GREAT South chief executive Graham Budd describes his first six months in the job as a “rollercoaster”.
Since starting his role in February, he has faced huge challenges, including the Covid-19 outbreak and Rio Tinto’s decision to close the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter at Tiwai Point next year.
“It has been a bit of a rollercoaster in terms of what we have been through as a region with the impact of Covid-19. That has overshadowed a bit of what life might have been [ for me].
“But I’m aware we weren’t unique. Everyone matter where you were had to deal with this Covid thing.”
Great South is responsible for driving economic and business growth in the region.
He described the lockdown period as one of the biggest challenges of his career.
“Lockdown came just weeks after my start here. I only just got to know the people from my team when everyone had to work remotely and interact by video.
“It was a tricky situation as I tried to be a good leader, to motivate and engage when I did not know people very well.”
However, in the middle of the “new normal” was where he learned about the solid team at Great South, he said.
“I was hugely impressed and proud of the staff and what they achieved through that difficult time.”
He said it built his confidence in his team quickly; “perhaps in a way that I might never had so early”.
After the lockdown period, when everything seemed to return to normal, he experienced another challenge regarding Southland’s future economy announcement of Tiwai’s closure.
The company which provides jobs for almost 2000 people in the region confirmed it would be closing next year.
As the same day as the Tiwai announcement, Mr Budd, along with his team and Southland leaders, started a campaign to advocate for an extension of the closure period.
“I did not have much time to rest,” he said.
One of his roles was to fight for the region, and he would do that “until the last breath”.
Great South does not exist for our own benefit – it was built entirely to serve our region and the people in it. With a great role, comes a lot of responsibilities and a lot of eyeballs are on us in terms of the things we are doing. – Graham Budd
Despite the turbulent period, Mr Budd felt Southland was now his home.
He moved to Invercargill after 13 years in Queenstown where he was general manager, then chief executive of Destination Queenstown. He was also a board member of Tourism Industry Aotearoa.
His credentials also include working in the “corporate world” in Christchurch and Wellington, which involved experiences in agriculture, publishing, oil and gas industries.
The multiplicity of the job at Great South was one of the main points of interest for Mr Budd.
“The reason this role appealed a great deal for me, was the diversity of it. It is like an aggregation of all my previous roles.”
He felt he had already adapted to the region and said the members of the Southland community were quite passionate.
“In Southland, we have a very friendly community. I would even say it is largely informal, in terms of interaction with people.
The mood here is quite relaxed and easy.
“But there is a lot of energy and passion for the place. A lot of Southland residents are proud of their region and they are quite right to be like this.”
For the next six months, Mr Budd wants to create a better understanding of the agency throughout the region and community.
As a personal goal, he would like to help create better resilience.
“I want to support the community and the region as a whole.
“Great South does not exist for our own benefit was built entirely to serve our region and the people in it.
“With a great role, comes a lot of responsibilities and a lot of eyeballs are on us in terms of the things we are doing.