Comment: Follow Christopher Luxon on the campaign trail for even a short time and his worldview, values, small talk and corporate dialect all mark him instantly as a recovering chief executive.
For example, on a block or two’s walkabout in St Heliers Bay shops, his business focus can’t be masked.
Walking into a Bayleys real estate branch, he bounds up to the receptionist and starts chatting about what a great brand ‘John and Mike’ have created. That’s Luxon the peer, praising John and Mike Bayley, the powerhouse property business’ family leaders. Luxon the business mentor then asks the young woman what’s next in her career pathway, does she aspire to move into real estate sales?
At a Bay Audiology clinic, Luxon the marketing guy tells the women behind the counter they, too, have an amazing brand, he sees their ads often and has had super service from the firm. Asked by one of the staff if that was for a hearing aid, Luxon the communicator says, no, it was for an earpiece for his live television crosses.
At a liquor store that has been victim of a ram raid, an owner asks the National leader if he’s ever been to India. “Oh, many times,” answers Luxon the multinational executive, telling of meetings in Mumbai and elsewhere with the chair of one of the country’s biggest agriculture ventures.
At a Four Square, chatting to the owner, Luxon the consumer products guy spots electronic pricing tags, notes that he first saw them in his days visiting China and remarks that while they’re not cheap, they’re effective.
To a shopkeeper on the street asking him to stop the “wasteful spending”, Luxon the profit and loss analyst canes the Labour government for judging its success on how much it spends. “It’s different from a company.” Noting a blue display in the shop window, Luxon the merchandiser observes that blue is always a top-seller.
Luxon, the former Unilever executive and Air NZ CEO, has brought business attitudes, a business lens, and business language into the campaign in a way few before him, even the financial markets guy Sir John Key, had been able to use so ubiquitously.
Luxon is all business, whether it’s attracting a Silicon Valley billionaire to come to live in NZ for half the year, praising the business acumen of the Chinese community, a word of approval for a health centre’s business model, seeing “connectivity points” between overseas sectors and Kiwi firms, or “turning up the volume on the economy”.
So can we use business criteria to judge his performance as a political leader?
How might his organisation, the National Party, rate him for leading his team, serving his customers and meeting his Key Performance Indicators with nine days to go until their three-yearly shareholders’ meeting?
Here’s a possible executive performance review for Luxon:
Section 1: Employee Self Assessment
“I’m telling you quite clearly that we have a great team, a comprehensive set of policies to get this country back on track, a laser-like focus on the issues that matter to New Zealanders: the cost of living, getting inflation under control and growing the economy, tax cuts for the squeezed middle, efficient public spending, and better health and education services.
“Let me be quite clear, we’ve got a great country. I feel we are totally, entirely, completely going in the wrong direction. But we can work our way through. We’ve got to be disciplined, and focus obsessively on outcomes, and deliver on improving the lives of New Zealanders. We need some positivity, some inspiration, some can-do back into this country. And that’s what we’re going to do.
“Long story short: That’s the reason I came into politics just three years ago. I bring real world experience. I don’t get everything right but I am learning and really enjoying getting out and meeting New Zealanders. And we’re getting a great response from ordinary Kiwis.”
Section 2: Employer’s Assessment of KPIs since last review
KPI One: Restore Caucus discipline
Achieved. Uffindell inquiry report successfully kept confidential. Woodhouse outburst anticipated and contained. Kuriger future speculation stonewalled. Collins neutralised and flattered. No campaign leaks.
KPI Two: Diversify candidates
Superficially achieved. Party list is sprinkled with gender and ethnic diversity. But National’s winnable electorate seats have a high male candidate ratio that could skew the ultimate 2023-26 caucus towards being white and male, and reduce the number of women MPs.
KPI Three: Lift party income
Partly achieved. National has highest substantive donations from the big end of town as at October 4 (Electoral Commission reporting $2.46m in 2023 – likely to exceed the $2.8m of all sized donations in 2020) but the leader and campaign has left room for likely donors to also find appeal in Act ($1.74m up from $1.2m all-up in 2020) and NZ First ($831,141 this year).
KPI Four: Know your subjects
Achieved. By the penultimate week of the campaign, has learned party policies and economic, political and messaging issues by heart. Can talk by rote from the Emissions Trading Scheme to school lunches, from the Sentencing Act to KiwiSaver withdrawals, from EV chargers to school mobile phone bans, from ryegrass innovation to limiting road cones. Now knows a little about a lot.
KPI Five: Product development
Needs more assessment at next review. Policy papers brainstormed and issued relatively early, predictable National policies confirmed in boot camps, benefit sanctions, reading, writing and arithmetic, co-governance. But centrepiece tax and spending package widely questioned and not yet persuasively justified. Could need to be worked around, refashioned, in government.
KPI Six: Modernise National’s brand and communications
Achieved. Campaign launch a Vegas-style showtime extravaganza; social media game provocative and cutting-through on TikTok, Insta, YouTube and Facebook; advertising messages and appearances clear.
KPI Seven: Strategic Communications
Achieved. Won over Mike Hosking. Survived Jenna and Jessica. Deflected attention away from Uffindell, Kuriger, the Collins years, wife’s Tesla discount, owning seven homes and abortion belief. Stalemated the dissection of tax policies until well into the advance voting period. Lifted preferred PM ranking late in the piece to a salvageable level, helped by Chris Hipkins’ failure to fire. Listened to Mary Lambie.
KPI Eight: Market Competitiveness
Satisfactory – Subject to October 15 review. Touched, but did not hold onto, our 40 percent target in the polls, late 30s insufficient for electoral clarity but a decisive lift from the Collins era. Maintained margin on Labour, but partly because of Labour’s fall. Yet to convince or to secure a positive break on the competition.
KPI Nine: Take out NZ First
Failed. Acted late in the piece to rule NZ First and Winston Peters out or in as a potential coalition partner – only to have made the ‘in’ message too positive and then had to walk back the level of warmth and interest in NZ First. Allowed that party to progress past the 5 percent threshold about three weeks from election day and could not eliminate them from contention, despite Peters’ own best efforts. Needs further training from John Key Consultants.
KPI Ten: Put Act back in its box
Failed. Average performance by National through first half of 2023 cemented Act into a greater role than in 2020, and possibly ever before. Allowed Seymour to challenge as de facto leader of centre-right. Did not intervene early enough in Tāmaki electorate to put the Brooke van Velden Act challenge away and save one of the bluest riband seats from going to the wire on election night.
KPI Eleven: Restore National to power
Pending. Likely positive result, one way or the other, but outcome remains unclear, even with Labour possibly halving in size. With a week to go, should have National in a more commanding position.
KPI Twelve: Understand Government
Pending. Has been a fast learner on the campaign and if he becomes PM he will have the benefit of turbo-charged advice and support. Must brush up on separation of powers with the judiciary, and on the need for independence for Police Commissioner and Reserve Bank Governor.
Section 3: Employee task most enjoyed?
Talking to Mike. Pep talks from John. Watching David squirm over his ‘confidence and supply’ stuff-up. Winning the first TVNZ debate by overtalking Chris. Riding in the new Crown Audi SUVs. Bodyguards.
Section 4: Employee leadership development needs?
Study the Dealing with Winston Manual, read How to End a Press Conference and Influence People, enrol David in puppy training.
Section 5: Overall Employer Rating:
– EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS
– Meets expectations
– Needs improvement
Next review due: October 2026.