As controversy rages, what might lie behind the Pacific Business Trust’s new direction!
It is exactly a year ago this week, on 7 April 2015 that Mr Rob Neru took over as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the Pacific Business Trust (PBT).
But instead of an anniversary marked with an inaugural Pacific Business awards celebration, like the one Minister for PBT, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga attended last night, an initiative by the one-year old Wellington Pacific Business network – Mr Neru is mired in controversy.
On Wednesday this week, Labour’s Pacific spokesperson Su’a William Sio was shocked to hear PBT chairman Faamatuaino Pereira’s statement the crown entity was looking “at redeploying assets”. Words, Su’a felt strongly were omens of bad tidings.
“[Those] weasel words only mean one thing – they’re selling off assets and staff are going to lose jobs,” Su’a said in a statement.
“Why is the chairman only now talking about engaging with its key stakeholders and communities?
“And why are final decisions expected to be made by mid-April when the Trust’s Otahuhu building has already been sold and its offices are now for lease? How much was this iconic building sold for and what will that money be used for?”
Faamatuainu in an interview with Radio New Zealand called Su’a’s claims “rubbish”. He said changes were coming, but he would not say exactly what they would be.
“We have decided to take a different tack, we have decided to change direction, we have decided to change our focus. That is what we have done,” he told RNZ.
“The mechanics of how we are doing that is exactly what we are doing at the moment, we are discussing it, we are putting it front of our staff.”
The latest update to this saga, Su’a told Pacific Guardians last night, “I’m not sure what he’s [Faamatuainu Pereira] rubbishing, but he and his Minister need to be open and transparent and answer the concerns from the Pacific communities?”
The concerns from the community according to Su’a are: “Will Pacific Business Trust have a future? Why have they liquidated PBT assets without consulting the Pacific communities? What is going to happen to the staff in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch?”
Added Su’a, “It is disingenuous for Faamatuainu to say in his press statement that Pacific business will employ Pacific staff, when they are going to lay-off staff with a business that was set up to help Pacific people and their businesses.
“The Board is entrusted with public assets and given the stewardship to look after those assets so that it benefits all Pacific people in New Zealand including future generations.
“If what the community are telling me is true, that these assets have been liquidated; then they need to tell us why? How much was the land and buildings sold for? And how will the funds be used?”
Su’a emphasized that Peseta as Minister for PBT, and the Chairman cannot stay silent on a matter that is now a major concern within the Pacific community.
“It’s not the Minister’s assets. It’s not the Chairman’s assets, they are public assets entrusted to the Board to benefit Pacific people,” said Su’a.
“They were assets that were hard fought won to ensure that we grow the entrepreneurial Pacific numbers, support business start-ups and strengthen business capacity.
“If the CEO is silent, and the Chair only releases a press statement that uses weasel words to cover up whatever it is they are doing, then we have to ask the Minister who appointed the Chair and Board to account to the Pacific community who are the beneficiaries of these assets.”
PESETA: SILENT BUT BUSY
So far, Minister for PBT, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga remains silent to queries sent through to his office on the matter.
We know he’s been busy with Pacific matters. On Wednesday, a day after Su’a raised the PBT issue, he spent most of the morning with Prime Minister John Key, deputy PM Bill English and senior ministers attending the inaugural Pacific Leaders Forum at the Beehive.
And last night, he and deputy PM Bill English were again brothers-in-arms, this time toasting the success of the inaugural Pacific Business Awards founded by the Wellington Pacific Business Network sponsored by MBIE and ANZ.
Makes one wonder whether these two successful events are indicative of his silence on PBT? Does it imply that his government perhaps sees a better way to engage and develop Pacific businesses? Is there a strong pull to disestablish crown entities supporting Pasifika and instead forge direct paths to communities through these types of united entities with community mandates?
ROB NERU SAYS
In the midst of all these questions, insinuations and lack of information, Mr Neru did respond briefly to Pacific Guardians yesterday saying, “We are still in consultation with the staff. Will get back to you once this has been completed.”
As we await new developments in this saga, it is worthwhile re-visiting a Pacific Guardians feature written 12-months ago previewing Mr Neru’s possible approach to leading PBT.
It provides an insight to changes Mr Neru may well have been putting in place resulting in the realignments that Faamatuainu detailed in his statement. That perhaps these are parts of the bigger plan and direction PBT has been putting in place from the beginning?
In his press statement issued a year ago, Mr Neru alluded to such a plan when saying, “I will make sure that Pacific Business Trust (PBT) tries some new approaches to get tangible results for Pacific peoples in New Zealand.
“As the new CEO of the PBT, I intend to make a difference to how the Trust communicates and interacts with the Pacific community and Pacific businesses.”
PREVIEWED: REASON FOR PBT’S NEW DIRECTION?
In the Pacific Guardians article we wrote that Mr Neru’s appointment was also a show of courage by the PBT Board at the time. They took a chance by bringing in an ‘agent of change’ in order to rise above PBT’s 30-plus years of mediocrity and underachievements.
In appointing Mr Neru, the PBT Board has shown courage to take a chance on the radical “how” Mr Neru will put in place to action his mandate. It is hoped they are not looking at overnight results but that Mr Neru is given the time and space for his plans to at least have a chance to bear fruit.
What’s clear is for PBT’s vision “Prosperous Pacific Enterprises” to be achieved, externally, Mr Neru will need to sharply refocus the organization to be more relevant in the vastly new business landscape that Pacific businesses are competing in today, which is global in nature.
We wrote that Mr Neru would need to bring in an innovative leadership approach relevant and appropriate to today’s business era because the old leadership models of command and control no longer work.
In the new global context of today, leaders must have the ability to master the changing complexities while putting in place processes that will promote continuous creativity in their organization. They need to develop a deeper emotional connection with their teams to promote change and to ensure that the company/organization’s purpose is anchored in society.
And how does one gauge “success” for leaders in today’s new era?
Experts predict that perhaps, the only meaningful gauge for success, is the ability of leaders in today’s unpredictable world to recognize and foster “potential”. And to recognize potential, leaders will need to possess curiosity, insight, engagement and determination.
It is exciting times for PBT and Mr Neru. Not only are there relationships that need to be built, others need mending, while careful alignments with co-partners including Pacific communities need to be negotiated and massaged ensuring cultural context and protocols are recognized and acknowledged.
It is an exciting challenge that if navigated successfully, would achieve PBT’s vision of ‘Prosperous Pacific Enterprises’ and along the way, provide a multitude of benefits to Pacific communities to take better care of themselves and improve their standard of living allowing greater participation and contributions to New Zealand society.
If Chairman Faamatuainu and CEO Rob Neru reveal their proposed changes are as previewed a year ago by Pacific Guardians – shouldn’t they be given a chance for their plans to grow over the next two years?
Shouldn’t they be supported Minister? What say you?