Magazine article New Zealand Management

Results on the Scoreboard: What Makes a Winning Team? at SPARC, John Wells and Nick Hill Give the chair/CEO Relationship More Than a Sporting Chance of Working Out

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Results on the Scoreboard: What Makes a Winning Team? at SPARC, John Wells and Nick Hill Give the chair/CEO Relationship More Than a Sporting Chance of Working Out

Article excerpt

Back in February 2002 when SPARC was formed, both board and management had more than their fair share of hurdles to leap. SPARC (Sport and Recreation New Zealand) was a merger of three organisations--the Hillary Commission, Sports Foundation and the policy arm of the Office of Tourism and Sport. So when current chairman John Wells and CEO Nick Hill took their positions soon after the starting orders were announced, they knew they had more than a quick sprint ahead of them in their efforts to meld the three parts together and form one cohesive team.

In its simplest form, says Wells, the organisation needed to switch from being output focused to concentrating on outcomes. With that came a change in philosophy: from a grants-based approach to an investment-based outlook.

Wells, who is probably best known as chair and founding director of merchant and investment bank Bancorp, brought extensive governance expertise to the organisation. Among other things he had previously been chairman of the national coordinating committee reviewing the delivery of high performance sport in New Zealand: an activity that resulted in the formation of the New Zealand Academy of Sport.

South Africa-born Hill had spent the previous decade working in the senior ranks of the energy sector: most recently as a consultant adviser to Santos in Adelaide and general manager, commercial (New Zealand) at Fletcher Challenge Energy.

They had not worked together before but now, several years later, both list "openness" as a crucial ingredient in their working relationship. "The ability to communicate with each other in a very open, transparent and honest way," is key, says Wells, "so you know exactly where each is coming from."

With that comes confidence and trust, adds Hill. "But it's also important that you actually want to be achieving the same things."

Wells says both parties need to be prepared to express their differences. "And these should be considered. It's not a 'one over the other' or an 'either' role. It's about working in tandem to achieve common objectives and goals. If everyone's focused on that you'll find a way to get there."

There are, he adds, no hidden agendas or deep secrets. "That permeates into the board too so [if] the board knows the chairman and chief executive have a [sound] relationship it gains confidence. I've seen organisations that have been driven apart because of a lack of confidence and understanding between the chairman and the chief executive and then the board doesn't quite know where to go in the whole process."

Hill sees the role of the board and of Wells in particular as providing a "reference point" for his day-to-day activities.

"In a very dynamic and pressured environment--like the one we operate in--there are certain things that need to be really solid, secure and immutable around the values of the organisation and why you exist. To me, more than anything, a board's role is to be the guardian of why you exist and the processes around the promises that the organisation makes.

"For me, the relationship [provides] that sort of foundation and allows me to be aggressive about doing my job. If I think about the relationship it's that sense of 'have we got the mandate, the space and the support to go and do stuff?'. What I find most valuable about John in particular and the board in general is that they provide the challenge and support that allow me to go and do the job. My job is to make things happen. John's job is to make sure it's part of the wider reason why the organisation exists."

While Wells agrees with this view, he also points out that boardroom difficulties can arise--"not in our organisation but generally"--as organisations filter new people into the process of the board.

"You've got to retain the threads that will keep you going in [your set] direction. You don't want to lose them and the board dynamic can change with the infusion of different personalities and people with slightly different views. …

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