Magazine article New Zealand Management

Face to Face: Peter Chrisp -- Focus and Aspiration; New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's New CEO Peter Chrisp on His Leadership Stategy

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Face to Face: Peter Chrisp -- Focus and Aspiration; New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's New CEO Peter Chrisp on His Leadership Stategy

Article excerpt

Byline: Ruth Le Pla

Google 10 pages worth of 'Peter Chrisp' and you learn more about the British author of Dinosaur Detectives than about the new chief executive of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE). Tracking him down is like trying to pin down the invisible man. Invisible to me, that is. When we sit down in NZTE's Auckland offices after six months of requests for a chat he tells me he's already fronted up to 40 New Zealand companies and 30 public officials, visited seven countries and met 382 of his staff. That was the tally in his first four months on the job.

He tells me he hadn't realised NZ Management had been asking for so long to talk with him. I believe him. The Peter Chrisp heading up our government's national economic development agency is a WYSIWYG chief executive complete with a workmanlike CV and the practical mien of a man who's spent the best part of 20 years in the engineering, manufacturing, and pulp and paper industries.

From early beginnings as an educator with the New Zealand Engineers Union, he's worked his way up through a series of management roles with Fletcher Challenge Paper and, later, its purchaser Norske Skog. He's covered off everything from training and development, supply chain, operations, and general manager's and regional president's roles in a career that's now taken him full circle back to Wellington after shifts to Kawerau, Tauranga, Oslo and Sydney.

These roles are linked and each underscored, he says, by a "reasonably big play".

"There's always been something reasonably significant going on in the portfolio that I've had: whether it was selling our ships when I was looking after trans-Tasman logistics, or closing capacity and reinvesting when I was running the mill in Kawerau, or a big productivity, lean-manufacturing global programme for Norske Skog.

"Working with people is my foundation stone: being able to get a lot out of people, to lead people: that's been a common thread."

Chrisp says he was "perfectly happy" in Sydney running a billion-dollar company exporting throughout Australasia until shoulder-tapped to apply for the role vacated by founding NZTE chief executive Tim Gibson.

Coming back to New Zealand was the toughest decision he's ever made. "But having made it, I haven't looked back. It feels very natural to be here. We bought a house the other day. It's the first time in 16 years we've owned a house. We've moved 16 times in 16 years."

The low media profile, he says, is not deliberate but rather the result of a pragmatic focus on "what needs to be done for the job".

"I don't feel hungry for profile. If it's required for the impact that this organisation needs to have then I'll get a profile. But a lot of things we need to do are quite tangible, concrete and practical."

One of Chrisp's first actions when he took over at the end of August last year, was to shift his office into the open plan area. "I wanted to get out into a visible transparent environment." He blogs his activities every week updating staff on board and senior leadership meetings, visits to customers and what he's learnt. He carries a camera and blogs his shots.

"I'm just trying to open up the organisation and make it more transparent. I'm saying to people if in doubt, act. Do what you think is right."

Chrisp says the initial getting-to-know-you sessions with stakeholders, customers, markets and staff were part of his programme to "deeply sample the organisation". He's been in listening mode, wrapping his mind round the "complex organisation that's not like a normal private sector company with a board, a strict commercial driver and a bottom line. There's not the usual [commercial] rudder to let you know which way you're going. Here you've got a more complex set of accountabilities and measurement of results is really difficult. So working out whether you are successful or not is never easy. …

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