Shock as Witt boss set to leave

Board says no to extending contract

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2013
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ANDY JACKSON
Witt chief executive Richard Handley

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Staff were in tears and Taranaki business leaders were stunned at the shock announcement the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki's (Witt) chief executive Richard Handley would soon be out of a job.

Mr Handley, 66, was told on Friday his request to have his contract extended when it ends in July this year was declined.

Mr Handley sent Witt staff an email yesterday outlining the news.

"Over recent months I have been in negotiations for an extension and on Friday [Witt council chairwoman] Mary Bourke advised me that my requests have been declined," the email read.

Yesterday, Mr Handley told the Taranaki Daily News he asked the Witt council if he could stay on for two more years.

"My preference was to stay another couple of years and see Witt to an even stronger place," Mr Handley said.

He said he loved his job and New Plymouth and would continue to live here.

"I'm totally committed to Witt, I believe it's a wonderful organisation which is totally committed to its students."

Many staff cried on hearing the news.

"Richard is absolutely loved by everyone here," one told the Taranaki Daily News.

In an email to the Daily News, the Witt council said: "The council are obliged as prudent governors of a public institution to assure themselves that they have the best person for the position in an environment that has changed considerably since Richard's appointment in 2008 - and continues to change."

Miss Bourke said the decision not to extend Mr Handley's contract was a sensible one that any responsible organisation would follow in dealing with fixed-term contracts.

Mr Handley had been invited to put his name forward for the position, Miss Bourke said.

Mr Handley said he declined the offer.

A recruitment process would begin shortly.

"The council acknowledges Richard's performance has been very good for Witt," Miss Bourke said.

Mr Handley led Witt from a position of financial turmoil to becoming a respected tertiary provider with a positive financial outlook. Under his guidance there were also significant advances in academic performance, and building community partnerships.

Last year Witt had its biggest graduation ceremony yet with 1103 graduates - up 30 per cent on 2011, the next largest.

Just last week the Daily News ran a front-page story detailing the considerable economic benefits Witt contributed to the Taranaki economy.

A Venture Taranaki report estimated that in 2011 Witt generated $130 million of spending in the region.

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Witt's 2010 annual report showed the polytech achieved a $2.8m financial surplus, the best result in its 39-year history.

Mr Handley stepped in at a time when Witt had $18m of Crown loans.

Taranaki Chamber of Commerce chairman Grant McQuoid said the announcement was of surprise and concern.

"In Richard they brought in a person with leadership and direction," Mr McQuoid said. "He turned that organisation around.

"Good leadership is the cornerstone of any business so why would you let that go?"

Engineering Taranaki Consortium chairman Graham Wells said he was "astounded" by the news.

"The team up at Witt under Richard's direction have improved the relationship between Witt and the Taranaki engineering community in leaps and bounds," Mr Wells said.

Pace Engineering managing director Steve Day said Mr Handley had a high level of support from the engineering industry.

"I think Richard has been a very competent and credible head of Witt, who has related well with industry," Mr Day said.

At the Westpac Taranaki Chamber of Commerce Business Awards 2012, Witt achieved highly-commended in two categories and two commended achievements.

In September, Witt missed out on more than $900,000 towards its foundation level courses from the Tertiary Education Commission.

Ten staff and 70 student places were expected to go because of the loss in funding.

- Taranaki Daily News

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