TOP 200 : History of the Top 200 – Part II – Tributes

Economists described the performance of corporate New Zealand in 2000 as “a tale of two economies”. Export-based businesses were “in the money” but, things were not so hot for those “hitched to the domestic economy”. few years of good economic fortune lay ahead, however.
The first 10 years of the Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Awards, from 1990 to 1999, ended on high note. Dr Rod­erick Dean, Telecom’s formidably-focused chief executive through the 1990s, had been chosen as the Top 200’s Chief Executive of the Decade because, as Deloitte’s executive chairman at the time, John Hagen and I agreed, Dr Dean “epitomised the spirit of outstanding leadership” that was expected of Top 200 company.
By 2000 there were eight individual awards, including the New Zealand Institute of Management’s Young Executive of the Year Award, which was invited to join the family. It seemed appropriate that New Zealand’s premier and most coveted business awards should not only acknowledge and applaud the best of corporate executives in the marketplace, but also identify the most promising of the nation’s next generation of organisational leaders.
And, firstly as reflection of the emerging impact of e-commerce, Deloitte sponsored new award category, the e-Merging Business of the Year. Recognising that it was innovation and pioneering spirit, rather than technical process which needed fostering, the name of the award was changed in 2001 to the Deloitte Emerging Enterprise Award. Over the next nine years it served to identify some of New Zealand’s most creative and successful new companies – many of which grew large enough to become members of the Top 200 club.
The pace of change, led by the dramatic shift in the deployment of information technologies, quickened with the turn of the century. As Hagen put it: “Ten years ago, we did not all have personal computers on our desks. Five years ago, email was novelty. Two years ago, the internet was novelty, and just year ago e-business was buzzword used by many but understood by few.” The challenge, he said, was for business to cope with that rate of change.
His words became more prophetic as the decade unfolded.
Some important long-distance supporters had joined the Awards’ sponsorship team for the unfolding next 10 years. They include QBE Insurance which, since 1998, has lent its name to the Top 200 Chairperson of the Year Award, and Designworks, which not only creates the look and feel of the event each year, but also supports the high profile and very popular Visionary Leader category.
What difference year made. In 2001 just one company almost “single handedly halved” the collective profit performance of our Top 200 companies. The once iconic Air New Zealand fell from business grace after its “ill fated” acquisition of the former Australian airline Ansett. That particular corporate fiasco both broke and made some commercial reputations.
A year later at NZ Management magazine we were celebrating the 20th birthday of the compilation of our Top 200 list, the members of which were reporting increased revenues, bigger profits, lower debt profiles, improved margins and stronger balance sheets. The year’s results were, said Hagen and Deloitte chief executive Nick Main, tribute to “some great leadership”.
On the other hand, the world had become more dangerous place. New York’s Twin Towers destruction on September 11, 2001 introduced new rogue factor to global business. Reading beyond the headlines, Hagen and Main warned that the world had been dealt double blow through terrorism and the demise of some previously large companies including Enron, Worldcom and one of the big five global accounting firms, Arthur Andersen. New Zealand enterprise would need some very inspired leadership if it wished to successfully navigate what looked like very tricky waters ahead, they said.
New Zealand’s economy continued to confound however, and remained surprisingly robust into 2003. Despite strong dollar and record deficit in the United States, the country’s Top 200 companies chalked up “total profitability increases of more than 120 percent on 2002”. The SARS virus and the Iraq war took their respective body tolls, but the dollar edged past 60c headed for even higher levels later.
Marsh joined the family of sponsors and remains there still supporting the Top 200 Most Improved Performance Award.
Personally I will never forget the night of the 2004 Top 200 Awards. We celebrated, with party-like theme, 15 years of acclaiming the best in big business. But the sweet taste of success that comes with job well done and for so long, delivered most bitter blow. Susan Peach, my friend and colleague of nearly 30 years and the individual who tirelessly and professionally stage-managed the event from day one, never made it to work the next day. Nor ever again. She died from malignant melanoma just six weeks later.
It is difficult to know what else to say about 2004, except that at its end everywhere, other than in the offices of NZ Management magazine, people felt good about things. It was, as the cover of that particular Top 200 issue of NZ Management ironically depicted, “A Champagne Year”.
By the end of 2005, economic storm clouds were gathering. The United States and its cynically named “coalition of the willing” were bogged down in the debris of Iraq. The cost, in both financial and human terms, climbed accompanied by the price of barrel of crude reaching Fahrenheit numbers. Still, according to NZ Management’s end-of-year assessment of the New Zealand economy, our top companies continued to “make proverbial hay”. It was, we reported, “one of the best periods of growth this country has enjoyed since the late 1960s”.
Nick Main had become Deloitte’s chairman. He urged New Zealand’s business leaders to “step up to the challenge”, and take on the world. “I have no doubt that as nation we are up to it,” he said. And in that respect, the Awards play their part, he added. The Awards were “real celebration of success” and an acknowledgement by peers of job well done. “If this recognition helps provide confidence and inspires others to do even better, then this is benefit for the whole of New Zealand and not just business.”
This same year Eagle Technology joined NZIM as joint sponsor of the Young Executive of the Year Award. year later, 2006, Kensington Swan became sponsors of the Top 200 Ethical Governance Award. Top 200 companies meanwhile, continued to grow and defy the increasingly pessimistic global economic outlook.
Last year, company executives turned up at Sky City to celebrate the Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Awards the economy “poised on the edge”, according to the magazine. The results recorded in the Top 200 list showed the recession starting to bite, but with only two quarters of the downturn included, the magazine felt confident that the “worst was yet to come”. And so it turned out.
This year there are eight awards up for grabs. There are 19 years of history to build on and take into the second decade of the 21st century. The awards are tribute to the many companies that have helped Deloitte and NZ Management sponsor, organise and promote them over the years. They are also tribute to the unsung individuals behind the scenes who, every year, ensure things happen without hitch, or seemingly so. They are also tribute to the outstanding individuals who, as judges, spend many hours considering the evidence before them before selecting the performance role models they hold up for acclaim.
But most of all, the Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Awards are tribute to the individuals and the organisations that make it to the top – the executives and directors of the nation’s largest enterprises that reach pinnacle of performance that their peers, and the public of New Zealand, can applaud.
And for my part, these awards might never have got off the ground if not for the commitment and unswerving support of De

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