TVNZ has started a global search but, as Stephen Parker writes, finding a top candidate might be hard while the broadcaster’s future is still to be determined

The TVNZ board opted to begin the recruitment drive now rather than waiting for the Government’s decision in February on whether it will merge TVNZ and RNZ into a single public service entity.

The current chief executive, Kevin Kenrick, is departing the post in February.  

While Kenrick has not been openly critical of the government’s plans it’s believed he doesn’t support a charter-based, merged public entity which has conflicting commercial and non-commercial goals.

TVNZ‘s board gets to say who it wants for the job. As a Crown entity company, the Board is appointed by the Government but it recruits the chief executive with no approval needed from Cabinet or the Minister.

A TVNZ spokesperson confirmed the recruitment process is underway.

“Russell Reynolds has been appointed to assist with the search and they will be looking at candidates locally, internationally, internally, and externally,” she said.

And that won’t come cheaply. Russell Reynolds is a significant player in executive recruitment.  It has 47 offices internationally with the nearest in Sydney and Melbourne.

“Who are they going to get? Who will want to leave a top job for a role that seems so uncertain, especially if you are from overseas?”
– media executive

Interestingly the board has opted to get the recruitment drive underway now rather than waiting for the outcome of the government decision in the New Year.

The prevailing industry view was that TVNZ would look to install an acting chief executive until final decisions are shaped by Cabinet in February. 

However, the TVNZ board possibly assessed the public media merger as inevitable and a new chief executive is urgently needed given how many critical decisions are rapidly approaching. 

The Governance Group, led by Tracey Martin, completed its business case and presented it to Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi about six weeks ago. 

“I have also received additional policy advice on the possible form of the entity, its governance, and monitoring arrangements, and matters relating to the drafting of new legislation,” Faafoi said last month. 

Faafoi is delaying taking the paper to Cabinet until February, citing the Covid response workload.

TVNZ senior management will have a good idea of the contents of the business case. And in recent weeks TVNZ, RNZ, and Ministry of Culture and Heritage officials have continued to meet to discuss the next steps, pending Cabinet approval.

Assuming the Government agrees in principle with the merger, many key operational decisions will need to be negotiated and thrashed out over 2022.

Scheduled timing is for a Cabinet decision in February, an interim transition board immediately formed, new Broadcasting legislation passed in the latter half of 2022, and the new board and entity formally operational in 2023.

Over the next year, Radio NZ’s chief executive Paul Thompson is likely to argue in the negotiations that RNZ carries the public media ethos and expertise that the new organisation needs. While TVNZ will want a strong chief executive in place as soon as possible to lead its interests, particularly on what a charter might contain.

The timeframes start to look difficult for TVNZ when you consider that Christmas is only a few weeks away.  Even if the TVNZ board was to begin interviewing candidates early in the new year it seems unlikely a new chief executive could be in place before April next year.

Then there is question of finding someone with the right qualifications to do the job. As one very senior media executive put it to Newsroom: “Who are they going to get? Who will want to leave a top job for a role that seems so uncertain, especially if you are from overseas?”

With a new Broadcasting Act due to be passed next year, the TVNZ and RNZ boards would be disbanded into a single Crown entity operational from July 2023.

In its place would be a standard Crown entity governance structure with one board, and a new chief executive. The indications are that RNZ and TVNZ would function initially as brands within this structure but their respective chief executives would in effect become deputies. 

What it means for TVNZ’s recruitment consultants is that they need to find candidates who are good with managing change but are aware they are signing into a job that itself faces structural change.

Over the last eight months, a business case has been written advocating for a new public broadcaster that walks and talks like a BBC hybrid.  2022 will be focused on turning the paper proposal into something deliverable.  It’s a tricky assignment for whoever puts up their hand to be TVNZ’s next leader.

Stephen Parker is a former political editor for TV3. More recently he was the Chief Media Adviser at MFAT, and also worked in the Foreign Minister's office of both National and Labour-led governments.

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