Shane Jones might trample over ministerial conventions but his comments have resonated beyond Wellington and especially in the regions. First he had a swipe at Air NZ which, apart from the main trunk Auckland-Wellington-Christchurch, is expensive. Then he hammered Fonterra, voicing what many, if not most, dairy farmers would say, about the giant co-op.
Now, if reports circulating in the farming community are confirmed, Jones might have a dual target since Air NZ’s Chris Luxon is being mooted as a possible replacement for Theo Spierings as CEO at Fonterra.
Luxon has run Air NZ since 2013 and has burnished his reputation as one of NZ’s top business leaders.
Though Shane Jones mightn’t accept it, Luxon has a leadership record which could take Fonterra where it needs to go: importantly not only as NZ’s most significant multinational company – perhaps its only true one – and recognised as such in public perception.
Theo Spierings came to Fonterra in 2011, succeeding the Canadian Andrew Ferrier. He had an outstanding career in the dairy industry in Holland and he has succeeded in driving forward the big co-op’s added value business which now brings in 30% of its revenue.
But this is not enough for ministers like Jones, Winston Peters and Grant Robertson who have all been beating the drum the dairy industry must add more value, rather than put more cows on the land.
They forget it was a Labour government which leg-roped the dairy processing industry when Fonterra was formed by insisting it take all the milk its suppliers could produce. That meant huge outlays into milk driers to absorb peak seasonal flows—even if some of the investment was needed for only a few weeks of the year.
Spierings, for all his ability and experience, lacked the kind of communication skills the Fonterra job needs. Luxon, by comparison, has a diverse range of skills: besides his role as CEO of Air NZ where he has racked up record profits, he worked for 18 years for Unilever Canada in a variety of theatres including as CEO.
What Fonterra needs is a boss who can communicate just what the company means to the country. Let’s see if the speculation is correct and that he’s in the running for the dairy job.
UPDATE: It looks like the answer to our headline question is “no“, although he was approached about the position at Fonterra.
“Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon says he is not interested in the top job at Fonterra and remains ‘very committed’ to the airline”.
He told Air New Zealand staff in a newsletter this week:
”While I was approached about the role, I want to end the speculation and reassure everyone that I remain very committed to Air New Zealand and to working hard with all of you on converting the tremendous opportunities we have in front of us.”