New CEO aware of challenges

00:05, May 10 2014
Karleen Edwards
IN HOT SEAT: Dr Karleen Edwards, second from right next to Mayor Lianne Dalziel, is moving back to Christchurch to take on the high-profile job of city council chief executive.

The new Christchurch City Council chief executive is "apprehensive about the enormity" of the job ahead but is vowing to be transparent and engage with the people.

Dr Karleen Edwards, a high-flying health executive who has held senior positions in New Zealand and Australia, was yesterday named as the council's new boss by Mayor Lianne Dalziel.

She will take home an annual salary of $395,000, $143,00 less than predecessor Tony Marryatt.

Edwards has not worked in local government before but was confident the skills she had picked up working in executive roles in the cash-strapped health sector had prepared her well for the challenges ahead as the council faced up to its $534 million funding shortfall.

"I've never been in a land of plenty. There's always been challenges in terms of how do you make services efficient and effective to meet funding gaps without reducing the quality of services you are providing," she said.

"Health has been shifting towards a much more people-centric focus and engaging service users in the changes that need to happen within the health system and I think that's exactly what the council is moving towards - being much more citizen-centric and engaging the community in the issues and redesigning the city for the future."


With a medical degree from Otago University and a Masters of Business Administration (with distinction) from Canterbury University, Edwards worked her way up through the ranks of the health system here - she was deputy chief executive of the Canterbury District Health Board for six years from 2001 - before shifting across the Tasman to take up the role of chief executive of the Central Northern Adelaide Health Service.

There she was responsible for a staff of 16,000 and a budget of about $1.7 billion. Within 18 months she had cut the organisation's costs by nearly $35m.

In December 2009, she became executive director of the Victorian Health Department's (VHD) mental health, drug and alcohol services. Edwards held that position until June 2012 when she was appointed to establish and head the VHD's new Commission for Hospital Improvement, which has been looking at how to improve Victoria's hospitals.

Dalziel said it was clear from Edwards' CV and references she had a wealth of experience leading change within complex organisations under considerable pressure to reduce costs while improving services.

"Karleen will find herself in familiar territory in more ways than one," Dalziel said.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday wished Edwards well and said he was looking forward to meeting her.

A former colleague of Edwards, who asked not be named, described her as a tough taskmaster. "She needs to truly engage with those around her and with the people of Canterbury to really ensure that she understands how to obtain the best outcome for Canterbury and Christchurch," she cautioned.

Edwards starts her job on June 16.



As a teenager, Karleen Edwards always stood out as someone who would succeed.

She was an intelligent, confident and determined young woman who "just got on with it", Hillmorton High School deputy principal Graham Leslie recalled yesterday after her appointment as Christchurch City Council chief executive was announced.

"To see that Karleen has gone as far as she has gone is wonderful. I knew she would succeed, but I didn't know what in."

Leslie, who has been teaching at Hillmorton for 45 years, said Edwards had involved herself in whatever was available, including the school council. By the time she finished high school, she was one of the top students, particularly excelling in the sciences.

"She was determined. She knew where she was going, and would set a goal, and was prepared to do the work to get there."

As a ratepayer, Leslie hoped Edwards still possessed the same attributes to help the embattled council.

Edwards grew up in Hei Hei and studied medicine in Dunedin.

She began her working life as a psychiatrist but moved into health management where she quickly progressed through the ranks.

She has been working in Australia for the past seven years, but has made regular visits to see friends and family in Christchurch.

Edwards said yesterday each time she had visited she felt enormously proud of how Christchurch residents were responding to the earthquakes and the day-to-day issues they faced.

"I'm really delighted that I can be part of the recovery of Christchurch.

"A lot of what I've done in the past has been around supporting people to change their lives and also supporting people in vulnerable situations. Whether through work or voluntary work, that's been a big feature of the things I do."

When she is not working Edwards, who is married to John Moody, likes to read, do brain teasers and Sudoku. She is also into keeping fit.

"I'm a regular in the gym - that helps to reduce my stress. That's my time," Edwards revealed.

The Press