Business South names first chief executive

Mike Collins says his immediate priority would be ‘‘getting out and meeting a lot of people"....
Mike Collins says his immediate priority would be ‘‘getting out and meeting a lot of people". Photo: :ODT files
Dunedin man Mike Collins is the inaugural chief executive of the South’s new business entity.

Mr Collins, who has an executive leadership role at the Southern District Health Board (SDHB), will start in August.

Business South - the working name of the new organisation - has been created by the merger of the Otago Southland Employers’ Association (OSEA) and the Otago Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Collins said he was excited to lead Business South ‘‘at this time of transformation and to help chart a path that is future-focused, sustainable and aspirational".

The merger was confirmed late last year, after unanimous approval from OSEA members, and 78% approval of members of the Otago chamber.

They have around 1000 members each, about a quarter of whom belong to both organisations which have lengthy histories.

The Otago chamber was incorporated in 1861 and delivers local advocacy, education and training, events, networking, export document services and employment initiatives. It also manages the local Regional Business Partner Network.

The OSEA was founded in 1890, and provides employer advisory services, training programmes, events, legal, employment relations and health and safety advice. It also offers national advocacy through its membership of BusinessNZ.

Mr Collins joined the SDHB in 2016 as executor director organisational development and performance and was appointed executive director people, culture and technology in August 2017.

Prior to that, he was director of the learning environment and director of service excellence during a long tenure at Otago Polytechnic.

He said he saw the Business South role as a ‘‘great opportunity". He had worked in the public sector for some time and was keen to get into the business sector.

The position suited him as it was about strategy, building relationships and co-design; he was very much about partnerships, he said.

While he acknowledged there would be challenges merging the two entities, he believed they shared common values, he said.

The key to it all was a common purpose - how to add value to the business sector and community. Both entities understood ‘‘true north" or ‘‘where we’re going".

Many major ‘‘catastrophes" had happened in the world, and the entity had to be agile, have the ability to adapt and know the needs of business - not what was needed last week but in the future.

The impact of Covid-19 was not just about the economic landscape but the significant flow-on effects, including the toll on mental health, he said.

His immediate priority, when he started, would be ‘‘getting out and meeting a lot of people", Mr Collins said.

He was keen to get alongside the staff and, as a strengths-based person, make sure the company was playing to their strengths.

There would also be networking and building relationships with the sector, looking at the current strategies in place and then a strategy refresh, and also ‘‘getting some quick wins on the board" to provide confidence.

He had knowledge of both regions, given he was originally from Wendonside, in Northern Southland, where he was brought up on a farm.

Being a ‘‘real people person", the hardest thing about deciding to leave the SDHB was it meant leaving behind the relationships and friendships forged with staff there, he said.

Neil Finn-House, chairman of Business South’s board of directors, said the board was delighted to secure ‘‘such a high-calibre leader" after an extensive recruitment campaign.

"Mike Collins is an exceptional people leader and strategist who has the abilities required to knit together two organisations with more than 290 years of collective history.

"His leadership experience, commercial acumen and collegial approach will be invaluable in forging a strong culture and a bright new future for Business South.”

Business South recently secured incorporated society status. As merger operations progressed, both the OSEA and the Otago chamber would continue to operate on a business-as-usual basis under their respective existing boards, he said.

OSEA chief executive Virginia Nicholls did not apply for the chief executive position, while the Otago chamber’s chief executive, Dougal McGowan, resigned in January.

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