Tim McCready

Jacinda Ardern’s charisma, her ability to appeal to a younger generation, and her much sought after ‘cut-through’ that former leader Andrew Little just couldn’t seem to muster are some of her most admired attributes by chief executives.

“It is refreshing to have an Opposition leader with a more positive outlook on life, rather than one that is stuck in the past or in a negative loop,” said a transport head.

Says Mainfreight’s Don Braid: “There is clearly a level of enthusiasm, energy and commitment to what is lacking in New Zealand at the moment.

“An injection of youthful energy and vision is sorely needed.”

“Much is unknown, but perhaps that’s the best way to be going into an election when she has the ‘X’ factor,” says Simplicity’s Sam Stubbs.

Although CEOs respect Ardern’s courage – stepping into the Labour leadership role less than two months out from the election – most are worried she lacks experience and her unusually short job interview for Prime Minister won’t give the public the chance to see her tested for the top job. “An impressive start as leader of the Labour Party but untested under pressure in her national leadership,” observed Rob Cameron of Cameron Partners.

There is significant concern among chief executives that Ardern has failed to articulate the detail of some of her policies. In particular, tax policies including the expected capital gains tax and a failure to provide detail on whether the proposed levy on water use for farmers will be 1 cent or 2 (a difference of 100 per cent). Many consider this unacceptable for a party that has been nine years in opposition.

“We have not seen Jacinda Ardern in a leadership role for long but the initial signs appear impressive – not least in galvanising the Labour Opposition into campaigning hard to win the election and creating some self-belief,” says Forsyth Barr managing director Neil Paviour-Smith.

Adds EMA’s Kim Campbell: “It’s too early to tell how good an administrator she will be.

“We need to see more substance in policy development.

“She is a superb communicator with a very engaging social style. We have yet to see her perform under pressure.”

“I don’t know enough about her capabilities to be useful but give her 10/10 for courage taking over as leader with eight weeks to go to a general election,” says a banking boss. “But she has been very fluffy on tax policy and how we are going to pay for all the election promises.

“It feels like a tax hike for the 12 per cent of New Zealanders who already pay 75 per cent of tax in New Zealand.”

A law firm boss said in any event, she is likely to persuade many voters to ‘give her go’ without having to prove her credentials as potential Prime Minister.

“She is in the right place at the right time.”

Speaking publicly for the first time as leader, Ardern said: “We are about to run the campaign of our lives”. Recent polling shows this is the case with Labour – jumping from 24 per cent to 43 per cent in the latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll; its highest polling in 12 years.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns says: “An intelligent politician with clearly a freshening of the Labour brand. Early days though to judge Jacinda on producing sound policies (economic as well as social) and her skills at political management.”

Adds Beca’s Greg Lowe: “Jacinda Ardern is putting on a polished performance but as she has no track record her ability to lead effectively, manage the economy and put forward policy that moves New Zealand forward is unproven.”

“I really don’t know and nor do most voters,” explained non-executive director Joanna Perry. “The trouble is a lot of people will forget that she is unproven and make assumptions (in their gut!) about these things.”

A legal boss summed up the general sentiment from CEOs: “Jacinda is a very likable person. She is politically very savvy.

“She seems to care greatly about issues many Kiwis care about – social injustice and our environment, for example.

“She is a game-changer in this election.

“However, she is very young, and while that appeals to many, for others in an uncertain world we may feel safer with the more experienced hands of Bill English.

“Some may not see him as exciting, but experienced.”

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