Magazine article New Zealand Management

World Class New Zealand: The High-Achieving, Humble Knight; the Rt Hon Sir Donald McKinnon ONZ GCVO: Supreme Award -- Sponsored by Air New Zealand

Magazine article New Zealand Management

World Class New Zealand: The High-Achieving, Humble Knight; the Rt Hon Sir Donald McKinnon ONZ GCVO: Supreme Award -- Sponsored by Air New Zealand

Article excerpt

Byline: Reg Birchfield

Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Commonwealth Secretary-General, Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, nine honorary doctorates -- the list of achievements and accolades is impressive, and that's just for starters.

A lesser-known entry on Sir Don McKinnon's CV is his teaching of communication skills to Paremoremo prison inmates for around 10 years, coaching their debating teams to victory in local competitions. His personal humility contributed greatly to his success as a global diplomat. When asked by a journalist if he wished to be addressed as "Sir Don", he suggested that "Hey, you" would work just as well.

Sir Don is widely respected for being able to bring out the best in people. He is internationally recognised for his ability to deal with tough situations and difficult people; anyone from third-world despots and fractious armed rebels to warring office factions and unruly politicians. It's these skills for which he is recognised by this year's World Class New Zealand judges.

Sir Don is "humbled" by his award. "I look at the amazing people who have gone before and frankly, I don't see myself as being in the same category of accomplishment. It is a bit of a surprise really."

So does he think New Zealand and New Zealanders should aspire to be world class? "Yes. It's good to have aspirations but it's also important that we keep our feet firmly on the ground," he cautions. "There are things about which New Zealand cannot take so much pride. Child abuse for example. There are areas in which we are perhaps among the world's best. But there are other areas in which we must do a whole better. And we should be demanding that we do them better."

Sir Don's most fervent wish for New Zealand is to catch up with Australia's per capita income. "We will suffer a continual drain of our best, most skilled people across the Tasman if we don't."

New Zealand is viewed "very positively" around the world, he says, but the important reality is that "we have drifted behind Australia by about one percent a year for the past 40 years" and that is having negative consequences.

"Changing this trend will take real political leadership," he adds conceding that the government has already identified the problem and promised to reverse it. …

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