Diving Not Skiving: When CEO Appointments Take Time: Top CEO Skills Are Going Begging in New Zealand. Why Is the Employment Market for Our Top Executives Narrowing-And How Does This Impact Local Leadership and Economic Growth?

By Bland, Vikki | New Zealand Management, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Diving Not Skiving: When CEO Appointments Take Time: Top CEO Skills Are Going Begging in New Zealand. Why Is the Employment Market for Our Top Executives Narrowing-And How Does This Impact Local Leadership and Economic Growth?


Bland, Vikki, New Zealand Management


James Munro, former CEO of supermarket bank Superbank and ex general strategy manager for TVNZ, is diving with stingrays, finishing his DiveMaster certification and spending quality time with his young family whilst keeping a watchful eye on the New Zealand executive employment market. Like many experienced senior executives, Munro knows there's plenty of top talent in New Zealand and only a small pool of positions; he also knows that CEOs who want to live and work here need to stay in touch with recruiters and personal networks, and be able to bide their time.

"All jobs require compromise, just like life. What I won't compromise on is that I want to work for, and with, people I respect," says Munro.

Munro, who has financial qualifications and international management experience in the media, finance and retail industries, says he returned to New Zealand some years ago after passing up financially lucrative opportunities in the US and UK for a better family life.

"I knew New Zealand was not the place for CEOs intent on career advancement and large salaries. The population is too small, there's a low concentration of industries beyond the primary produce sector, and no broad path for large numbers of executives," says Munro.

That said, Munro says he found opportunities in New Zealand smaller than he realised and had to refocus his goals to suit the market. What followed were "two good steps backwards" in his career path, followed by a redundancy from TVNZ and another from Foodstuffs joint venture Superbank earlier this year. However, there were no hard feelings, says Munro.

"I was made redundant [from Superbank] along with around 50 people, but it was the right decision for management to make and I supported it," says Munro.

He says good leadership opportunities take a long time to gestate in New Zealand--a conversation started on one day can take three months to develop into an opportunity, and the glut of talented candidates on the market results in a high level of competition.

"I have missed some really good roles where I have been in the last two or three [candidates] and that is quite heart rending. But anything good in life is worth working towards," says Munro.

Munro is nothing if not philosophical, but his good credentials probably won't save him from a six to 12 month wait for the right private sector position, say recruiters--the average time it takes to place an experienced CEO into a medium or large size organisation in New Zealand. That wait is between four and six months for positions in the less attractive public sector.

WHERE ARE THE GOOD JOBS? Recruiters, CEOs and employment analysts all attribute the dearth of large CEO roles in New Zealand to a short list of key issues. One is the generally small size of the New Zealand business environment (exacerbated, say economic analysts, by a lack of savings by New Zealanders and a corresponding lack of investment in private and publicly listed companies). Another is the so-called 'Australianisation' of New Zealand businesses, or the buy-up of New Zealand organisations by Australian equity investors who must find somewhere to invest the billions being generated by Australian superannuation funds weekly.

The resulting acquisitions and mergers are widely considered to be reducing the number of executive positions available to New Zealand CEOs. Local middle managers are reporting back to Australian-based parents, or the parent company has placed an Australian CEO in a New Zealand position.

Jo Brosnahan, chairman for Leadership New Zealand and former CEO for the Auckland Regional Council, says while she is happily immersed in Leadership NZ and a directorship with LandCare Research, she sympathises with experienced CEOs looking for good opportunities in New Zealand.

"The scary part is that if you are a really talented CEO and want to stay in New Zealand, the likelihood is that you won't be able to. …

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