Former NZ Customs head to lead industry and employment mega-department

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday August 14, 2018

The New Zealand government has granted a five-year appointment to the acting chief executive of its Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Carolyn Tremain, who has held the fort since midway through last year.

No long knives here; the former chief executive David Smol simply went the full distance and completed his five-year term at the end of last financial year.

NZ state services commissioner Peter Hughes announced Tremain had got the job today after a surprisingly long recruitment process, which began before Smol’s contract ran out on June 30 last year but was interrupted by the election. Tremain’s term begins on August 20.

Owing to New Zealand’s approach to the transparency of government information, the statement includes a link to the relevant cabinet paper, which explains the recruitment process was paused for the caretaker period leading up to last year’s election, and while the new government worked through some initial machinery-of-government changes.

“This is a very important role for New Zealand and the Public Service,” Hughes said in a statement.

“I am very pleased to appoint Ms Tremain to this role. She is a highly respected, experienced and very successful public service chief executive.

“She has over 20 years of experience in senior leadership roles in large, complex service delivery organisations in both the public and private sectors.”

Tremain was previously head of the NZ Customs Service before stepping in as acting head of the mega-department, which serves 13 separate ministers.

The state services commissioner said Tremain fit the bill as a leader with high integrity and a record of improving performance in complex organisations undergoing change. “As acting chief executive at MBIE, Ms Tremain has proven that she can provide strong and purposeful leadership and deliver on the priorities of 13 Ministers.”

The state services commissioner also explained the mega-department’s role is to be the “primary economic, and business and consumer facing agency” for the government.

“Its purpose is to support economic growth, with a focus on lifting the country’s performance and outcomes for all New Zealanders. The chief executive leads a sizeable department, administers a complex set of regulatory and policy functions and oversees a budget of more than $8 billion across a workforce of more than 4500.”

In the cabinet papers released by SSC under the NZ open-government policy, Hughes explains he officially transferred Tremain from Customs rather than appointing her “in the usual way” and sets out his reasons as per the relevant legislation. There’s even a simple one-page version of her CV, showing a career that has taken her through the Air Force, Air New Zealand and the Inland Revenue Department, where she held two deputy commissioner roles.

Tremain is also chair of the government’s Auckland Regional Career Board and a member of the Victoria University of Wellington Business School Advisory Board.

Hughes has also informed the government that Christine Stevenson is now the acting chief executive of NZ Customs while a recruitment process proceeds, without much prospect of an another electoral interruption.

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