More than 100 business leaders share their view of the country’s Covid response in the New Zealand Herald’s annual Mood of the Boardroom
Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson have taken a pummelling in the 2022 Mood of the Boardroom CEOs survey.
Confidence in their leadership is on the wane as the Ardern Government appears unable to achieve major
cut-through with business and has difficulty in executing major reforms.
But beyond the issues affecting business confidence — skills and labour shortages, inflation and geopolitics, which New Zealand shares with many nations — is a slump in the national mood.
“We have become a bludgeoned compliant people,” said a private equity boss. “New Zealand needs the independent spirit to thrive.”
An automotive firm chief blamed apathy. “We have lost what we are — our number 8 wire, and sense of inclusiveness as a nation — we need to stop the race-based propaganda and avoidance of a proper conversation on what it means to be a New Zealander now and in the future.”
Mainfreight group managing director Don Braid said a major issue facing the nation was the cost of bureaucracy.
“There is a lack of direction and sure-footed policy to combat the failings around health, education, housing and crime. Stop the political posturing and interference. Focus on the core fundamentals and then get out of the way.”
The 2022 Mood of the Boardroom CEOs survey was taken in association with BusinessNZ.
There were 108 respondents — 90 CEOs and 18 directors — to the full Herald survey.
A shorter survey that was sent to BusinessNZ’s membership attracted 102 primarily SME respondents.
There was considerable commonality between the “big end of town” and smaller firms, with skills and labour shortages and immigration settings topping domestic concerns.
“New Zealand is falling behind in the chase for skilled workers and needs to urgently reset its labour and immigration settings,” said Kirk Hope, BusinessNZ CEO. “Uncertainty needs to be removed from policy.”
Rockstar PM wanes
Ardern is viewed as a rockstar prime minister on the global stage.
The PM’s scorecard shows CEOs accorded her a top rating of 3.56/5 for how she leveraged her personal brand for NZ business’s advantage internationally.
This reflects the doors she opens while leading business missions offshore, and the splash she makes in international media.
Her administration of the National Security and Intelligence portfolio and the way in which she stands up for New Zealand’s values and interests with respect to China are applauded.
But on three crucial criteria — her political performance as prime minister, leading and delivering on transformative change, and building confidence with the business community — she was downrated at 2.45/5, 1.7/5 and 1.62/5 respectively. She has clearly lost ground with chief executives in the past 12 months.
Said Deloitte chair Thomas Pippos: “Delivering impactful and positive change is much harder than aspiring to do so.”
The issue for chief executives is a failure to appropriately execute electoral promises.
EMA CEO Brett O’Riley observed that it was a “disappointing year with little to show in terms of progress with the material changes the economy and community needs.”
Others commented on how Ardern has lost more credibility in the months since the last survey. “Definitely waning,” said a banker. “But if you had asked about communication skills I would have put her off the charts.”
While the country’s borders are now open again and Covid restrictions diminished, the Government’s response rankles.
“The Prime Minister should commence a Royal Commission of Inquiry into her Government’s Covid response,” said independent director Craig Stobo. “Her politicisation of health policy by separating New Zealanders, incarcerating New Zealanders in their houses or in MIQ, locking up cities and regions, and discriminating against workers and vilifying New Zealanders who lawfully protest makes a mockery of kindness.”
Others were charitable. “This is a tough time to be a sitting second-term PM,” said a property CEO. “Governments are always going to be unpopular when the cost of living is skyrocketing and the pressure of post-Covid reality is mounting.
“When I took a trip to the US in June, during which I met a group of international businesspeople, they were unanimous in preferring Ardern to Trump, Biden, Johnson or Morrison. And when offered a swap, I realised I wouldn’t trade. So, perhaps not perfect; but still less bad than many other options.
“Which I think is what the electorate is still telling us in the preferred prime minister segment of the polls.”