Business maestro lands top honour in region

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 02/06/2014
ian kearney
MARION VAN DIJK/Fairfax NZ
IN THE LIMELIGHT: Ian Kearney plans to spend the day with family.

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Often described as a quiet achiever, business guru Ian Kearney found himself in the limelight today after being named as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, topping the honours list for the Nelson region.

Kearney was one of eight honours recipients in the region, including bowler Jo Edwards, Nelson Marlborough District Health Board chairwoman Jenny Black, arts advocate Colleen Marshall and former search and rescue co-ordinator Sherp Tucker.

Typically, Kearney said he would be spending the day at the family bach and "I might even be out in my dinghy, fishing".

The ONZM was awarded to 69-year-old Kearney for services to business and the community and his list of appointments and achievements is a long one.

He led electricity distributor Network Tasman from 1993 until last year, its net worth growing from $30 million to $200m in that time.

He chaired Nelson Airport Ltd, overseeing its redevelopment and its transition into a self-sustaining company jointly owned by the Nelson city and Tasman district councils.

In the late 1990s he rescued the Nelson School of Music from bankruptcy, and still chairs the school's endowment trust.

In 2003 he became the inaugural chair of the Cawthron Institute's board of directors and is still in that role, directing its growth into an internationally-renowned research facility and a major Nelson employer.

A voluntary chair and mentor for the Nelson Tasman Business Trust, he helped the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology set up a bachelor of commerce programme in management in the 1990s.

Recently appointed director of the Housing New Zealand board, he also helped found and is chair of the Sports Fishing for Youth Trust, and guides on the trust's "kids' fishing days".

Of all this, he says he's most proud of holding out against Government pressure to turn Network Tasman into a public company.

"We felt at the time that as a consumer asset it should be owned by the consumers and not by profit-seeking shareholders," he says. "We had a big fight at the time, but it was the right decision and it has proven to be a big plus for the electricity consumers in our region - over the years they've got in the order of $160m to $170m back."

A professional director and business consultant since the 1980s, often working overseas, Kearney says his involvement with Cawthron has been another highlight.

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"It's inspiring to see some of the young scientists and what they're doing, the way they think and the potential of their ideas."

Trained first as a surveyor and then completing a degree in business finance, he says his accountant father in Gisborne set a good example of helping others by providing honorary accounting services to lots of organisations.

"lt's always two-sided - you learn from people and you learn about things by being involved in things."

He says his wife, Nova, reckons he'll never retire and she's probably right: "If you're interested in something, you get involved with it and you want to see it do well - whatever ‘do well' means."

In Nelson for nearly three decades, he says that with his collection of garages and a workshop in Richmond, where he crafts split cane trout fishing rods and often donates them to charity auctions, he would be hard to winkle out of the district.

The honour was a surprise, Kearney said. "Whatever you do, you do because you enjoy doing it and you feel you're making a contribution."

- The Nelson Mail

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