Council just the job

Andrew Besley
Andrew Besley

Deciding to reapply for his job as chief executive of the Marlborough District Council was easy, Andrew Besley says.

The council this week reappointed Mr Besley for a further three-year term.

He has been chief executive since December 2000. By law, the council must readvertise the chief executive's job at least every seven years.

"I'm very passionate about Marlborough ... Blenheim is my home town ... I don't think it was a difficult decision to make at all."

Mayor Alistair Sowman said the decision to reappoint Mr Besley was not a difficult one either.

"We are lucky to have him ... Andrew Besley is one of the most experienced council CEOs in the country and his management and administration skills are widely recognised within local government circles. This council is fortunate to be able to retain a manager with his depth of experience and understanding of the issues in our region."

People who know Mr Besley say he is a private person who avoids the limelight.

Mr Sowman says Mr Besley sees himself as a public servant, focused on the management of the council and leaving the limelight and governance to the elected councillors. Mr Besley focused on ensuring the council was in a good financial position, and had good plans for the future, he said.

"His management is extremely good. Our council is in an excellent financial position because of that."

Mr Besley, 54, was born in Blenheim, and went to Whitney St School, Bohally Intermediate, and then Marlborough Boys' College.

His family came to Marlborough when his father became one of the first pilots at SafeAir. A former Bomber Command pilot flying Lancasters in World War II, Mr Besley Sr spent four years overseas, returning to New Zealand in 1946 with an English bride, a WRAF he met during the war.

The family of four boys - Andrew the youngest – moved around before settling in Marlborough.

Mr Besley Sr became a teacher after retiring from flying for medical reasons, teaching at Springlands and Blenheim schools. Andrew Besley did some teacher training as well, and some of his relatives are teachers in Marlborough.

He studied history at Victoria University, and then teachers' college, before spending four years overseas on OE. When he came back, he studied accounting and moved into finance jobs at the Internal Affairs Department and then the (former) Commerce Ministry, before moving to the corporate services manager's job at the council about 18 years ago.

His boss at the Commerce Ministry, the late John Belgrave, was disappointed in his move out of the ministry, back to Blenheim and to local government, but it's a move Mr Besley doesn't regret.

"I wouldn't have got into local government if it wasn't Marlborough.

"I came to local government because it was my home town and the variety of the job in terms of being a unitary council.

"There's a huge amount of variety, it keeps it interesting."

Having been raised here gives Mr Besley a breadth and depth of knowledge to draw on – ranging from his muttering about some ratepayers' expectations of council – "my father always made me mow our grass berm" – to remembering what Marlborough used to look like. "I've been in Marlborough in a period of huge change. Viticulture has transformed the area since I grew up here. It's good to be part of that."

He worries sometimes that several staff get taken for granted.

"People just assume that sewerage will work, water supply will work, the parks will be well maintained. People get focused on council projects, particularly the controversial ones, but the vast majority of our work is roading, stormwater, water projects. but it's not what has public profile.

"We're part of a small community. There is a great team of staff here. They have a strong public ethos, and they're doing their best for the community."

When not at work, Mr Besley is either reading or outdoors.

"I'm a great reader. The house is full of books, I keep collecting them." History is a favourite topic, he is reading the fourth volume of Robert Caro's five-book series on United States president Lyndon B Johnson.

"I enjoy Marlborough for the lifestyle. I like to walk up the Wither Hills, along the rivers. I live on the edge of town." He and wife Mary own two labrador dogs.

While Mr Besley is pleased to have been reappointed chief executive, he realises that means he will have been chief executive for 15 years.

"Personally I think the three-year term is a good idea. It's good for council and myself to consider the future at regular intervals. I can't stay in this role forever ... we need to think about possible succession planning in this role."

He said, though, it was "remarkable" how quickly the time goes.

"I think it is the variety and challenge of the role and the team of really good staff here."

The Marlborough Express