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Derek Handley: The CTO role

Derek Handley, Guest Post. 14 September 2018, 12:10 pm
Derek Handley: The CTO role

One month ago I was offered and accepted the position as the first Chief Technology Officer for New Zealand. I felt deeply grateful and incredibly privileged for this important responsibility to help shape the future of our country. I have for many years repeated that we are in need of a clearer vision and roadmap as to how we will navigate the technological transformations and opportunities ahead, many of which will be brought upon us from outside of New Zealand's borders.

Earlier this week I was deeply disappointed to learn that the Government will no longer follow through with their commitment and will not be making that appointment at this time. However, given the unnecessary and sustained lack of transparency around the process and building pressure to rethink the approach, their decision to stop the process is understandable.

Nonetheless I again made it clear this week that I was and remain fully committed to taking up the role under that pressure and in the face of those who were not supportive because of how much I believe in the challenge and opportunity for our country that it represents. The last few weeks have been a distressing time for my family and I who returned to Auckland last weekend in time to take up this position from having lived for over ten years in New York.

Although there has been much debate about the purpose of the role, it was and remains very clear to me that the primary purpose was to "build an inclusive digital strategy for NZ from a 'whole of society' perspective and to have a broad mandate to serve as a challenge to, and advisor for, the New Zealand Government," as outlined in the job description and repeatedly stated by the Government.

Admittedly, although I am not steeped in the local IT community and don't personally know those critical of this process, my broad background that I believed may have been of unique service to New Zealand as the CTO, includes: building, investing in and advising dozens of innovative start-up technology companies around the world that disrupt the status quo; co-founding The B Team, a global non-profit that mapped a wide global landscape of issues and efforts and then charted a unique strategic path to transforming the way we conduct business for the benefit of a sustainable and inclusive society; my roles as a thought partner on the future of work and careers at leading universities Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and AUT as well as my corporate strategy experience here in New Zealand with Sky Television and Air New Zealand where I have been deployed to challenge thinking and creativity. 

I believed this experience spanning new industries, new-economy companies, investing, technology, sustainability, social innovation, large scale corporations, education, vision, consensus building and strategy across New Zealand and globally may have been of service to New Zealand as the CTO. That, combined with a deep desire to return home to New Zealand to serve our country in some capacity, is why I applied for the role. I enjoyed the challenge of the recruitment process itself, which was one of the most robust, demanding and extensive experiences I have undergone and I am thankful for the work of the many people involved who will also be disappointed at this outcome.

As the Government has now terminated my contract I have been offered a settlement payment as per the contract. The amount equates to three months pay plus reimbursement of my costs.

The CTO role was also tasked with tackling the issue of "digital inequality" where disenfranchised New Zealanders are being disadvantaged due to lack of digital capability or access. My family and I have decided not to accept the settlement money personally and instead donate the net proceeds towards a fund that supports ideas, programs and grants that seek to tackle this societal issue in creative ways. I welcome collaboration from all communities on how we may do that.

I am grateful for what I have learned through this experience and appreciate all the voices that care passionately about our future, including those critical of my candidacy as CTO.

It is only through truly understanding our unique differences and what each of us represent and can bring to the table that we can create better, newer paths forward for our nation. There is considerable opportunity for us as New Zealanders to improve how we go about doing that for each other for a kinder, more inclusive, transparent and open-minded country.


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