Good Governance

By David

When a sport bombs at four Olympic Games in a row, normally their funding is cut to ribbons. But when Miskimmin outmaneuvered the Coalition of Regions and assumed parental rights over the sport of swimming, money didn’t matter anymore. Whatever the cost Miskimmin began a crusade to prove his way of running the sport is best. As much money as it takes will be spent to prove his point. This campaign is personal; deeply personal. This is all about demonstrating that Miskimmin and his throng of foreign imports and his mates from the Institute of Directors and his millions spent on the North Shore of Auckland are the way things should be done. None of us wanted Project Vanguard but when Miskimmin and Moller out-bullied the grass roots of the sport we got Project Vanguard and Miskimmin’s rule along with it. Miskimmin knows his reputation; his whole being, depends on swimming winning gold medals at the Rio Games. Miss that, and Miskimmin will have fed his government and the people of New Zealand the biggest and most expensive fairy tale ever.

Unfortunately for Miskimmin, things have not begun well. All the failings that were so evident in the Coulter, Byrne and Cameron era are apparent still and probably worse. I see the new CEO of Swimming New Zealand, Christian Renford, this week distributed an Australian document telling us how sports should be governed. It is not a good start. New Zealanders do not take kindly to being told what constitutes good governance by a sporting nation that happily resorted to under-arm bowling in order to win a cricket match.

The document actually makes interesting reading. It tells us quite a bit about Christian Renford. Beware New Zealand; Christian Renford could be just the sort of person to do well in the new Swimming New Zealand. His first public communication is a document promoting an Australian version of Project Vanguard. It’s all about centralizing power. Everything Miskimmin has done and the first word from Renford is a grab for naked power. What else would you call the following?

  1. A single national entity for all forms of the sport, with horizontal integration of sport disciplines.
  2. All parts must work in cohesion and adhere to a direction set by the national entity.
  3. A Nominations Committee that nominates Directors for vacancies
  4. Chair elected by the Board.
  5. The Board to appoint a minority number of Directors to obtain an appropriate skills mix.

Oh, there are also points about financial reporting, gender equality, compensation disclosure, strategic plans, annual accounts and the like. Nothing wrong with that; all good stuff. However, the bit that I found most interesting is in the introduction to the Australian Report. It says, “Sports will be required to demonstrate good leadership, governance and administration and sports will develop successful programs to achieve competitive results and to spend taxpayer funding effectively.”

And that is where Christian Renford has a huge problem. Let’s look at how his sport measured up in this week in terms of those goals. Remember this is not in the past decade or the past year or the past month. We are not going to talk about the Swimming New Zealand decision to secretly alter the minutes of an Annual Meeting or the occasion Miskimmin’s hired guns ordered the Swimming New Zealand Board to reverse a vote their boss didn’t like. This is just last week; Monday to Friday. How well did swimming perform in terms of good governance, good administration, successful results and spending our money effectively?

We will save the best of these, good governance, until last. But, first, what about this week’s good administration score. Several years ago I held several fairly senior management positions in the New Zealand meat industry. I was involved in dealing with some of New Zealand’s toughest and most uncompromising trade union representatives; men like Middlemass and Freeman. I recall having a cup of tea and discussing good management practice with Freeman. This tough, hardened trade unionist who had led and lived through a thousand strikes and lock-outs said something I’ve never forgotten. “David,” he said, “The logic of my case, the justice of my claim should always be sufficient to have the men come with me. If I have to order my workers to follow a path, I’ve failed.” Judged on that standard Swimming New Zealand failed this week. A regional constitution has been prepared. Rule 8.3(b) of the Swimming New Zealand Constitution requires the Regional Associations to adopt “the form of Regional Associations prescribed by SNZ” or cease to be a member of SNZ. In my view, by this action, Miskimmin, Moller and now Renford declared themselves bullies. According to one of the finest leaders of men I’ve known, Miskimmin, Moller and Renford failed the litmus test of good management. Incapable of relying on the justice of their cause they resorted to force. No wonder cricket is a mess.

But, let’s move on. What about “successful results” and spending our “money effectively”? It is difficult to imagine how successful results are going to flow from an organization that has no permanent Auckland coach for world class swimmers like Boyle and Stanley. It is even more difficult to imagine how an organisation that can’t put together a coherent advertisement for a new coach could possibly plan and execute a successful Olympic campaign. This week Swimming New Zealand published one of the most badly worded recruitment advertisements I’ve seen in a long time. Sections and paragraphs float in space with no connection to their neighbours. The content is vague and mostly meaningless. Is ‘Developmente’ Spanish for ‘development’? It’s not, but it looks as if it should be. I especially love the phrase “communicating in open, honest ways that promote trust and understanding, and builds relationships”. Remind me, is this the same SNZ that in three years has never spoken to West Auckland Aquatics? And then there is this gem, “Extensive experience as a swimming coach OR”. Does this mean that extensive experience as a swimming coach is optional? I see the new coach is expected to “Attend NZSTAC meetings”. What on God’s good earth is NZSTAC? I suspect it’s either NZSCAT (acronym of the organisation title) or NZSCTA (acronym used on the organisation logo) but it’s not NZSTAC. I see the new coach is going to provide a “single point of accountability, in line with the continuously shifting landscape of High Performance Swimming.” How some poor bugger is going to fix any sort of single point in a continuously shifting landscape is beyond me. The advertisement is full of such nonsense and contains no indication of the purpose of the appointment. A decent coach is going to be horrified by this advertisement; is going to run a mile. And so, has it been a week of progress in “developing a successful program? Not this week it hasn’t.

And finally, how has this week treated SNZ in the area of good governance? Perhaps it’s best left for you to decide. Here is what I know. For as long as I’ve been back in New Zealand, the North Shore Club has been a vocal supporter of most things Swimming New Zealand. I’ve been at meetings where the previous North Shore Chairman, Phil Mitchell, has vigorously argued the SNZ cause. And when he did, I found it difficult to escape the feeling that he viewed those of us with a different view, as intellectually challenged insurgents. It is a characteristic that Mitchell and the current North Shore Chairman, Malcolm Donaldson have in common. They both leave the impression that they and their North Shore Club know what is best for Auckland Swimming. We should, perhaps even must, revere them and their Club.

You can imagine my surprise then when I see, on the North Shore website, that the previous North Shore Club Secretary, Paul Cropp, is still a North Shore Board member. You see Cropp was the CEO of several finance companies that went belly up owing about 6000 investors about $400 million. Cropp’s involvement was the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation for a year or so. He has been on trial in the High Court for a couple of months and on Friday was found guilty of lending approximately $13.6 million to a related party in breach of the companies trust deeds; sometimes also referred to as “theft by a person in a special relationship”. While the Crown and the Court never alleged any act of personal dishonesty the Judge’s decision includes findings such as

  1. Mr Cropp must bear a considerable degree of responsibility, however, for the Credit Committee being misled in such a material way.
  2. In failing to advise his colleagues on the Credit Committee of the true situation, Mr Cropp assisted to perpetuate a myth.
  3. He permitted the Credit Committee to consider a loan application that he knew to be in substance a work of fiction.
  4. Thirdly, the whole loan application process was effectively a charade.  Mr Cropp deliberately did not tell them that Dominion had already made the advance.

Why on earth Phil Mitchell and Malcolm Donaldson allowed Cropp to remain as Secretary or even on the Board of the North Shore Club is beyond me. I accept Cropp has a quality highly prized in Miskimmin’s Swimming New Zealand. He is a member of the Institute of Directors. A quality he shares with just about every suit appointed to the organization these days. If you care about the company you keep it may be best to avoid membership of the Institute of Directors.

Oh, I can imagine the cries of innocent until proven guilty; entitled to his day in court, and the like. But really, when two North Shore Club Chairman have questioned the corporate behaviour of Swimming Auckland and the author of Swimwatch, their own organisation better be squeaky clean. Good governance required Mitchell and Donaldson ask Cropp to stand down during the SFO investigation and trial. They did not do that and, in my opinion, that has reflected badly on their judgement, on the North Shore Club and on swimming in general. It is not a good week for Swimming New Zealand when the club that is its staunchest ally has a Board member and previous Secretary convicted of financial misbehaviour. In my view, it is an even worse week for Swimming New Zealand when two Chairman of the organization’s flagship Club appear to do nothing about it. The disaster that is SNZ management rolls on. Certainly, Miskimmin, Moller, Renford and their mates have not had the best of weeks – not when it comes to good governance.