Business Profiles

New chair at Napier Port – Blair O’Keeffe

Blair O’Keeffe has replaced Alasdair MacLeod as Napier Port chair. Alasdair was a board member since 2014 and at the helm for 8 years, playing a significant role in helping navigate the port through COVID-19 while at the same time undertaking a major new wharf project to create new shipping opportunities for local businesses. Blair, born and bred in Hawke’s Bay has a senior executive background including being a chief executive of a major port. He has other governance roles including fellow NZ listed company Z Energy.

What is your connection to Hawke’s Bay?
I grew up in Hawke’s Bay, going to school in Napier. I had a great childhood, long summers, the beach, sports, fishing (including around the port when that was allowed…they were different times). After school and polytechnic (now EIT), I left to go to university and then developed my career around New Zealand and then offshore.

After 25 years as a senior executive and CEO, I made the decision to develop my governance career and then had the freedom to choose where to live. Hawke’s Bay became an obvious choice. My wife and I were keen to give our young son the kind of lifestyle Hawke’s Bay offers and most of my family is still based here. We’ve been back for nearly seven years now and can’t imagine being anywhere else.

What’s your interpretation of good governance?
It starts with direction. Ensuring there is a clear and robust strategy, supported by a good plan, with the right people, resources and monitoring systems, to deliver it in a constantly changing world around us. Strong values and a culture of care for the people, stakeholders and shareholders of the business are essential. As is diversity of thinking at the board and executive table.

As a former CE of a port, how do you ensure not to blur the line between governance and management?I like to keep things simple. The CEO runs the company. The Board is there to ensure they are successful doing that. That requires a strong, open relationship between the Board and CEO, built on trust, collaboration and respect. Good CEO’s operate at their best when they are given the space to be accountable and grow, under leadership that is there to guide, motivate, develop and challenge them when needed to get the best outcomes.

What is your chair/leadership style?
As a Chair my role is to get the best out of the board and CEO in service of the long-term performance of the business. I like to promote open and inclusive dialogue that leads to alignment of purpose and decisive action. Being a values-based leader, I take the reputation of the business and its people very seriously.

Who/what has been a big influence on your career?

There’s a Benjamin Franklin quote ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’. I would say a willingness to learn from and connect with others has been the biggest influence on my career. I’ve been lucky enough to work around the world, in a number of industries, with some wonderfully interesting and talented people, including here in Hawke’s Bay, so I truly value different perspectives that arise from different people, cultures and industries and that there is always more to learn to get better at everything you do.

What can the port do more broadly to promote HB as a place to do business?
Napier Port plays a large part in Hawke’s Bay’s success and it is our day job to market the region to the world and the team is constantly working on this. We have recently invested $170m to add a new ‘gate’ to the world with our new Wharf and the team is busy promoting that to the international shipping lines. One thing we really need as a region is an integrated spatial plan for transport and infrastructure, industrial and productive land. Making sure our exporters, importers and transport operators have the tools, resources and frameworks to grow
(responsibly) and connect their cargo with the world whether by road, rail or sea. This is essential for the prosperity of the region and we have started some work supporting the five councils on advancing this.

What do you see as the issues that could impact on the port’s performance and what do you see as opportunities for growth at the port?
It looks likely that the economy may be a bit tougher in the short-term and that may impact on the region’s importers and exporters. Having said that, there is a lot of strength in our food and
fibre sectors in particular, which have continued to prove how durable they are. The growing world needs to eat and have shelter and our reginal primary sector excels at producing these commodities.  It’s great to see cruise return and that looks set to reach record levels. Our recent investments in wharf capacity and other infrastructure means we are well placed to serve the needs of the region and wider NZ, as some of the other ports struggle for capacity and look set to do so for some time. We’re now in a great position to release the pressure being felt across the supply chain, having the capacity to support further regional growth across container and bulk cargoes as well as growth in cruise. Overall, I am very optimistic about Napier Port’s ongoing performance.

What do you do in your spare time?
Like most people, I value spending time with family and friends. You’re likely to find me outdoors – I love tennis, the beach, mountain biking, doing work around the property and enjoying everything the region has to offer. I also enjoy travelling and seeing the wonders around us, both throughout New Zealand and internationally.

Apology – and correction

The headline of the print version of this article referred to Blair as the CEO, when I fact he is the chair. The CE is Todd Dawson. The Profit apologises to both Napier Port and our readers for the confusion and error.