Siege of the Marryatt: Tony’s date with destiny

INVESTIGATE FEB/MAR 2012

Christchurch City’s CEO is facing growing public anger over his justification for a 14.4%, $68,000 payrise while the city is struggling to rebuild. But one man who’s worked with Tony Marryatt in the past is former Kiwi Airlines CEO turned Hamilton councillor EWAN WILSON, who recounted his dealings with Marryatt in this extract from his recent biography, Help, My Plane’s On Fire

David Braithwaite came from great Waikato stock. His pedigree included a father who had once been the mayor of the city of Hamilton and his mother had also made a great contribution as a city councillor. His grandfather had been the mayor of Dunedin. Jack Braithwaite – a relative of David’s – was executed in France in 1916 during the Great War for mutiny and was subsequently pardoned under the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act. The poor man had simply been suffering from shell shock. David himself had served as a councillor and considered by some a successful businessman who was ruthless but had a propensity to make money. He had great aspirations but in the end David’s mayoralty was a shambles in my opinion. Some called the whole council dysfunctional. However, in reality this was furthest from the truth. The council and its staff did great work over its 3 years despite Braithwaite.

Braithwaite himself in his autobiography states that it was all down to an intransigent CEO, in the form of Tony Marryatt, and a biased media. Tony Marryatt is one of New Zealand’s top local government CEO’s. In my view of him, he’s pragmatic, smart, manipulative and calculating, which you can roughly translate as ‘he has the cunning of a fox and the political morals of an alley cat’. Most importantly, however, he understands the dynamics that are at play within any council in New Zealand. He knew that his power, which was huge, was nonetheless at the whim of the Councillors, although he had even managed to mitigate our ability to rein him in as his employment contract meant that if we were to let him go the payout would be huge. It also has to be said of Marryatt that his skills would be less successful in the commercial arena, in my view, as with councils in tight positions there’s always recourse to hitting up ratepayers for over-runs or unexpected events, whereas in private enterprise one doesn’t have that luxury.

The key media outlet in Hamilton is the Waikato Times, its editorial direction driven by a hardnosed, highly articulate man by the name of Bryce Jones who is in the business of selling newspapers but not at any cost. Accuracy and integrity were important values. His man on the spot was the civic reporter Geoff Taylor. Taylor was smart and showed incredible understanding of local politics. More importantly he had built great relationships with individual councillors. In all of my dealings with him he was hard but fair. He would always hunt out the issues and showed no bias. This did not mean that we always loved what he wrote. In fact at times it was the opposite, but his reports were balanced and from the media you can’t ask for more than that.

Braithwaite in my opinion misunderstood his role as mayor and then showed no ability to adjust to the dynamics. A mayor in NZ is best described as 1st among equals, unlike the American system where a mayor has more executive power; here in NZ those executive powers are held by the CEO of the city. The council including the mayor decide the strategic direction and broad policies but their only employee, the CEO, manages all of the day to day running of the council. In other words to be a great mayor you need to be able to impart a vision and nurture and cajole your fellow councillors to get things done. The art of compromise is a must and having a good relationship with the CEO is mandatory.

The other key element is the ability to count. In Hamilton’s case Braithwaite just needed to have 7 votes including himself to get things through. In my opinion, Braithwaite either lacked these skills or chose never to use them, because it was a rare day when the numbers stacked up his way.

When Braithwaite was elected I have no doubt at all Marryatt would have met with him as soon as possible and recommended who within council should have the key positions in each of the portfolios and more money. In 2001 the simple fact was the majority of the re elected councillors did not want councillor Dave Macpherson in any chairman role. Macpherson had managed to get offside with many during the previous electoral term, so when Braithwaite arrived on scene as mayor he at least found early common ground with other councillors on ring-fencing Macpherson. He had 12 councillors supporting him including myself, the only one not was councillor Dave Macpherson, who was clearly in political Coventry.

But what happened over the next few months spoke volumes about David Braithwaite and his lack of real leadership qualities, to my mind. He systematically destroyed the relationships with most of the very people he needed to run an effective mayoralty. Did anyone else play a role in Braithwaite demise – NO, but some took great joy in highlighting his predisposition for tripping himself up. At the inquest on Braithwaite’s political career, I would quite happily stand before the coroner to argue my viewpoint: “The man was so out of touch, your honour. It wasn’t political murder, but death by self-inflicted stupidicide”.

 

The Councillors

Councillor Dave Macpherson is not someone to ever underestimate. A socialist at heart but with a contradictory flare for commerce. Beneath his solid and rather plump frame lies a very quick wit and a tongue, which could clip a hedge from 12 metres. He is a good orator and very clever at bringing things you have said in the past to haunt you. He was known as “Mongrel Mac” and was one of the few whose bite was worse than his bark, and his bark was pretty damn good.

The story goes that Mac was once knocking on doors while campaigning and was bitten by the property’s dog. His opponents commented to the media that Macpherson was fine, just a little shaken, but the health of the dog was unknown after biting Macpherson.

If however you are an underdog and have a real issue that needs fixing, there was no one who would work harder to try to sort it out. Passionate about Hamilton and a great advocate he would happily share his knowledge and wisdom with fellow councillors. The art was in deciphering it. Get on his wrong side and you would pay. I recall two first hand experiences with Macpherson where I was left blooded. One was the kidnapping of all my Rugby World Cup tickets. The world cup in 2003 was in Australia, and to be able to order tickets on line you needed an address in Australia. At the time Macka and I were seeing eye to eye and he suggested we use his sister’s address in Melbourne. Unfortunately, for me I lost the address and when I went to ask him for the details again he was suffering from a selective form of amnesia and could not recall any of the details. This was because I had gone back on my word about not trying to remove him from his chairmanship. Obviously at the time he had upset my finer senses and I had sided in a debate with Braithwaite for his removal. It never got the numbers but Macka was out to get me.

In the end I got the tickets a few hours before the game. He was always a tough negotiator.

These personality traits had led him to become unpopular with his fellow councillors during the Rimmington mayoralty. Rimmington, being the strategic thinker, was smart enough at least to ensure that Macpherson was kept very close and had a number of roles.

Naturally, that did not please a number of senior councillors within the Rimmington elite. However with Braithwaite coming to power, the majority of the returning councillors ensured via Marryatt that

Macpherson had no senior role.

With Braithwaite destroying relationships left, right and centre over shady deals concerning the overruns at the new rugby stadium, which his own finance company was involved with and which became the subject of an Auditor-General’s investigation, and then Dave Macpherson’s quick wit and uncanny ability to publish comical leaflets and circulate them, Braithwaite’s mayoralty was on a slippery road. But despite this, from what I could see Tony Marryatt the chief executive kept up right to the very end offering Braithwaite considerable guidance, of which none was ever taken up.

When councillor Jody Garrett, a Braithwaite supporter and the then-chairman of the powerful Strategic Committee, was found to have broken into the councillors’ bar on the 9th floor Braithwaite was very slow in removing Cr Garrett and then he took over the role himself. This was not at all good governance in my view as the Strategic Committee, like all other committees, would report to the full Council, which the mayor chaired, so it was highly unusual to have a mayor chairing a lower committee and the full council.

Politics can be ruthless and it is not for the thin skinned. To this day I am sure that David Braithwaite is a loving father and a great husband and a successful businessman. He however, was a poor mayor in my view.

Peter Bos is a tall man of Dutch ancestry. His motorbike handle moustache is a prominent feature on his face and is grown longer than normal to disguise the fact that he is missing a number of his front teeth. His character is unique; a wonderful but often-crude sense of humour and scant regard when you might see both. His favourite mantra is “Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense dancing. Those who lack humour are without judgement and should be trusted with nothing.” He was always prepared to recognise that there can be two points of view, his and the one that is probably wrong.

He however probably did more to ensure that the rugby stadium was built than most. He had unflinching loyalty to Tony Marryatt the CEO and was always willing to stand up to people when he thought they were wrong. As a 29 year Territorial Army officer he was passionate about ANZAC day and always ensured that the pay he received for working that day was given to a local RSA. Despite this he did not have much time for pomp and ceremony, something that David Braithwaite really enjoyed. This would often lead to clashes. Peter and I had periods of conflict but on many issues we found common ground.

Roger Hennebry was one of my closest friends. Of Irish pedigree and good looks he was always known for ensuring any grey hair on his head was quickly returned to its natural colour through the magic of hair product. Hennebry made his money from running his joinery business successfully. The sort of millionaire who just confirms that in New Zealand tradesmen can do VERY well.

We often did not agree on issues but Hennebry is as honest as the day is long and he would be willing to talk issues over. He worked very hard for what he believed was right. His passion for wanting to keep rates down is legendary. How he went about it with his public comments sometimes needed refining. He had at times the glass-is-half-empty mantra, but his word is his bond and in politics that means something.

Pippa Mahood, is a long serving veteran of local politics. You could happily describe her as a matriarch. She continues to be a passionate supporter of the need for community services. She however was well known for making long and disjointed speeches, which periodically would leave people, including myself, wondering exactly what she had said or which way she was voting.

John Gower would always describe himself as a simple country cop. Some of that is true. He ran as a member of the Hamilton First ticket while still being a local city cop known for how few people he had arrested but was loved in the community.

He quickly changed his alliances away from Hamilton First and supporting Braithwaite after David was not at all supportive about Gower’s idea of creating a city-funded community street patrol to try and improve safety following a number of alarming incidents that the local police were struggling to manage. Braithwaite felt that the central government should fund more police. I for one agreed that Wellington should fund this issue, but the need was urgent and a more pragmatic solution was to fund it ourselves. So in lieu of the majority supporting his plan for the creation of what David Macpherson and I would call the Gower Police Force during the annual plan process he left Hamilton First and became an independent.

Grant Thomas was the deputy during my first term. He was a wonderful speaker and was great at openings. He would never say anything disrespectful and could be articulate on his feet. An ability, I’m sure, he perfected while being a National MP for the city of Hamilton in the 90s. He was in the early days, a very loyal Braithwaite supporter, but after a famous meeting involving Marryatt, Braithwaite and himself, Thomas declared Braithwaite as being a liar.

I always thought of Thomas as a bit of a bear, for most of the term he was in hibernation. Yet he would then appear just before election hungry for work. Indeed, as I said, he “could” be “articulate” on his feet when he wished, it’s just that I very rarely saw him on his feet.

Jocelyn Marshal is one of the nicest people I have ever met in politics. Honest and hard working with a passion for spelling accuracy that would drive me crazy. She taught me a great lesson in humility – a sense of righteousness over the controversial issue of where the act of prostitution could occur in the city of Hamilton. The Central Government in what could only be described as a hospital pass decision, delegated responsibility of determining where the act of prostitution could occur to local governments (after legislating its decriminalisation). Despite Jocelyn’s close association with the church she is a canon of St Peter’s she stood firmly in support of the prostitutes and I’m sure this led to her losing the next election.

Equity dictates that I should also add small analyses of myself. I am a man of average height. My hair deserted me early. My children tell me that my nose is a prominent feature on my face and for good measure they say I cannot dance. Monique is a wonderful chef and as such I carry maybe a few extra pounds around, no doubt also a by- product of these councillor morning teas. I have a short fuse and can be a little condescending at times. OK, it’s true, I have been known to throw my toys out of the cot at times. I have made lots of mistakes including one were I tried to embarrass David Braithwaite using a T- shirt, what was on the shirt was accurate but in getting at Braithwaite I had also embarrassed the office of the mayor and I am not proud of that. A person once said of me if there was sign by a patch of grass that said “do not walk over” Wilson would have run.

Within the first few months of my first term on council I was made chair of a newly formed committee which would focus on economic development. The deal was structured where Gower would get his police force, Macpherson would get the chair of Strategic development, and Bos would be paid half a chair’s salary for his role as chairman for the stadium committee and I would get the chair for Economic Development. Not long after that meeting a fairly bloodless coup d’etat occurred where new roles were handed out and David Braithwaite became the first lame duck mayor in Hamilton’s history.

Economic development was something that I was passionate about. And the committee did some great work, including attracting CTC aviation to set up their flight training headquarters for ab initio (Latin for ‘beginner’) pilots here in Hamilton, which had great economic benefits for the city and the airport. Worth tens of millions of dollars.

 

 

 

One of my frustrations during my time on council, was the issue of Hamilton International Airport. The five local councils own the Airport. Hamilton City Council, Matamata Piako District Council, Otorohanga District Council, Waikato District Council and finally Waipa District Council. There is a shareholders agreement, which precludes any of the councils appointing any city councillors, or paid employee of the local authorities to the independent airport board, however the Mayors of each of the councils were the shareholders’ representatives and could appoint directors based on skills required for the position and experience. These were paid positions.

In 2003 I felt that the airport board had too much freedom and was not required to report in a meaningful way to the shareholding Councils. The bottom line in the case of Hamilton, the Mayor, David Braithwaite was updated but never disseminated the information back to the individual councillors, unless the airport wanted something like a bank guarantee. With a little push from me the airport was required to report to the Economic Development Committee, of which I was chairman, about its activities once a year. Throughout my time as chair, the Airport Company was both slow and reluctant in this task; most times they would just send a copy of their annual report which one of the council staff would then present. I remember trying to get them to provide their business development plan to us, which was never forthcoming. I was concerned that, with the state of the airline industry, they needed to be doing more to diversify their business that is; attract another complimentary airline, as the airport was terribly vulnerable if Air New Zealand chose to pull out or reduce services. Behaviour that is not untypical of Air New Zealand, as it has always been reactive, such as when they threatened to remove the air bridge, or when they commenced Hamilton direct Christchurch flights only after Origin Pacific came to Hamilton and announced their intention to fly that route. Hamilton was further vulnerable particularly as, at this time, Rotorua, one of New Zealand’s major tourism centres, an hour and a half drive to the south, was openly talking about extending its runway to target Trans Tasman services. I raised my concerns about Hamilton spending so much money on a new terminal before they had lengthened the runway. I felt extending the runway was critical for Hamilton’s ability to attract new airlines and more importantly by extending the runway Hamilton would eliminate the likelihood of an airline working with Rotorua to develop Trans Tasman services and thus potentially making Hamilton less viable.

I felt extremely frustrated that my advice and opinions were ignored by my committee and the Board. I can’t help but think that the rejection of my advice and offers to help further illustrates my belief that New Zealand manages both success and failure in business very poorly. Tall poppy syndrome ensures that if you are highly successful you need to disguise that success to minimise the number of pot shots that are taken against you. If you are like me, and had a high profile business failure then any ideas or attempt at providing advice is at best ignored and at worst mocked. In Australia and the US business success is celebrated and failure is seen as part of the road to success. Experiences gained at the coalface are valued, and New Zealand and its economy are poorer for not embracing and celebrating success and constantly wishing to push under the carpet perceived failures. Despite my best endeavours, even to the point of trying to get Marryatt, Braithwaite and my fellow councillors to let me do more for the airport my ideas were pushed aside with them reciting the shareholders agreement precluding any Councillors on the board. However, Marryatt felt he could provide a panacea for the problems facing the airport and worked for the airport board as an unpaid adviser thus circumventing the shareholders agreement preventing any paid employee of the shareholding councils being on the board. He never asked me once for any advice regarding the airport.

Airports are really real estate developments. Most make their money from parking and rent income generated by retailers based at the airport not landing fees, but the airport company still needs considerable aviation experience, to ensure that the airlines keep flying in to generate the foot traffic that is needed to encourage retail business to set up, and the board and Marryatt had little or no such prior airline aviation experience. The results were predictable. We now have a world class airport terminal, a short runway and a recent decision by Air New Zealand to cease all international flights which will leave a whole lot of debt which might ultimately have to be paid for by the ratepayers as the councils underwrote the airport’s borrowings.

To attract another airline now will be very hard as Rotorua will complete their runway extension by June 2009 and can provide for both the ‘visiting friends and family’ market and inbound tourists. The blame for this systemic failure can in my view be placed with the airport management, the board and at the end of the day the mayors and councillors.

There is no doubt that Air New Zealand has always considered Hamilton as a gateway for passengers who were visiting friends and family as distinct from inbound tourist. In fact Hamilton was never a natural fit for Air New Zealand as their entire international hub was Auckland just an hour or so up the road from Hamilton.

Hamilton suits an Australian carrier like Qantas or its low cost subsidiary JetStar who could not only cater for Kiwis heading for the sun but could also capture a large market share of Kiwis flying way beyond Australia by feeding them into their huge Sydney international hub as well as inbound global tourism. Once Air New Zealand had decided that they would move their operating model away from the legacy concept (full service) to a lower cost driven model, the difference between their low cost subsidiary Freedom Air and Air New Zealand narrowed. Air New Zealand removed Freedom and replaced it with its own services. However, Air New Zealand’s airfares were considerably more expensive out of Hamilton then they were out of Auckland mainly due to the likes of Emirates dumping huge amounts of capacity and Air New Zealand having to match Emirates airfares. That mixed with the fact that Air New Zealand had very poor brand loyalty in the Waikato due to its actions against Kiwi Air and reluctance to invest heavily in advertising, meant most Waikato locals chose to drive an hour or so to Auckland to get a cheaper flight from a superior airline.

But that is only half the story and most people in the Waikato find blaming Air New Zealand easier than having a very good look at themselves. The two main failings from the Hamilton airport company were:

They never actively pursued another airline to use Hamilton international. The trick would have been to find an airline that would have been complimentary to Air New Zealand, that is one that just did not duplicate Air New Zealand schedule, as the Kiwi Air experience had shown when Freedom copied Kiwi Air, there was not sufficient market to sustain both.

A business development plan would have been a good start. Talking with a former airport board member recently he agreed but said the reason that they did not pursue a complimentary carrier was they were scared that Air New Zealand would get upset and pull out its international services. Although Air New Zealand would never pull out completely as the domestic service is a cash cow and possibly one of the most profitable domestic routes Air New Zealand has. Their Trans Tasman service was always a gate keeping position and not one of their core strategies and routes.

The second failing was that under the chairmanship of John Storey they decided to upgrade the terminal rather than lengthen the runway despite Rotorua’s moves to extend their runway. Rotorua chose to lengthen their runway and only made a small investment to equip their terminal for international operations. The Hamilton runway is too short for meaningful freight and mid-to-long-haul sectors, it also means that if Auckland is closed larger aircraft cannot divert to Hamilton. I was the first to agree that we desperately needed to do something about the domestic side of the terminal in Hamilton. It was an embarrassment that people had to line up outside in all weathers to get their bags delivered on a trailer but one did not need to spend 15 million dollars. At the time they could have lengthened the runways and improved the terminal for less than 10 million.

I do feel a little sorry for the likes of Jerry Rickman, the new Chairman and Chris Doak the new CEO, as when they took over the reins the terminal project was already started, but they chose to focus their energies on the completion of the over priced terminals and the broad rezoning plan that was going to enable a huge development project called Titanium Park. Unfortunately no one was concentrating on ensuring that they still had an international airline flying in to Hamilton. It was just assumed that Air New Zealand would continue to do so despite my comments. As the old saying goes you reap what you sow. In my view it’s important to note neither Rickman nor Doak had any aviation experience and that Air New Zealand at the time of the terminal redevelopment stated that it was unjustified, and still to this date there is no one with any previous airline experience either on the senior management team or the Board.

The mayors and councillors, of which I was one, despite my constant voice of dissent, also need to take some responsibility as they permitted and then protected the bad governance process that enabled this to unfold.

This may all sound a bit like sour grapes, and maybe so, however, the facts speak for themselves. The grapes withered on the vine and are there for all to see. Yes, I was involved in a public business failure, from which I have learnt tremendously and have continued to develop my expertise in the area of aviation, airline and airport management.

The old boys network and establishment are alive and strong in Waikato and hold tight to protect themselves, even when the public purse has taken a hammering because of bad decisions they’ve made.

It is not surprising that so many capable and intelligent kiwis flock overseas to share their knowledge and wealth of experience to the benefit of other companies and countries.

 

The race for the mayoralty was then between high profile Martin Elliott, a local school headmaster and part time opinionated newspaper columnist, and a young millionaire who had made his money in the advertising game, Michael Redman.

Redman is the most complete man I have ever met. In other words he is an island unto himself, an incredibly self-reliant intellectual and a master of strategic thinking. However the result of his mayoral election would come down to a comment over the size of Mr Redman’s penis.

Martin Elliott was leading according to the local newspaper polls, but at a public meeting while Redman was talking Elliott had what can only be described as a brain fart and in a private conversation with a woman at the back of the hall while she was washing up he commented on the fact that he thought Redman had a small pecker. Now how the Waikato Times got to hear of this is full of intrigue and a story in its own right, but hear it they did. In another moment of madness Elliott confirmed it to the paper and the rest is history.

Redman won the election, the public did not want Braithwaite or I as mayor because of the fact that we were seen as part of the infighting of the last 3 years and clearly they were not keen on a man who would make public comments about the size of another man’s appendage.

Redman is a successful businessman and was a competent mayor, but not all that surprisingly his mayoralty was short lived, as a better opportunity presented itself.

Redman decided that it was time that Tony Marryatt’s job as CEO needed to be readvertised as required under the law. As fate would have it Maryatt reapplied but, unbeknown to Council at the time, he also applied for the CEO job of the city of Christchurch – considered the top local government job in NZ. Hamilton City council reappointed Maryatt, who accepted the position but then resigned when he was offered the job in Christchurch.

Redman in an unprecedented move applied for the job as Hamilton City’s CEO and in very short time secured it and a $200,000 dollar salary increase from $120,000 as mayor to more than $300,000 as CEO.

 

Footnote: Tony Marryatt now earns in excess of $538,000 as CEO of Christchurch, having just been awarded a $68,000 pay increase to run the earthquake-hit city. There are growing calls in Christchurch for Marryatt’s contract to be terminated, but if Ewan
Wilson is correct, there is likely to be a handsome escape clause built in

Subsequent Footnote: Marryatt resigned from Christchurch city September 13 2013 after the permits scandal, reportedly pocketing a 270,000 dollar golden parachute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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