TOP 200 : Designworks Visionary Leader The Honourable Dr Michael Cullen

At some point in his career while looking ahead to 2020 and the looming demographic bubble of retiring baby-boomers, Dr Michael Cullen, the 2009 Designworks Top 200 Visionary Leader was obviously troubled by what he saw. And he resolved to do something about it.
Michael Cullen migrated from the United Kingdom to New Zealand in time to attend secondary school at Christ’s College in Christchurch in the late 1950s and early ’60s. He achieved an MA in history at Canterbury University and then gained Ph.D in Social and Economic History from the University of Edinburgh. He was an academic who, in 1974 joined the New Zealand Labour Party. The rest, as they say, is history and fascinating one at that. He was senior politician and cabinet minister through the turbulent last 20 years of the 20th century and the first eight years of this one.
But it was not his attainment of his political office that attracted the attention of this year’s Top 200 judges, so much as his vision for, understanding of, and resolve to address the critical problem of New Zealand’s dismal savings record. His establishment of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund – labelled the Cullen Fund – and of Kiwisaver are critical to New Zealand and legacy which, if not tampered with too much, will be in the best interests of all New Zealanders, said the judges.
He was, in the judges’ opinion, an astute and globally aware Minister of Finance who, because of his mature and well-considered fiscal policies, helped New Zealand better weather the economic storm which broke near the time of his departure from the Cabinet table. He had, they said, long-term vision of the danger to New Zealand of the profoundly bad consequences of the growing gap between saving and borrowing economies and he did his best to address the issue.
As Dr Cullen said in his valedictory speech to Parliament: “I am certainly convinced that future government will have to rebuild Kiwisaver to play bigger role in dealing with our imbalances. And the New Zealand Superannuation Fund must be continued as part of our long-term fiscal strategy.” It is conclusion with which this year’s Top 200 judging panel agreed.

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