The National Party's prime selling point - "Brand Key' - has been damaged by the Dirty Politics revelations.
That's the view of nearly two-thirds of CEO respondents to the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey.
They believe the revelations have exposed an unhealthy relationship between politicians and bloggers and raised issues of political probity concerning former Justice Minister Judith Collins.
"The Whale Oil saga has damaged his reputation," said a communications boss. "He has managed the political environment so well up to now then it's hard not to conclude that he is implicated in this unhappy tale of dirty politics."
A transport sector chief said Key had lost some credibility in the past month with a series of revelations about staff and ministers.
"He seems to be too opportunistic, poll-driven and lacking courage to stand up for integrity and a vision of shaping the country.
"Bill English does more behind the scenes, while John Key just polishes his brand."
Another said the prime minister needed to manage his staff and party better. "This Slater debacle happened because of slack management - just like the 'cup of tea'.
"He needs to try to be less cool and be more CEO that is when he is impressive and sensible."
There is plenty more in this refrain from chief executives who are concerned that the Hager revelations and subsequent journalistic investigations have exposed an indelible link between the Beehive and Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.
The Prime Minister has since ordered a government inquiry to probe into whether Collins had undermined former SFO boss Adam Feeley via Slater's blog.
What CEOs are saying about Dirty Politics
62 per cent:
"Brand Key" has been damaged by the Nicky Hager revelations
66 per cent: has exposed an unhealthy relationship between politicians and bloggers
76 per cent: raised issues of political probity concerning Judith Collins
In the Herald CEOs survey, chief executives talked frankly about the changes they would like to see if Key is re-elected as prime minister after the September 20 election.
They want him to learn the lessons from the Dirty Politics scandal. Move more quickly on Cabinet Ministers or MPs who are "clearly not on the same page as the caucus" and have "integrity issues"; select less error-prone ministers and "demand high standards of integrity from all" and "stop mucking about with bloggers and get on with leading New Zealand to a better future".
Even before the prime minister pushed Collins to resign her Justice portfolio, chief executives were saying she should be demoted as a liability.
"It was time to raise up the next generation of leaders in the National Party" and not "get side-tracked by trivial issues."
Many think it is time for Key to change his Cabinet.
Simpson Grierson's Kevin Jaffe said he needed to "refresh his team"; "Develop leadership for the future," added Mainfreight's Don Braid.
Still others said the Prime Minister himself needs to take a "more disciplined approach "be politically brave and look less smug".
Beyond asserting moral leadership they expect him to get on with taking some bold moves on the economic front to address thorny issues.
"What National is doing is good," related one business leader.
"It's what National is not doing that is disappointing, such as a capital gains tax, focus on savings and raising the age for superannuation."
"With the single exception of the partial privatisation of the gentailers, it's hard to think of anything that John Key has done which might even slightly offend public opinion," said a financial sector chief.
"As a result, there has been no material increase in our sustainable growth rate or in our balance of payments position over the last six years.
"Yes, we are now growing a bit faster than previously, and a bit faster than most other developed countries, but that is largely because of very strong export prices ('Thank you, China') and the strength of our banking sector ('Thank you, Australia').
Others urged the prime minister to really focus on the economy and try to inform the public how important jobs and industry are to New Zealand.
Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief Michael Barnett suggested Key's Cabinet Ministers should participate in a better partnership model.
There was strong recognition of the role senior ministers had played in supporting Key's leadership.
"Key's greatest strengths are Bill English and Steven Joyce - both strong, politically astute wingmen making a great team of three."
Some of the comment was trenchant: "John Key has massively squandered his political capital with his incremental do no harm style," said an agriculture chief.
"I salute his ability to engage as a political charmer but to govern is of the essence and he continues to flunk the test of advancing high quality public policy."
Others questioned whether Key still enjoyed the same authority within the political realm as he had before the Hager book was dropped. South Pacific Pictures boss John Barnett was one who cautioned that "events of the past month have eroded much of the high ground Key previously held".
Many chief executives believed the Hager book was a political sting operation. If John Key thought it couldn't get any worse for him a month out from the election he was wrong," said a manufacturing chief. "Hindsight is a wonderful thing and to sit on the sidelines and suggest how a situation could be managed better without having to put your neck on the block, is easy.
"The Left have finally put a dent in his armour since the #dirtypolitics campaign, which all seems fairly orchestrated - but will it be enough to change the Government?
"The left block will be devastated if this, their best attempt so far, fails."