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Highlights of the 2012 CEO CFO conference

The NZICA CEO CFO conference was held in Auckland on the 21 June, with the theme Turbocharging New Zealand’s Recovery.

Intergen had a stand at the conference, with our CEO, Tony Stewart, and I attending the day’s sessions.

Most of the speakers were of a very high quality, and here I touch on my own personal highlights from the conference.

The first speaker was Dominick Stephens, Chief Economist from the BNZ. It was interesting to compare his message to that of Nick Tuffley, Chief Economist for the ASB, who addressed the Intergen Board last week. Both messages were very similar – Europe will muddle through, with about a 10% chance of Eurogeddon, which will lead to another worldwide melt down. Australia is definitely two paced economy and, unfortunately for New Zealand, the cities are where most of the tourists come, from so that will be suppressed this year. The outlook is good for New Zealand, with a low but steady growth forecast. The high exchange rate, as usual, is a hindrance for exporters and they see the near-term USD: NZD rate being in the low 80s.

For me the most impressive speaker was Geraint Martin, who is the Chief Executive of Counties Manukau District Health Board. He was impressive for a number of reasons. Firstly he spoke for an hour about the innovation at the DHB without PowerPoint; secondly he was a very polished presenter with a good mix of humour, seriousness and enlightenment; but, most impressively, it was obvious that he was passionate about what he does. The goal is for the DHB to be the number one Health Board in NZ by 2015.

Geraint spoke about the initiatives in the community (mainly South Auckland, which is part of the catchment area) to get kids to take science as a subject, which will lead onto a life in the health industry. He spoke about the ‘granny test’ (that no one would be treated if it was not at a level that you would want administered on yourself or your granny), how they got the A&E waiting time down from up to 11 hours and being treated in a corridor to no more than six hours, with no one waiting in the corridor. It was clear that human dignity is just as important the the DHB as saving money. Geraint has been able to introduce many New Zealand-first initiatives that have both saved money and improved the quality of care that the patients receive. It was truly an inspirational presentation.

One of the other highlights for me was to hear from Jonathan Ling. Jonathan has just announced his retirement from Fletcher Building after six years as the CEO. Over those six years, Fletcher has experienced the GFC, Queensland floods and Christchurch earthquakes, all after making a $1b purchase of Formica at the peak of the market. Since then he has helped turn that purchase into a break-even position, despite the depressed US housing market, and made another $1b purchase for Crane products in Australia. I have admired Jonathan as an astute leader for a while and I was not disappointed with his presentation. As with many of the presenters he was quite open about the financial position of the business and the challenges that he faces.

Two things in particular stood out. One was just how important safety is to them. Workplace accidents obviously cost them money and they have managed, through a combination of training, cultural change and constant monitoring, to get their accident rate down to industrial low levels. In fact, some of their sites have been accident-free for over a year.

The second was how they actually measure the leadership team. They have a very open and competitive league table. And being on the bottom is not an issue in itself; how you get off the bottom is the issue. Much like our scorecards, a red starts a conversation which is all about how you are going to get off the bottom and execute your plan.

Tony Gibson, the CEO of Ports of Auckland, let us see their business model and why it is important they have a change in the way the labour force works at the port.

The final speaker was Brian Roche, CE of NZ Post Group. He has an interesting portfolio of companies – Kiwibank, couriers and a postage service that is in rapid decline. His message was that NZ Post needs to innovate or die. I know we are doing our bit with our engagement at Kiwibank to make sure they continue.

This is the second year of the CEO CFO conference run by the NZ Institute of Chartered Accountants and, much like the CFO Conference, which is into its third year, signals a maturity in the New Zealand conference scene for senior leaders in business. I was unable to attend last year’s conference, however, given the content and quality of this year’s event, I will most certainly be endeavouring to be a regular attendee from now on.

Posted by: Murray Newman, Chief Financial Officer | 25 June 2012

Tags: Economy, financial services, CEO CFO conference

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