New Zealand vs. Australia CEO personalities – Why Kiwis are innovators and Aussies make money! What are the differences between our two countries’ business leaders?

The income gap between New Zealand and Australia has been of particular concern to governments – not least because it’s a bad look to have tens of thousands of your constituents vote with their feet. The data is extremely clear – where there was once a $10,000 gap in GDP per capita at the end of the 1980’s, it is now over $15,000.

Explanations abound – the Australians are lucky because of their resources, they have a bigger population, they are closer to Asia etc…And there is undoubted truth in those reasons. Others note that New Zealand business owners are seduced by our laid back lifestyle and the ‘3B’s’ – having made enough money to get a bach, boat and BMW we retreat into a happy torpor and strive no more. Certainly NZ struggles to grow businesses of global scale.

Now comes some evidence that Kiwi business owners aren’t that good at running businesses at all, via a global benchmarking study conducted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

So the attention should turn to the CEOs who run our firms. After all, CEOs account for between 15% and 30% of the variance in firm performance.

The person at the top is influential precisely because followers cede them decision rights and ensure that they have greater decision latitude than anyone else. This means that what people at the top are like – way deep inside, their values and their personalities – will have sustained impact.

We know that at a country level, having the wrong person in charge can inflict untold misery and suffering – just ask the citizens of countries ruled by Robert Mugabe, Bashar Assad or Kim il Sung.

On the scale of organisations, so too can appointing the wrong CEO bequeath collective wretchedness and workforce underperformance. Carly Fiorina, the flamboyant CEO of Hewlett Packard executed for her Board a spectacularly bad deal (merging with Compaq) and engineered a near terminal decline in the organisation’s culture and performance. Fiorina was so reviled by the workers in both organisations that after she was ousted from the company (incidentally pocketing a US21 million severance), HP and Compaq staff built a website to derail her candidacy for the US Senate.(1)

So are there differences between NZ and Australian business leaders? How do we compare to our Australian cousins? At the first in our series of Leadership Breakfast Talks Dave Winsborough presented research conducted on a large sample of NZ and Australian Chief Executives and described the psychological traits that do differentiate our two countries. Dr Jarrett Shalhoop, of Hogan Assessment Systems, has just completed research on Chinese managers and leaders, and joined Dave to offer insights and answer questions.  Dr Shalhoop is an expert on cross cultural leader evaluation and global leadership capability.

If you would like more information on Dave’s presentation or upcoming breakfast events please contact

For a summary of Dave’s talk, please click on the follow e-book: Niceguysfinishlast

(1) Fiorina was so despised HP staff built a website to record their disgust and expose her during her run for congress (