Mood of the Boardroom

I attended the Mood of the Boardroom Breakfast in Auckland organised by APN. The results of a survey of CEOs was presented, and then we had speeches from and questions to Dr Cullen and .

Now some may say why survey CEOs only? Well a CEO can and does have a massive impact on the sucess of a business. Just like a great principal can turn a school around, so can a great CEO. CEOs are where the buck stops. And the CEOs of our top businesses probably have more impact on our country’s economic prosperity than most Ministers.

The Herald reports from the survey (all scores are on a 1 – 5 scale so 3 is average):

  • Key 3.5 vs Clark 3.0 on overall campaign performance (Clark did better than Brash last election in the same survey  so CEOs tend to be quite fair while reflecting their backgrounds)
  • Clark leadership is 3.9 to 3.6 for Key
  • Vision and strategy has Key 4.0 to 2.5 for Clark
  • On trustworthiness Clark is 2.6 and Key 4.0
  • Put’s NZ interests over party has Key 3.8 to Clark 2.3
  • On experience Clark 4.4 vs Key 2.9
  • Economic management Clark 2.5 to 4.2 for Key
  • Overall 90% prefer Key to Clark (last time it was 72% Brash to 28% Clark)

Cullen spoke first and got a great laugh when he said “Welcome to both of my supporters in the audience, even if I had to pay your airfares to be here.”

He then spoke about the three Is and three Ss that he says are crucial:

1. Innovation
2. Infrastructure
3. International Connections
4. Skills
5. Savings
6. Sustainability

On the deposit guarantee scheme he said he doesn’t like doing it, in fact that it was the second worst option. But the worst option was to do nothing. He is worried about the moral hazard it creates.

Mentioned (ever so casually) that US Secretary of State Condi Rice would be calling him later that day to brief him on what is planned for the G20 meeting. The US incidentally is playing a real leadership role – even the US Federal Reserve is doing a $15 billion cash-swap facility with the NZ Reserve Bank – something not covered in much detail in the media considering how extraordinary it is. Uncle Dubya is helping Helen out 🙂

Cullen did have a little snipe at some of the business leaders telling them that it was no time for the “top end of town” to be lecturing Government, when the Gordon Browns are bailing out the Gordon Geckos. Went on to say they need to work together, and wants to sit down with business groups after the election re the planned December mini-budget.

English started off with a scathing attack on Labour saying look at the front page of Herald as to whether Government is qualified to lead. That instead of focusing of helping they are working on smearing the Leader of Opposition by innuendo and influence. Said it was a disgrace and why Labour are not qualified, despite Dr Cullen’s best efforts.

Bill also asked what sort of strategy is it to say trust us and after the election we will tell you what we will do.

He said that National trusts business to innovate and to get through recession as they have previous ones.

He gave Cullen credit for include the Opposition in briefings on financial stabilisation and shares Cullen’s misgivings. He said the Australian guarantee is unravelling a bit and they should learn from that.

He said a National Government is not going to whip out rug from under people as we go into recession – people need security. Also that it was important not to over-react to fiscal outlook. The key is to get through the recession and lift long term prospects for economy.

He said the combined tax cuts would be the largest fiscal stimulus in 15 years.

Highlighted how Clark has said National’s borrowing for infrastructure was reckless, dangerous and gambling with future and then two weeks ago announced similar policy to National’s.

English said changes in attitude as important as policy and that having Key as PM will be important. Said he is the most relentlessly optimistic person Bill has ever met and that is why hundreds turned up in Invercargill to meet him (Winston got 50).

Bill concluded “That is why I’m voting National.” Cullen offered response and quipped “Well I’m not voting National.”. Was very funny.

Bill also called Cullen only economically literate member of the Labour Party.

Someone asked for a grand coalition and Dr Cullen said a recession is no reason not have give people a choice, and it is one of a moderate centre-left or a moderate centre-right Government. Nice to have him confirm National as moderate centre-right.

Herald Economic Editor asked a great question to English on why this recession is different from previous recessions that one needs to intervene for people who have ignored all the warnings about inflated house prices, and don’t take on a mortgage you can’t afford. His column yesterday makes the same point.

He also asked what is the point of ghettoizing the Cullen Fund? I thought Bill was rather unconvincing in his reply to both points – probably because he somewhat agrees with Fallow privately – but in politics you never get the luxury of agreeing with 100% of your party’s policies – not even the Leader. Holyoake once said he only agreed with 80% of what his Government did. Mind you with Muldoon it might have been 100% 🙂

Cullen said that once you break that line of non involvement in the Super Fund, you have no defence to further involvements. Highlighted how the Greens support National’s policy on the Super Fund and they would like to invest it in many pet projects – none of which probably have much of a rate of return.

English did well though on Fast Forward and he had even Cullen nodding as he said the private sector is yet to commit a dollar for fast forward. English said the fast forward fund is borrowing money to then reinvest it in bonds. The structure is stupid. He supports actual research and National will put more money into fast forward projects, but not through the structure of a dedicated fund.

Overall both did very well I though. Both knew their stuff, agreed with each other on a bit but also exposed the weaknesses on both sides.

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