Cover Story : Super Sizing Auckland NZ's Biggest Corporate Transformation; the Size of the Task Is Enormous, the Scrutiny Intense -- So, One Year in, How Does Auckland Council CEO Doug McKay Rate His Progress on the Biggest Corporate Transformation in New Zealand's History? Vicki Jayne Asks

New Zealand Management, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Cover Story : Super Sizing Auckland NZ's Biggest Corporate Transformation; the Size of the Task Is Enormous, the Scrutiny Intense -- So, One Year in, How Does Auckland Council CEO Doug McKay Rate His Progress on the Biggest Corporate Transformation in New Zealand's History? Vicki Jayne Asks


Byline: Vicki Jayne

It was never going to be an easy ask. Create a streamlined super city out of eight reluctant fiefdoms, give it vision and direction, ensure operational stability, save money while you're at it -- and don't forget this RWC thing which just happens to fall in the middle of the process... Important to get that bit right.

So one year in -- and with Murray McCully galloping in on his Central Government charger to apparently rescue RWC fortunes from the inadequacies of Auckland's administration -- does Doug McKay regret his decision to be the new Super City's first CEO?

"No, not at all. It's been tough as you can imagine. Any change on this scale would be -- it is the largest corporate organisational transformation in New Zealand's history."

There is no business equivalent -- though one commentator suggested the task would be as complex as trying to merge Fonterra with Telecom. For sheer size, it's daunting: 10,500 people (at the start), eight organisations, no less than 3500 different IT systems, 4000 parks, 72 locations, $30 billion plus on the balance sheet...

Then there are the tasks that had to be accomplished in a tenure less than two years long. McKay ticks them off. Moving to a single rating system based on a common valuation; establishing a new democratic structure; setting up seven new companies -- six of which could earn a place in New Zealand's top 30 in terms of size; putting in place 50+ directors, seven new chairs, seven chief executives.

"Plus we've had to maintain relatively seamless delivery of Council services and functions, deliver the first annual plan with combined budget and rate decisions; deliver the Auckland Plan, our 30-year strategy document; and now we're in the process of delivering our 10-year financial plan. And on top of that we've had a whole lot of operational stuff to do..."

The statistical enormity of it all rolls easily off McKay's tongue. This is a man who evidently relishes a challenge. It is, he owns, central to his management style.

"I do have a huge capacity for work. I've always been very fit and energised by exciting new challenges -- things we don't know the answers to. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning and excited about coming to work.

"I try to imbue a sense of energy, optimism and confidence in the organisation through my example and think people are responding to that."

It's not a job he had envisaged doing. His background is in business including senior executive roles with Lion Nathan, Carter Holt Harvey and Goodman Fielder, a five-year stint heading Sealord and two at the helm of Independent Liquor. He was working in private equity when approached about his current role and took it on not only because he saw it as "a great privilege" but also he felt he had the requisite skills.

"A background of running large organisations with a focus on change and helping business through very challenging situations was appropriate for this job. So I did feel I had the experience and skills to do it."

Moving from private to public sector work was less of a leap than people might think, he says.

"Business has a lot of stakeholders to deal with as well and a lot of politics. It comes in a slightly different package but many of the principles are the same. Also I'm not here to become an expert at Local Government politics -- I'm here to do a very specific job and I'm here because of what I can bring to that task so I'm very focused on that."

A first priority was to attract a top executive team. One of the benefits of a large organisation is that it is of more interest career wise to top performers and that's paid off in the quality of his senior executives, says McKay.

Once he's got the team he wants, his style is to let them run.

"I'm not very hands on. I put a lot of faith and trust in my team. And we've got a good mix here -- from Local Government, Central Government and from private enterprise. …

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Cover Story : Super Sizing Auckland NZ's Biggest Corporate Transformation; the Size of the Task Is Enormous, the Scrutiny Intense -- So, One Year in, How Does Auckland Council CEO Doug McKay Rate His Progress on the Biggest Corporate Transformation in New Zealand's History? Vicki Jayne Asks
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