OPINION: Barack Obama and Theo Spierings, at first glance, don't appear to have much in common other than being tall, foreign and handsomely paid.
Obama is regarded as one of the great leaders and orators of his generation. Spierings could hardly be accused of that. We barely hear from him. Although privately said to be a good bloke, publically, Charisma and Theo only appear in the same sentence when we're talking about Mark Todd's horse and New Zealand's highest paid chief executive.
While I'm a paid-up member of the Obama fan club, I've been a bit lapse in paying my Spierings sub in recent times. Yet both Barack and Theo have been in the news recently, for the wrong reasons.
Spierings is known as the eight million dollar man, but even by his lofty level of recompense ($22,740 per day), he was dwarfed by Obama's rumoured $500,000 pay packet for a patsy Q&A with Sam Neill that lasted all of 75 minutes.
Both men arrived on our shores with big reputations and both have disappointed, especially if you're to believe Mike Hosking in the case of Obama. There seemed to be a general consensus the 44th POTUS's presentation was low key, bordering on low energy. He certainly dropped a clanger when he called his sponsoring bank WestBank. Another sponsor, Air New Zealand, fared little better with Shane Jones stealing its oxygen, proving Winston's not the only NZ First party-pooper in the one man party.
Last week on my radio show (I'm the poor man's rural Hosking on Newstalk ZB) I floated the idea of the sort of replacement needed for the retiring Theo. The recipient of this ear-bashing was no less than Professor Keith Woodford from Lincoln University, one of New Zealand's leading agribusiness academics. He didn't disagree with my populist proposal.
My reckoning is Fonterra needs an Obama-esque type leader, the sort of chief executive who can get a nation excited by the good corporate deeds of our biggest company.
John Key once famously said, "where Fonterra goes, New Zealand goes". I'm not sure Jacinda would entirely agree and you could bet your best M bovis-free Friesian Winston wouldn't, but it's difficult to understate the importance of Fonterra to the New Zealand economy.
With that in mind I suggested to Prof Woodford that Fonterra needs someone of the ilk of former Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe to run the cutter. He has a great business background, he's a charismatic leader not afraid to muck in and get his hands dirty on the factory floor with the workers and, most importantly, he's a Kiwi.
In fairness to Theo, some good stuff has happened under his watch. Fonterra helped finance its farmers through the torturous two years of the biggest dairy downturn in recent memory. Milk for Schools is a magnificent example of good corporate citizenship. Fonterra has also made major advances in protecting, preserving and even enhancing the environment, although the latter is still very much a work in progress.
Ultimately though, Spierings failed because he failed in China, our most important market. As my fellow columnist and stable mate Alan Emerson so eloquently put it, Beingmate is a dog, a $750 million dog, with the fleas thrown in for nothing. Throw in the botulism botch-up and the associated $183 million Danone payment and you have a dog's breakfast.
Scapegoat or not for bad board decisions, Theo has also failed to excite and inspire us. And he's also failed to front up on occasions, too often leaving the heavy PR lifting to his chairman John Wilson.
As a (these days former) Fonterra shareholder I never bought in to the argument we needed to pay a king's ransom to an international chief executive just because Fonterra is an international company. There was an element of the Emperor's New Clothes about Theo's, and his predecessor Andrew Ferrier's, pay packet. If we're not paying an arm and a leg to some foreign genius then they can't be any good (it's worth noting Obama's pay as Commander in Chief was a relatively paltry $US400,000 pa).
Haven't we got Kiwis running A2 Milk, Synlait, Open Country Dairy and Tatua? They seem to be doing an OK job for their shareholders for a considerably more modest pay packet.
So Fonterra farmer shareholders have ended up paying a man $8 million to preside over a $348 million loss. Go figure? Not bad money if you can get it.
Rob Fyfe, your country needs you.
Jamie Mackay is the host of The Country which airs on Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport, 12-1pm, weekdays.