Top 10 best-performing CEOs in New Zealand

Top 10 best-performing CEOs in New Zealand
Unusual among the biggest companies in APAC, New Zealand has three women leading the top ten largest listed companies

What is instantly apparent about the CEOs leading New Zealand’s ten largest companies is the number of women within its ranks.

While still only three, female representation among the leading listed firms in NZ is higher than many other countries across Asia-Pacific (and the world), including neighbour Australia – which, since the abrupt departure of Fortescue Metals CEO Fiona Hicks in August, has just two women in its ten largest companies. 

As for Asia, you would be hard pressed to find one woman among the ten largest listed companies. While Singapore (OCBC’s Helen Wong) and China (Ping An’s Jessica Tan) each have one – India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan are all without.

With three women at the helm of New Zealand’s top five largest companies, including its largest, Xero, the country continues to be positively progressive.

Richard Umbers

10. Richard Umbers

Ryman Healthcare

Market cap: US$2.88 billion

A seasoned retail leader and CEO with extensive experience in leading large global businesses, Richard Umbers was appointed Group CEO of Ryman in 2021 – and has since taken New Zealand’s largest listed retirement business to new heights with assets of $12.51 billion (March 2023), up 14.1% on 2022.

Richard has led Ryman to increased underlying profits while repositioning the business for future growth with a refocused future pipeline to achieve positive free cashflow by FY25.

Among his previous retail experiences, Richard served as divisional director of buying at supermarket retailer Kaufland in Germany, and CEO at retailer Myer in Australia. He has also held senior roles at Woolworths in Australia and at Australia Post and Aldi in Europe.

Miles Hurrell

9. Miles Hurrell

Fonterra Co-operative Group

Market cap: US$3.07 billion

As CEO since August 2018, Miles Hurrell has led the turnaround of the Co-operative, which is hugely important to the country’s export earnings, bringing in about US$18 billion a year. The Co-op is owned by its 10,000 farmer suppliers and supports 20,000 employees.

As well as selling its iconic Tip Top ice-cream company for US$380 million, Miles has led the Co-op through strategic reviews into a new growth phase focused on New Zealand’s pasture-based milk, dairy innovation and science and sustainability.

A 20-year veteran of Fonterra, Miles has held increasingly senior leadership roles, including two and a half years as COO, where he led farmer services and engagement and operation of New Zealand’s 790 Farm Source retail stores. 

Mike Fuge

8. Mike Fuge

Contact Energy

Market cap: US$7.14 billion

With a career in the energy sector spanning 35 years, Mike took the helm of Contact Energy in February 2020 and has since navigated various major challenges, from two rounds of Covid to many industrial landscape changes.

One of New Zealand’s four major power firms, Contact is spending billions building new geothermal, wind and solar power plants as it looks to lift generation to 100% renewable.

As a Global Women champion for change, Mike prioritises DEI recently setting the bar high with new parental leave policies and boosting the employee share scheme.

Mike has also served as CEO of Pacific Hydro in Australia and held senior roles at Genesis Energy and Royal Dutch Shell Group.

Jason Boyes

7. Jason Boyes

Infratil

Market value: US$5.29 billion

Following a 15-year legal career in corporate finance and M&A in London and New Zealand, Jason joined leading alternative asset manager Morrison & Co (parent of Infratil) in 2011.

He has since led the IPO of Z Energy and been involved in numerous Infratil investments – including the acquisition of Vodafone NZ and subsequent capital raise, the establishment of Longroad Energy, and Galileo Green Energy, and the management of Infratil’s strategic review of its stake in Tilt Renewables.

His many successes landed him the top job at Infratil in 2021, where he leads and oversees the development and implementation of strategy for the world’s first listed infrastructure funds – and the management of its investments.

Vince Hawksworth

6. Vince Hawksworth

Mercury NZ

Market value: US$5.45 billion

Joining Mercury NZ in March 2020, Vince Hawksworth has since led the electricity retailer and generator to greater and more sustainable heights – overseeing the US$3 billion takeover of Australasian wind farm developer Tilt Renewable in 2021 and more recently the acquisition of Trustpower’s retail business, doubling Mercury’s total customer connections and accelerating its entry into the telecoms market.

With deep experience in the energy sector both in New Zealand and Australia, Vince has previously held chief executive roles at Hydro Tasmania and at Trustpower, where he led the demerger of Tilt Renewables from Trustpower. He also led the generation and retail divisions at Genesis Energy.

Jolie Hodson

5. Jolie Hodson

Spark New Zealand

Market value: US$5.81 billion

As CEO of the country’s largest telecoms and digital services company since 2019, Jolie has successfully navigated Covid and achieved positive financials – leading the way among NZX-listed gender-diverse boards.

Jolie’s rise to the top follows various leadership roles at Spark over six years, including CFO, where she was pivotal in transforming Spark from telco to digital service provider – landing the Deloitte CFO of the Year award for her efforts. She recently also bagged Deloitte’s CEO of the Year award.

A strong advocate for DEI, Julie is a member of Global Women, a founder of On Being Bold, and is passionate about mentoring women in business. Last year, she became the Convenor of the Climate Leaders Coalition, uniting NZ businesses to raise the bar on climate action.

Carrie Hurihanganui

4. Carrie Hurihanganui

Auckland Airport

Market cap: US$7.52 billion

No stranger to aviation, Carrie has more than two decades of operational and strategic experience under her belt and has spent most of her career at Air New Zealand, where she started as cabin crew and worked her way up to the senior leadership team. 

As well as leading customer experience transformation and maximising business growth, Carrie served as COO overseeing a global workforce of 9,000 across 16 countries. 

Joining Auckland Airport in February 2022, Carrie has steered the airport to post-pandemic success, with revenue more than doubling in the 12 months ending June, and is pushing ahead with the airport’s most significant upgrade in its history.

Neal Barclay

3. Neal Barclay

Meridian Energy

Market value: US$8.79 billion

Following a decade as finance chief, Neal Barclay took the helm of Meridian Energy, New Zealand’s largest energy generator and largest 100% renewable energy company, in 2018 – and has since been driving decarbonisation forward with renewable developments. 

Under Neal’s leadership, Meridian has become the first New Zealand company to progress a grid-scale battery construction, secured partners to advance the Southern Green Hydrogen project, doubled its pipeline of potential renewable energy projects, unveiled a customer-focused wellbeing programme, was named among the country’s most sustainable businesses by Kantar, and grown sales volumes by 2.6% in FY23. 

Prior to Meridian, Neal held various finance roles during a 13-year career with Telecom New Zealand.

Lewis Gradon

2. Lewis Gradon

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Market cap: US$8.81 billion

Lewis Gradon has spent his entire career at Fisher & Paykel – a staggering 40 years, seven years of which he has led the Auckland-headquartered healthcare giant as CEO.

Under his watch, the dual-listed group, which manufactures products for use in respiratory care, has delivered strong growth in global markets, invested continually in innovation, opened two new facilities including its third factory in Mexico, and become the first NZ listed company to break the US$20 billion market cap to just under US$20.5 billion.

In 2020, Lewis was crowned CEO of the Year by Deloitte for his wide knowledge of the company and insightful Covid-19 business decisions, with the company managing to maintain supply of life-saving products during the crisis, despite the challenges.

During his 40-year tenure with F&P, Lewis has held various engineering roles overseeing the development of the company’s range of products, and the development of manufacturing, IP and supply chain functions, and spent 15 years as SVP Products and Technology.

Lewis has big ambitions for the iconic dual-listed group, with a 30-year plan to double global revenue every five years.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

1. Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

Xero

Market cap: US$11.78 billion

Taking the helm of New Zealand’s most valuable company is no mean feat, but Sukhinder Singh Cassidy has certainly delivered since joining Xero late last year – with the tech company’s share price up a staggering 50% in the past six months alone.

Founded in Wellington in 2006, the US$18 billion tech company provides SMEs with accounting software delivered in the cloud and has 3.7 million global subscribers, with the majority based in New Zealand and Australia.

Arriving at Xero in November 2022, as one of just six women leading ASX 100 companies, Cassidy carries weighty credentials with more than 25 years of global leadership experience as a CEO, digital leader and board member.

She has experience building and scaling global companies including at ticketing business StubHub, where she served as President, and at Google – where, as President of APAC and Latin America for six years, she launched the tech giant’s business in China.

The Silicon Valley-based executive also worked as a manager at Amazon when it was an online bookstore and she has sat on numerous boards including Urban Outfitters, Ericsson, Trip Advisor, J.Crew and fintech Upstart.

Executive experience aside, Sukhinder is also an entrepreneur and investor, having co-founded three Silicon Valley startups, and penned a book on leadership.

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