Port chairman awarded a Beacon

04:00, Nov 15 2012

Port of Tauranga chairman John Parker has been awarded the annual Beacon award for leadership in corporate practice by the New Zealand Shareholders' Association.

Parker, 71, said he was "egotistical enough to love the accolade", particularly given the last award he won was for being a good blackboard monitor at primary school.

A former deputy chief executive of the NZ Dairy Board, Parker joined the Port of Tauranga board in 1996. Port of Tauranga has been one of the best performing stocks on the New Zealand sharemarket with the share price almost trebling since he became chairman in 2004.

Typically large fixed infrastructure companies such as port facilities are seen as steady income investments, but the Port of Tauranga showed that with a clear vision, steady growth strategy and an inclusive approach, it was possible to do very much better, said association chairman John Hawkins.

He said POT was a great example of mixed ownership, with 55 per cent owned by the local regional council and the rest public.

"Being allowed to run the business along strictly commercial lines has resulted in huge benefits to the local community, wider region, and outside investors alike. Being able to maintain this arrangement over an extended period is testament to Mr Parker's skills," Hawkins said.

The modest Parker said there were a string of reasons for the port's success.

"It's never one single person and the last person that should be picked out is the chairman. The logical person to look at is the CEO. Companies can survive a bloody awful chairman but they can't survive a bloody awful CEO."

The port had had two successive very good CEOs in Jon Mayson and the current Mark Cairns, and was also well situated geographically with plenty of room for expansion, Parker said.

He's served on numerous boards over the years and said the culture at the port was unusual.

"There's a culture of being low-key, no bullshit, and not wasting any money. We don't have a single PR person and the HR department is only two. The whole management team is only five people and they all tend to do each others' jobs."

Parker has said he won't stand for re-election again because he's already been there 16 years.

The port also has an unusual system where directors sign a letter when appointed that recognises the board may not support their re-election after two terms. The aim is to keep rejuvenating the board with new blood and fresh thinking.

Parker says they're currently seeking women candidates for the all-male board but will only select on merit. "We want more diversity than we have."

He thought the NZ Stock Exchange move requiring listed companies to report on how many women they have in senior management and on the board from next year was "horseshit", because it smacked of tokenism and could actually end up disadvantaging women.

Parker plans to resign all his directorships bar the board of Dairy Holdings within the next two years. He would focus on his personal investments and small farm at Otaki, north of Wellington and "doing more fencing for my neighbours".

Other winners of the Beacon include Simon Challies, Rob Fyfe, Sir Michael Hill and Bruce Plested.