Ready for challenges ahead

Putting her mark on an organisation as large and complex as Gisborne District Council is going to be a big challenge for new chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann but she has a clear idea of what she wants to achieve and how that can be done, John Jones reports.

Putting her mark on an organisation as large and complex as Gisborne District Council is going to be a big challenge for new chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann but she has a clear idea of what she wants to achieve and how that can be done, John Jones reports.

AT HOME: Nedine Thatcher Swann holding son Hiki, 2, with husband Hiki Swann holding daughter Jhurnee, 4. Pictures by Liam Clayton
Nedine at work.

NEDINE Thatcher Swann, Gisborne District Council’s new chief executive, has a clear idea of what the future should be for an organisation that affects Gisborne people directly more than any other.

The youngest of the council’s four chief executives of the past three decades, the 40-year-old mother of four wants to make some culture changes at the council to make sure they are meeting the needs of the community they serve.

“I don’t think the organisation needs a superstar — what they do need is someone to bring out the best in them,” she said.

“It is about getting people to work together. I am a very collaborative leader and I find that when people work together, they come up with better solutions and take ownership of the results. This however does not mean that I won’t make the hard decisions.

“There are some big challenges. No.1 is keeping the rates down while delivering a programme of major projects. When you think about the work that is on the programme, we need to find ways to manage that. Part of it is about getting our intelligence right around managing our financial stability and assets better.

“That is a biggie for us — maintaining financial stability. To put things into context, a building or other capital work costing $7 million equates to a 1 percent rates increase because of the need to depreciate it.

“But also the community has some expectations around what they want to see.

“We know what we have to do to keep this place looking good — provide good facilities like a pool and a library and open parks, open spaces and sportsgrounds so people will be able to live and play in our town.

“But we also need to maintain essential services. We have a five-month challenge to work out some options for our wastewater management. An options group has been working through that process and we will have some recommendations about where we go into the future and the costs we have been looking at.”

Estimates around a second BTF (Biological Trickling Filter) plant for treating the city’s wastewater or a wetlands system have been anything from $10m to $80m.

Roading is another challenge. There are something like 178,000 hectares of forests to be harvested over the next 10 or so years.

“That is going to put immense pressure on our roading. Hopefully the (just released) regional economic action plan has provided us with a placeholder for central government to come to the party with some of the roading costs. Again, it is another thing to be managed.

“In all of this we need to provide business-as-usual, continuing to provide good customer service and responding to the community’s requests for service. For me that is a given — it is part of what you have to do as a chief executive.

“But one thing I want to do, and I have said this to the councillors, is to focus on our relationships, with one another as staff, as staff to councillors and with the council to our community.

“What we have seen over the years is that our reputation as a council has not been that good. It has been reflected in our resident satisfaction surveys and that is an area where I think we can improve.

“I will have a focus on trying to improve our relationships. That is key for me.”

One extra challenge is that she has a number of senior staff appointments to make. There were a series of resignations prior to her appointment among department heads.

“I have got to get stability back in the organisation because at the moment, my second tiers are all in an acting role except for our HR director, Karen Aspey.”

That includes the environment and regulations, operations and the department she headed, planning and development.

“I am in a really fortunate situation because I get to hand-pick the people to help me and to help the council through this next phase.

“It is also a difficult situation because it is going to be hard to do anything until those key positions are filled.

“Another thing I am really strong on is local solutions, local development and looking for opportunities to support people to create local jobs. I have been talking to my staff as we go through procurement processes.

“It is a fine line though as we want to be sure we are getting the best people in while making sure we have got really good opportunities for local people to participate.

“That is something where I will be putting pressure on my staff to think outside the square.

“I think sometimes we are always looking outside rather than the solutions coming from within. We have got to back ourselves a bit more.”

She credits some wonderful people who were influential in her development.

One was her grandmother Kahu Carter (nee Northover) who was a strong advocate for education, and the late chairman of Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou, Api Mahuika, who supported her through her career.

“Those two have been quite critical in terms of where I have gone.”

Born in Gisborne, Nedine is the daughter of Tina and Jonathan Thatcher, both of whom are true East Coasters.

She and her husband Hiki have four children, Zaris, 19, who is studying at Victoria University, Arzana, 12, who is at St Joseph’s Maori Girls’ College in Napier, Jhurnee, 4, and Hiki, 2. Hiki snr is a rural manager with FMG Insurance.

Nedine attended Kaiti Playcentre, Kaiti School, Ilminster Intermediate and Gisborne Girls’ High School before going to Wellington Training College to train as a teacher.

Her second secondment while at training college was to a group of intermediate children and she decided that teaching was not for her.

Instead she began a long academic career that she combined with work in Wellington. That included a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education, specialising in Maori studies. While studying, she also spent time working with the 5 percent group of children with special needs, and later worked at the Education Review Office evaluating schools nationally.

Prior to returning to Gisborne, she spent time at the Foundation for Science Technology and Research. There she remembers being able to help local businesses with research and development — Pultron Composites was one of them.

However, through it all she had a clear goal — she wanted to run a major business one day.

When she came back to Gisborne, she and Hiki bought a vineyard with four hectares of gewürztraminer grapes while working at their day jobs, which proved too hard. Fortunately they managed to sell before the wine glut of 2010.

Continuing her education career, she went to Tairawhiti Polytechnic, rising to head of school for business, before going to Gisborne District Council eight years ago.

At the council, she has progressively moved up all the way to the chief executive position with all the challenges of an $80m budget and responsibility for assets worth $1.9 billion.

Nedine feels, in many ways, she always had her eye on the top job at the council — which gives her the opportunity to manage a major entity and large staff, something she has aimed at since first starting her academic and business career.

While naturally modest, she is proud that the councillors, who make the appointment, decided to give her the chance from a strong field of candidates.

Now it is a case of putting her ideas into practice.

NEDINE Thatcher Swann, Gisborne District Council’s new chief executive, has a clear idea of what the future should be for an organisation that affects Gisborne people directly more than any other.

The youngest of the council’s four chief executives of the past three decades, the 40-year-old mother of four wants to make some culture changes at the council to make sure they are meeting the needs of the community they serve.

“I don’t think the organisation needs a superstar — what they do need is someone to bring out the best in them,” she said.

“It is about getting people to work together. I am a very collaborative leader and I find that when people work together, they come up with better solutions and take ownership of the results. This however does not mean that I won’t make the hard decisions.

“There are some big challenges. No.1 is keeping the rates down while delivering a programme of major projects. When you think about the work that is on the programme, we need to find ways to manage that. Part of it is about getting our intelligence right around managing our financial stability and assets better.

“That is a biggie for us — maintaining financial stability. To put things into context, a building or other capital work costing $7 million equates to a 1 percent rates increase because of the need to depreciate it.

“But also the community has some expectations around what they want to see.

“We know what we have to do to keep this place looking good — provide good facilities like a pool and a library and open parks, open spaces and sportsgrounds so people will be able to live and play in our town.

“But we also need to maintain essential services. We have a five-month challenge to work out some options for our wastewater management. An options group has been working through that process and we will have some recommendations about where we go into the future and the costs we have been looking at.”

Estimates around a second BTF (Biological Trickling Filter) plant for treating the city’s wastewater or a wetlands system have been anything from $10m to $80m.

Roading is another challenge. There are something like 178,000 hectares of forests to be harvested over the next 10 or so years.

“That is going to put immense pressure on our roading. Hopefully the (just released) regional economic action plan has provided us with a placeholder for central government to come to the party with some of the roading costs. Again, it is another thing to be managed.

“In all of this we need to provide business-as-usual, continuing to provide good customer service and responding to the community’s requests for service. For me that is a given — it is part of what you have to do as a chief executive.

“But one thing I want to do, and I have said this to the councillors, is to focus on our relationships, with one another as staff, as staff to councillors and with the council to our community.

“What we have seen over the years is that our reputation as a council has not been that good. It has been reflected in our resident satisfaction surveys and that is an area where I think we can improve.

“I will have a focus on trying to improve our relationships. That is key for me.”

One extra challenge is that she has a number of senior staff appointments to make. There were a series of resignations prior to her appointment among department heads.

“I have got to get stability back in the organisation because at the moment, my second tiers are all in an acting role except for our HR director, Karen Aspey.”

That includes the environment and regulations, operations and the department she headed, planning and development.

“I am in a really fortunate situation because I get to hand-pick the people to help me and to help the council through this next phase.

“It is also a difficult situation because it is going to be hard to do anything until those key positions are filled.

“Another thing I am really strong on is local solutions, local development and looking for opportunities to support people to create local jobs. I have been talking to my staff as we go through procurement processes.

“It is a fine line though as we want to be sure we are getting the best people in while making sure we have got really good opportunities for local people to participate.

“That is something where I will be putting pressure on my staff to think outside the square.

“I think sometimes we are always looking outside rather than the solutions coming from within. We have got to back ourselves a bit more.”

She credits some wonderful people who were influential in her development.

One was her grandmother Kahu Carter (nee Northover) who was a strong advocate for education, and the late chairman of Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou, Api Mahuika, who supported her through her career.

“Those two have been quite critical in terms of where I have gone.”

Born in Gisborne, Nedine is the daughter of Tina and Jonathan Thatcher, both of whom are true East Coasters.

She and her husband Hiki have four children, Zaris, 19, who is studying at Victoria University, Arzana, 12, who is at St Joseph’s Maori Girls’ College in Napier, Jhurnee, 4, and Hiki, 2. Hiki snr is a rural manager with FMG Insurance.

Nedine attended Kaiti Playcentre, Kaiti School, Ilminster Intermediate and Gisborne Girls’ High School before going to Wellington Training College to train as a teacher.

Her second secondment while at training college was to a group of intermediate children and she decided that teaching was not for her.

Instead she began a long academic career that she combined with work in Wellington. That included a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education, specialising in Maori studies. While studying, she also spent time working with the 5 percent group of children with special needs, and later worked at the Education Review Office evaluating schools nationally.

Prior to returning to Gisborne, she spent time at the Foundation for Science Technology and Research. There she remembers being able to help local businesses with research and development — Pultron Composites was one of them.

However, through it all she had a clear goal — she wanted to run a major business one day.

When she came back to Gisborne, she and Hiki bought a vineyard with four hectares of gewürztraminer grapes while working at their day jobs, which proved too hard. Fortunately they managed to sell before the wine glut of 2010.

Continuing her education career, she went to Tairawhiti Polytechnic, rising to head of school for business, before going to Gisborne District Council eight years ago.

At the council, she has progressively moved up all the way to the chief executive position with all the challenges of an $80m budget and responsibility for assets worth $1.9 billion.

Nedine feels, in many ways, she always had her eye on the top job at the council — which gives her the opportunity to manage a major entity and large staff, something she has aimed at since first starting her academic and business career.

While naturally modest, she is proud that the councillors, who make the appointment, decided to give her the chance from a strong field of candidates.

Now it is a case of putting her ideas into practice.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    Should consultation on Gisborne city wastewater treatment and disposal include a “do nothing” option as suggested by the Mayor on Thursday, as well as the five options priced at estimated capital costs of $23.5 million to $42.1m which were approved by councillors?