Mark Ward wants to prepare Whanganui for a "capability arms race" as he takes over the district's economic development agency.

If the race is economic development, the capability comes from knowledge and skills and even friendly rivalry.

Ward takes the reins as chief executive of Whanganui and Partners, replacing Philippa Ivory, who began the role this time last year but resigned suddenly in August.

He comes to Whanganui on the back of chief executive roles with the New Zealand Veterinary Association and Crop and Food Research.


Ward trained as a scientist with a Masters in cell biology but has made a career in research and development, and financial and business performance improvement.

"My whole career has been working with specialists and I would see this role as an extension of that where there are business people as the specialists and the experts - not myself as the expert."

Ward said his role with Whanganui and Partners was about bringing people together "who want to be together".

"Collaboration is about healthy rivalry as well and learning off the best and actually not being afraid to be in the same room as your rival," he said.

"More importantly it's to create the honey that draws everyone together and the honey is often knowledge. That's really what I hope to bring to the role here."

Ward has spent much of his working life in the lower North Island and, while he's never lived in Whanganui, he has watched it from afar.

"I have sense of knowing this part of the world and seeing Whanganui's place in it. It's very unique.

The district "has it's own heartbeat" and was often self-contained so it needed to open up to grow, he said.


"When you think about it, we're on a coastal belt from New Plymouth right down to Wellington. We've got to make the most of that. We've got to reach out as a district.

"Even though my role is local economic development I believe the way forward is to play to our strengths and to serve other people's strengths and see what's in it for us."

Ward said every region was out to grow. Whanganui had to focus on what it could do best for itself and for other regions.

"It is a capability arms race," he said. "It's all about building capability and playing to the strengths of Whanganui, that's where I'm at."

Mark Ward urges collaboration and not being afraid of competition. Photo / Lewis Gardner
Mark Ward urges collaboration and not being afraid of competition. Photo / Lewis Gardner

Ward has identified the river, the airport and port as key assets but also wants Whanganui to refocus on the creative industries.

He sees as much value in areas like fine arts as vocational training and industry.

"We can go back to what created the finest arts school in New Zealand," he said.

"Because that is actually the strength of Whanganui; bringing together the artists, the creative people, IT people, marketers, business entrepreneurs, financiers.

"Bringing those people together in one easy-to-live-in district and getting that rubbing of shoulders."

But before all that, Whanganui and Partners needs to prove to the ratepayers who fund it that it is worthwhile after a tumultuous two years with staffing and planning.

"It's a biggie," Ward said. "We're never going to be able to tell you - and we wouldn't be able to do our jobs if we tried - about all the little things we do to actually facilitate progress and change.

"(But) we're going to have to get some immediate wins for our district that really make a tangible difference."

Ward said Whanganui and Partners was there to provide advice, direction, feedback to business people and those wanting to set up an enterprise.

And if he has only one goal for his time in the organisation it is for that to be known.

"I'd like to think that every business felt they knew `they had access to Whanganui and Partners for what they specifically need.

"It's a shame if businesses ignore that we exist. Yes, part of that might be our fault... we need to tell our story better... but it's a shame if they do because it's an asset for Whanganui and therefore it's an asset for them.

"We can't do everything but I certainly want every Whanganui business to know that they do have access to us."