when they're productive.
"We are all guilty of busyness," says Barnes. "That Economist article showed the Brits were productive for two and half hours a day and the Canadians for one and half hours. The rest is all filler."
In a Wired article, freelance writer Lizzie Wade tested her own productivity by installing the RescueTime app on her devices. It was essentially spyware that tracked everything she did on her computer, to reveal how much time she spent on her craft. It turned out that in an average week, Wade worked only 27 hours and 11 minutes — the equivalent of about three and a half workdays.
Barnes says squeezing the work week into four days can reduce the time wasted hopping around the internet. At his company, traffic to the top five internet sites dropped 35 per cent during the trial.
The point of all this, however, is not to show how unproductive people are or even to reward hardworking employees with a three-day weekend.
"It's about adjusting the balance between the amount of time you spend in work and the amount you spend outside of work," he says.
The statistics might tell the story, but Barnes says it only hits home when he talks to staff members about what it means to them.
"It's the best thing I've ever done in business. What really gets me are the stories. And quite often the best ones come from my male employees.
"One of the recent ones came from a staff member who takes two half-days during the week. He walks home, so he's getting fitter. He spends the afternoon with his granddaughter and then he has tea with his daughter. And when he told the story to one of my colleagues he started to cry. This is what this is about. It's about changing people's lives.
"If you give people something that is so precious, it's not rocket science that you're going to get a more committed, more engaged and more enthused workforce. And if you have that kind of workforce you get better productivity."
When Barnes talks about wellbeing, productivity and improving lives, he sounds like a politician. So is there any substance to rumours of political ambitions?
Barnes says he is almost entirely focused on spreading the four-day-week message and working with businesses across the world to make sure it grows.
"Arguably, the job of a politician is to make the world a better place. I would like to think at the moment, what I'm doing is making the world a better place, not just New Zealand.
"For the time being, at least, that's my focus, but you never know."
- Damien Venuto
Adrian Orr: Plain-speaking Reserve Bank governor
Adrian Orr has divided opinion with his down to earth and forthright style of communication.
Orr has been unafraid to say things in a way that is comprehensible to the general public and has been unapologetic about fighting the central bank's corner when it is challenged.
On both the monetary policy and regulatory fronts, the Reserve Bank has employed unorthodox tactics. That has earned him his share of critics, but appears to have paid off – especially in the eyes of the wider public.
On the regulatory front, things got heated between the Aussie bank bosses and the governor this year as the Reserve Bank went further with new capital requirements than the industry wanted.
Words were exchanged - fuelled by Australian media intent on painting Orr as a bank-bashing nationalist.
In the end, a series of banking controversies and leadership failures undermined the sector's ability to wage war in public.
A compromise was offered which the banks now appear to have grudgingly accepted, although there was no backdown on the bottom line for new capital requirements.
Heading a monetary policy committee, Orr cut interest rates to a record low, helping to stimulate flagging economic growth.
But his pathway surprised markets twice. In August he delivered a double cut which critics warned would rattle confidence.
Perhaps, but Orr's judgment was that it would put monetary policy ahead of the curve as the economy slowed.
He was right.
It also put downward pressure on the kiwi dollar at the right time for exporters.
Then in November – at the depths of the economic gloom - the bank held rates when everyone expected a cut.
With fiscal stimulus in play and the earlier rate cuts still working, it took the view that sentiment was turning.
The central bank heads into 2020 with the economy in good shape and options if things take another turn.
More importantly, Orr's leadership and social awareness is leading a change in the way central bankers engage with the world and a global shift in the way economics is applied to improve the lives of the public.
Dame Therese Walsh: Hands-on Air New Zealand chair
Dame Therese Walsh has firmly stamped her mark on Air New Zealand in just over two months of chairing the airline's board.
She was critical in recruiting US Walmart boss Greg Foran to the chief executive's role, in what is seen as one of the biggest hiring coups in corporate New Zealand.
And she was exactly the right person to deliver an apology — alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — for the way Air New Zealand responded to the Erebus tragedy 40 years ago.
There was debate about the apology to a late stage at the highest levels of the airline's executive, and it was Walsh who willingly ran with what was a necessary statement.
''I apologise on behalf of an airline which 40 years ago failed in its duty of care to its passengers and staff,'' she said at a private memorial service at Government House attended by relatives of some of the 257 victims.
The airline would have been a conspicuous outlier once the decision to say sorry had been made by the Government, the airline's owner at the time of the crash.
Walsh had a year of formally transitioning into the chair's role and was also at the helm when two big route announcements were made: quitting the prestigious Los Angeles to London route and flying further than it ever has before - non-stop flights from Auckland to New York.
There are times in the cycle of chairmanship when they need to be more hands-on than usual. With the departure of Christopher Luxon and the appointment of Foran, this was one of those times at what is one of the country's most important businesses.
This down-to-earth high achiever is not shy of mucking in at other times, either. She even got busy helping sort luggage in the bus carrying some guests in Seoul when Air New Zealand launched its new service there in November.
- Grant Bradley
James Dunphy: Making them accountable
He may not have quite the profile in New Zealand that his siblings do, but James Dunphy certainly made his presence felt this year — playing a key role in the rejection of an inadequate takeover bid for NZ Oil & Gas (NZOG).
When Singapore-based OG Oil & Gas made its move in July to acquire the 30 per cent of NZOG it didn't already own, it initially offered 62c a share via a scheme of arrangement.
NZOG's independent directors, led by Dr Rosalind Archer and Rod Ritchie, immediately recommended that shareholders vote in favour of the bid.
It soon became clear that minority shareholders had other ideas. The offer was raised to 74c a share, but shareholders were outraged at the independent directors' enthusiastic recommendation, and raised questions about the quality and accuracy of advice provided in the scheme booklet.
Dunphy led the charge in a crusade that eventually resulted in shareholders voting down the scheme, with 63 per cent voting against OG's bid.
Dunphy, who spent 20 years with Credit Suisse in Australia following a period with Jarden in New Zealand, also took his concerns to the Takeovers Panel — complaining that valuation methods in the independent report were flawed and the adviser shouldn't have been approved in the first place.
And yesterday, he presented at NZOG's annual shareholders meeting with a scathing attack on the independent directors as minority shareholders moved to vote against their reappointment.
"The independent directors did a lousy job," Dunphy told the Herald. "When you do a lousy job and the shareholders don't like it, then you should leave.
"Seriously, these are important issues. I'm mainly in the private market but coming back to New Zealand and watching this is like a bad joke. Where are the regulators?"
Dunphy is the lesser-known brother of Mark Dunphy, the chair of Greymouth Petroleum who once made an unsuccessful high-profile attempt to stop the sale of Fletcher Energy to Shell in March 2001.
Sister Pip Dunphy is an experienced company director and current chair of Abano Healthcare, another company that's been in the thick of takeover bids in recent years.
James is obviously not shy of making his feelings known about corporate governance and shareholder rights. His website, makethemaccountable.com.au, is loaded with analysis and documents highlighting his engagement with directors.
- Duncan Bridgeman
Craig Hudson: Mental-health champion, Xero
Xero's New Zealand and Pacific Islands country manager Craig Hudson has been a champion for mental health in the workplace since landing the role as head of the company's local operation in 2017.
Vocal about his own mental-health struggles and having gone through bouts of depression, Hudson has been striving to make employers more accountable for their employees' mental wellbeing, and to break the stigma that surrounds talking openly about mental health.
Last year Hudson talked about the need for businesses of all sizes to do a better job of looking after their workers' mental health. This year he highlighted the need for more accessible support for small business owners.
In May, Xero launched a pilot programme offering free counselling and mental-health services to organisations, their staff and families which use its accounting software. The pilot was expanded to potentially reach 850,000 New Zealanders in October and has been extended for the next 12 months.
While Xero has never revealed the financial cost of providing the counselling service, Hudson sees it as an investment that is necessary for businesses to reach their optimal performance. A recent report found that organisations that prioritised the wellbeing of their workforce outperformed their industry average by 10 per cent, and that almost a quarter of businesses surveyed by Xero had no idea how to access such support.
Hudson, who leads a team of 60 people, this year received congratulations from Small Business Minister Stuart Nash.
In a speech last month, Nash said: "I want to acknowledge the ground-breaking efforts of Craig Hudson at Xero, who is doing serious work to tackle what no other business leader has highlighted before: the mental health of small business owners.
"His research shows fewer than half of small business employers celebrate milestones, or try to manage long hours, or regularly thank staff. He identifies ways small business leaders can talk about wellbeing, manage stress, and seek help. He encourages businesses to build their support networks, and seek out business mentors."
- Aimee Shaw