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NZSA chair Hawkins steps down, replaced by Tony Mitchell

By Jenny Ruth

April 30 (BusinessDesk) - After about two years of threatening to do so, John Hawkins is stepping down as New Zealand Shareholders’ Association chair.

He will be replaced by Tony Mitchell who is chief executive of the NZ Marketing Association, chair of Cycling New Zealand and on the board of the global cycling organisation, UCI.

“Everyone has a use-by date. That’s the same with all companies,” Hawkins says.

Indeed, NZSA now routinely criticises directors who stay on boards more than 12 years.

Hawkins, 66, was the second NZSA chair, taking over from founder Bruce Sheppard, and helping to bring a strong dose of professionalism to the viewpoint of retail shareholders.

Hawkins was also an executive chair for a time until the NZSA appointed its first chief executive, Michael Midgley in February 2017.

Mitchell, 48, says he wants to build on the association’s track record, adding his “strong commercial and governance background."

“This is a great opportunity to get involved and to support the voice of shareholders,” he says.

Hawkins says he had aimed to grow the association’s membership and its influence.

“We’ve now got some resourcing with a CEO and EA (executive assistant). We’ve built a sustainable organisation that has real influence – that was one of the key things that I wanted to do, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure we provided value for our members and things they couldn’t easily access anywhere else,” he says.

He cites NZSA’s voting recommendations, in which it states how it will be voting any proxies it receives ahead of a company’s annual shareholders’ meeting.

That practice started with an occasional statement in a few high-profile situations but then broadened into regular coverage of about 100 companies.

Hawkins says that has led to the NZSA being granted proxies from an increasing pool of retail shareholders to the point where it now effectively constitutes the equivalent votes of a substantial shareholder – i.e., a shareholder who owns more than 5 percent of an NZX-listed entity.

Hawkins says his parting gift to members will be a “standing proxy arrangement” that will allow both members and non-members to assign their proxies to NZSA on a permanent basis.

Full details will be announced within the next couple of weeks.

Hawkins will remain on the board until the next NZSA AGM on Aug. 31 in Christchurch.

“I’m not a fan of people hanging around when they’ve finished their term,” he says, but adds that pressure was brought to bear to keep him on the board to allow Mitchell time to transition into the chair’s role.

“I will never walk away completely, but I don’t intend to maintain a high profile for the association going forward.”

Among the skills Mitchell will bring to the NZSA board is his online skills, “an area we know we need to improve on,” Hawkins says.

“We spent a lot of time finding the right person and we were lucky to have a number of really good candidates. We’re confident we’ve got the right person. He complements and strengthens the team.”


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