PROFILE: Christine Rankin - Still Lighting the Flame; from Benefit to Boardroom: The Public Service Leader Once Mainly Known for Her Dangly Earrings and Racy Dress Sense Is Now Set on Transforming New Zealand Private Enterprise. She Tells Brent Leslie about Her New Life

New Zealand Management, April 2009 | Go to article overview

PROFILE: Christine Rankin - Still Lighting the Flame; from Benefit to Boardroom: The Public Service Leader Once Mainly Known for Her Dangly Earrings and Racy Dress Sense Is Now Set on Transforming New Zealand Private Enterprise. She Tells Brent Leslie about Her New Life


Byline: Brent Leslie

Mention the name Christine Rankin to almost anyone and they will know who you mean. ItCOs those earrings and the reputation for short skirts and plunging necklines that remain in the mind, eight years after the kerfuffle and resulting court case that drove her from office as chief executive of Work and Income New Zealand.

But there is a great deal more to Christine Rankin. A survivor from a home where her father could be extremely violent to his four children, poverty was often a factor and educational ambitions severely limited, understandable low self esteem meant her future life was never likely to be easy. An early failed marriage that produced two sons and left her on a benefit before she had even embarked on a career made lifeCOs challenge even tougher. She acknowledges that she could have become a dependent on the welfare agency she eventually came to run.

Instead, she took her chances and rose rapidly through the public service ranks to become CEO of WINZ in 1998, leading a staff of 6000 and responsible for $14 billion of taxpayersCO money. She departed amid the controversy around the booking of $200,000 worth of charter flights to a WINZ conference in Wairakei, made by a staffer without RankinCOs knowledge but for which she accepts full responsibility. Painful though the memories are, she has put those public service days behind her and moved on to the challenge of transforming as many as she can of New ZealandCOs large and small companies.

Four years ago with elder son Matthew, a human resources manager, she formed a management consultancy called the Rankin Group, which they renamed this month to something they regard as more A appropriate.

C[pounds sterling]WeCOre now the Transformational Leadership & Change Company (TLC) because thatCOs what we do,C[yen] said Rankin.

C[pounds sterling]People think that the private sector is a whole lot better than the public sector, but no, it is not. All companies are different and ICOve seen some really great things happening, but often theyCOre just like a good old government department; they have all kinds of rules that stop people achieving and there is a dramatic lack of leadership.

C[pounds sterling]Any leader who locks themselves in an office, closes the door and plays with pieces of paper, has got a problem. I sat in an open plan office for a very long time because people talk to each other and you know whatCOs going on. Managers should be aware of everything and should be fixing a problem as soon as it arises.

C[pounds sterling]Matthew and I go into a company and work with the executive team. We put them through leadership exercises which show how they operate. Then we start to coach them. At the end, those managers are interacting with their people in a completely different way.C[yen]

So why canCOt these companies fix themselves? C[pounds sterling]Sometimes people just get in a rut. TheyCOve been doing things a particular way and while our culture talks about leadership, itCOs just management really. We manage the nuts and bolts and weCOre quite good at that, but in terms of leadership we donCOt take that extra step, and thatCOs the magic that will give you the savings and enable you to produce what you want to produce. Some companies are doing incredibly well but there are a lot that could be doing better. They just need to open their minds to some new ways of doing things.C[yen]

How was she able to achieve the results she did and now transform significant New Zealand companies with a formal education only to School Certificate level? She says a major factor in her rapid rise from the bottom at WINZ lay in good communication with her managers.

C[pounds sterling]Profound things happened to me in the department in the early days. I had no self esteem, I wouldnCOt have said boo, but they kept telling me how fantastic and different I was. …

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PROFILE: Christine Rankin - Still Lighting the Flame; from Benefit to Boardroom: The Public Service Leader Once Mainly Known for Her Dangly Earrings and Racy Dress Sense Is Now Set on Transforming New Zealand Private Enterprise. She Tells Brent Leslie about Her New Life
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