Paul Catmur: Do we really want the country to be run like a business?


Despite the mixed results achieved by other business leaders turned politicians such as Abraham Lincoln, George W Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, Donald Trump, and our own John Key, many people seem to think a CEO leader would be just what New Zealand Ltd needs now. Christopher Luxon, the new leader of the National Party, seems to fit the bill, but who is he?

Meet the new boss

Luxon appears to be personable, smart, chatty and a decent sort of bloke. He is strongly religious, which could have drawbacks if you’re looking for someone with an open mind to consider matters on their merit without dogma as Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers pointed out.

The sometimes-awkward relationship between religion and politics isn’t unique to Luxon. Jacinda Ardern claims to have rejected the Mormon faith in which she was raised.

As an interesting aside, Mormons believe the Garden of Eden was actually in Jackson County, Missouri. (This is clearly untrue as we all know it’s actually a rugby ground in Central Auckland.)

Fiddle about

Unlike this columnist, Luxon sees “mediocrity” as an indictment and is the word he uses to describe the current government’s Covid response. If he considers that having the lowest number of per capita deaths of any country in the OECD is “mediocre” then I think we’re entitled to hold his leadership to a very high standard.

Encouragingly, Luxon has a realistic side and also admits that the Government’s Covid response in 2020 was actually pretty good.

This sounds like a leap forward in domestic politics from the bad old days (about 10 days ago), when as far as National was concerned every single thing the Government did was wrong even if it was subsequently proved to be right.

My generation

To National supporters, Luxon is an early Christmas present as the party was in such disarray under the previous leadership. Act was looking like the only coherent alternative to Labour, which was a worry for everyone outside of Epsom.

For the left, it’s a mixed blessing because although Luxon should temper the worst excesses of the right, that also suggests that he poses a much stronger threat to Labour at the next election.

Behind blue eyes

Luxon has chosen to look for political capital by sharing his daughter’s difficulty in getting a vaccine passport. Apparently, because she’s been half vaccinated in Australia and half in New Zealand, she’s fallen into an administrative hole. I doubt this will accrue much sympathy from a population still excited at the novelty of going shopping, let alone criss-crossing the Tasman picking up vaccines like duty free. He will probably learn to keep his family as far away from his day job as he can. Unless, of course, he wants to help build her profile as a DJ.

Pinball wizard

Luxon’s CV suggests that he can run an existing business and he appears to be a very able strategist, manager and communicator. And being a successful CEO is not easy. I know, I’ve tried.

According to US magazine Advertising Age, Luxon emerged as a Unilever superstar when he “led an effort to repel Procter & Gamble’s expansion into Europe and Asia of Secret deodorant”. It’s clearly an unusual bar for superstardom at Unilever.

Nonetheless, his success in that role would eventually see him head to Air New Zealand. And while he did a decent job at the airline, I’m not sure that the previous management would agree with the assertion he turned the airline around.

Anyway, anyhow, anywhere

Luxon has in the past declared his wish to be brand manager of New Zealand and sometimes refers to voters as “stakeholders”, which aligns with the fear that he wants to run New Zealand as a business. Most evidence suggests that countries are actually best run as countries. After all, businesses are run for the express benefit of the shareholders and management, and while staff have their uses, most companies would replace them with robots given half a chance. I hope that most people would agree that our goal should be of making all citizens happy, rather than the elites rich.

The real me

With his seven houses and avoidance of alcohol, Luxon is clearly not a typical New Zealander. On the other hand, this isn’t necessarily a disadvantage as few typical New Zealanders would even think of trying to run a country.

While some people consider wealth to be a sign of disconnect from the population, others see it as evidence that an individual knows what they’re doing with money and they would use this knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

Either way, let’s hope that Luxon ushers in a more reasoned approach to opposition politics than we’ve experienced in recent years.

Otherwise, who’s next?

• Paul worked in advertising at a quite good level across New Zealand, the UK and Australia including co-founding an agency in Auckland. This is a series of articles about how to make the best out of maybe not being the best.

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