Auckland port’s top table change continues with chair to go next month

Leadership changes at under-pressure Ports of Auckland continue, with the announcement chairman Bill Osborne will step down next month.

The news from the Auckland Council-owned port was expected, with the mayor’s office understood to have been driving a search for new directors and taking a close interest in the recruitment of a new chief executive after serious health and safety issues at the port, disappointing financial results and productivity and a vexed container terminal automation project.

New board appointments are expected to be announced next week, the Herald understands.

While the new chair will be appointed by the port board, the Herald understands Air NZ deputy chairwoman Jan Dawson has been shoulder-tapped for the job in the council’s search for a fresh board and leader. An Aucklander, she is also a director of Meridian Energy and AIG.

Former chief executive Tony Gibson left the company in July.

Osborne, on the board since 2017 and chair since early this year, said he had made the decision “in the best interests of the company”.

“When I stepped into this role at the start of the year, the company was going through a difficult time. It has been a privilege for me to work with the board and team at Ports of Auckland to get things back on track,” a statement in Osborne’s name said.

The port company has ignored or declined several requests by the Herald to interview him.

The “difficult time” the statement referred to was the fallout from a damning independent report on the port’s health and safety regime and culture, commissioned by the council, and the port’s continuing failure to successfully fully implement an automation project started in 2016.

The port has refused to reveal the cost of this project, which industry watchers put at $400 million and upwards.The council has also declined to discuss the cost, though the Herald understands councillors don’t know the cost.

“The business now has a clear plan for the implementation of the recommendations made by the CHASNZ review of safety at the port, and for the completion of its automation project. Key strategies are also in place to lift performance for our customers and increase returns to shareholders,” said the statement.

Osborne, who is president of New Zealand Rugby, said he would be overseas for most of the last quarter of this year “so stepping down in September is the best way for me to support a smooth transition”.

“New directors can be appointed, a new chair elected, and momentum maintained within the business.”

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