From the flight deck at Air NZ to the cream of the country’s companies?

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.

The NZ Herald  reports:

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.”



One thought on “From the flight deck at Air NZ to the cream of the country’s companies?

  1. Good points. Luxon will be great for Fonterra with his bottom line focus. He can run an airline which is a notoriously difficult thing to do and it will have been good practice for Fonterra. It’s a more complicated beast than an airline as it’s not about share price nearly as much as it is about farm gate milk price. However, it is in need of the sharpening that Luxon has given Air NZ so let’s see what happens.


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