The interim chief executive at Waikato District Health Board took $50,000 less in salary than he was offered because he says it was the right thing to do.
Derek Wright is earning more than $100,000 less than Dr Nigel Murray was when he resigned amid an expenses scandal in October last year.
Murray was earning between $560,000 and $570,000, but Wright said his salary increase to take on the interim CEO role until at least January next year was more than enough.
"I was offered $50,000 more than I accepted. These are big jobs. This is a $1.4 billion business. We're a big organisation. That type of salary is probably needed to attract the right people. But I was already in the organisation. I was earning a salary. What I accepted was still significantly more than I was receiving. I knew that this DHB had some financial issues. Did I really want to add to the financial issues? And how much money can you spend, to be honest."
Wright is grappling with a $21 million deficit and a DHB with low morale, a marred reputation and loss of public confidence following the Murray debacle.
Murray's $218,000 spending is still being investigated by the State Services Commission.
The board accepted Murray's resignation last year on the basis he pay back all the money he overspent, between $70,000 and $80,000.
So far Murray has paid back all but about $20,000, which is in dispute.
That amount is being held by Murray's lawyers until they and the DHB can agree what was spent on personal expenses and what was business expenses.
Wright admitted he would have been forced to take action had Murray not met the repayment deadline last year.
"This is public money, this is taxpayers' money. And we need to be seen to be transparent as well. If he hadn't [paid it back] we would have taken action.
I was offered $50,000 more than I accepted ... I knew that this DHB had some financial issues.
"I'd have taken legal advice but I'm sure it would have eventually gone to some debt collection agency or we'd have done something to freeze his assets. But we didn't have to because he paid it which was great."
Wright expects the disputed amount will be resolved in the next couple of months.
Even though Wright was one of Murray's 17 executive directors, he admitted he did not know Murray very well.
He said the DHB's bad press centred around Murray and he was now determined to move forward.
The 63-year-old, who hails from Scotland, has literally worked his way to the top. Wright began his career in health at the age of 19 as an orderly, earning about 10 pounds a week in the early 1970s, the equivalent of about $200 a week now.
Wright has a plan to rebuild the DHB from the inside out.
In a busy schedule, he's making time to meet the 7000 staff, visiting the outlying regional hospitals, and working on internal and external communications.