Outside the Wellington Beltway, not much attention has been paid to two key appointments in the state sector. Both posts go to outstanding women leaders who for several years have fulfilled the early promise they showed in the public service.
After a successful career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where she has been serving Deputy Secretary, Multilateral and Legal Affairs Group, Bernadette Cavanagh will take over as CEO of the Ministry of Culture & Heritage from February 1. There had been speculation Cavanagh, a daughter of former PM Jim Bolger, could be a candidate to succeed Brook Barrington as head of MFAT when he moves over to the DPMC.
The other key appointment by State Sector Commissioner Peter Hughes is to the post of Comptroller of Customs, a role which has assumed increasing importance because of the reliance on border security and management in protecting the NZ economy.
Christine Stevenson will take over as Comptroller of Customs and CEO, NZ Customs Service, on January 1. Hughes says Stevenson is a public servant with a depth of experience who has managed large functions and operations requiring strong leadership. He cites her proven track record of delivering.
Point of Order believes both Stevenson and Cavanagh are likely, after terms in their new roles, to be promoted to even more senior roles in the state sector.
Stevenson is currently the Acting Comptroller of Customs, a job she has held since July 2017, although nominally she is Deputy CEO, Corrections, which she has held since January 2011. She was also the Independent Ministerial Advisor to the Minister Responsible for the Earthquake Commission, Megan Woods, on speeding up the resolution of outstanding insurance claims arising from the Canterbury earthquakes.
The Comptroller of Customs leads a department of about 1200 staff. In 2018/19, the Customs operating budget was $230m. Hughes says Stevenson is a strong public service leader who leads with integrity and is driven by a spirit of service.
Earlier in her career Stevenson held a variety of senior roles at the Ministry of Social Development from 1999 and 2004, including CIO and CFO. Between 2004 and 2009 she was Deputy CEO, People Capability and Resources at the ministry. She has attended the Stanford Executive Programme (Strategy and Organisation) and the ANZSOG Executive Fellows Programme. She is a Chartered Accountant and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Victoria University of Wellington.
In naming Cavanagh as CEO of the Culture and Heritage Ministry, Hughes noted she is a career public servant with a record of delivery in complex and high-pressure environments.
“She is a strong and principled leader who is committed to serving NZ through public service. She is experienced in working with Ministers and leaders in diverse sectors.”
She has had a successful career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, holding a number of overseas posts as well as significant leadership roles, including leading former Prime Minister the Helen Clark’s campaign for appointment to the role of UN Secretary-General. Cavanagh was the Acting Deputy Permanent Representative at NZ’s Mission to the UN in New York and represented NZ as the High Commissioner to Singapore.
Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, leads the government’s work in the arts, heritage, broadcasting and sports sectors. It provides advice on policy, legislation and sector development to ministers, while collaborating and partnering with NZ’s culture and heritage sectors.
The ministry funds and monitors 15 entities. It has an operating budget of $323m.
Hughes says Cavanagh is a leader who instils trust and confidence and is able to get the best out of people.
“She knows how to build relationships. Her expertise at the international level, and experience in navigating complex issues and delivering results have prepared her for this new role. Cavanagh is an intelligent and compassionate Public Service leader motivated by the spirit of service. She is well equipped to head up the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.”