Todd Muller, the new National leader

Those who have known for a long time will not be surprised he has become Leader of the National Party. He was talked about as a future leader when he was in his 20s. I even blogged in 2014 that he would be Prime Minister one day, when his candidacy for Bay of Plenty was announced.

Todd, like many Ministers in Labour, was a parliamentary staffer in his 20s. He could have become an MP in his 20s. He was almost literally offered numerous seats in the Waikato Region. Todd had been an extremely popular staffer for the local party, and also a staffer to Jim Bolger.

Bolger was and is incredibly fond of Todd. Todd probably ended up spending more time on the road with Jim than anyone else. I think it would be fair to say he saw Todd as his political protege, so no surprise he endorsed him this week.

But Todd turned them all down. He didn’t want to be someone whose only job had been in politics. He left Wellington and went to work for one of our largest exporters, Zespri.

He had a number of senior roles at Zespri and then took up a role as Chief Executive of Apata, which provides post-harvest services to Zespri. This was a reasonable significant mid sized company with around $30 million turnover. So Todd knows what it means to be in business, to have to provide good services to clients so you can pay the bills. To have positive cashflow. To lead a team.

After a spell as CEO of Apata he was hired by Fonterra and shot up the ranks to become a member of the Executive Team reporting to the CEO. He was reportedly on an $800,000 salary there and took a huge paycut to become an MP.

This is what he brings to the leadership. An extensive background and understanding of business that is lacking in Government. And not just any sector of business but the primary industries sector. Our two major export earners have been agriculture and tourism. Tourism is dead for at least a couple of years, so our export earnings are more reliant that ever before on our primary industries.

I’ve personally known Todd for around 25 years, from when he was President of the Waikato Students Union. Waikato is a pretty lefty campus so it is quite an achievement for a then member of the Young Nationals to be elected President.

Todd was on the Young Nationals Executive with me and as you would expect in the early 90s there was quite a battle between the drys and the wets on economic policy. Todd was always the moderate voice in the middle, so we nicknamed him “Moistie – a little bit dry and a little bit wet” 🙂

Taking over the leadership four months before an election with a 30% deficit in the polls is daunting. His challenge is to connect with New Zealanders and convince them that a Government led by him will be better at providing jobs to New Zealanders than the incumbent Government.

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