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‘Not enough spent on IT in New Zealand’

‘Not enough spent on IT in New Zealand’

Chris Liddell stresses that world-class infrastructure is “critical for most businesses”.

The expatriate Kiwi that helped turn troubled General Motors back into a profitable enterprise, has received the inaugural Lifetime Achievement award as part of the 2011 New Zealand CFO Awards. Chris Liddell’s ability to take calculated risks and grow an industrial giant such as GM from negative results into profits was recognised ahead of the New Zealand CFO Summit, while he was briefly in New Zealand.

Liddell, who is leaving GM this month, had been confident that New Zealand had come out of the global financial crisis in reasonable shape, but the second Christchurch earthquake on 22 February has changed his views. He now believes the country’s economy is “probably in a pretty fragile state at the moment”.

When it comes to ICT business, Liddell stresses that world-class infrastructure is “critical for most businesses”.

“It is something that is underspent on here in New Zealand,” he believes. “I haven’t seen the figures in New Zealand, but generally speaking I would say that is probably right; we don’t spend enough on information technology.

“I think information technology is a critical part of the world and in a business going forward, so there is certain amounts of minimum spend you have to deal in the obvious areas. You have to ensure you have world-class PCs, world-class networking equipment and world-class productivity tools depending on the type of company you are, [as well as] world-class sales and other software to enable people to do their jobs in a modern economy,” he says.

Prior to GM, Liddell held a number of high profile roles in New Zealand and the US, including CEO of Carter Holt Harvey, and CFO of International Paper and Microsoft.

“One of the reasons I joined Microsoft, other than I thought it was a great company, was because of the software and because I believed in the power of software,” he says. “As a Microsoft person, one of the things I did was go out and talk to CIOs and spend time with them and other CFOs and it helped reinforce the importance of IT,”

The judges of the awards described Liddell as a multi-dimensional leader and pointed to his major achievement at GM.

In February GM announced fourth quarter revenues slightly above expectations, making this the first full year profit for the company since 2004.

The success is due in no small part to the inspired and decisive leadership of Chris Liddell,” says Chye Heng, CFO of Beca Group and one of the judges of the awards.

Liddell considered the chance to be involved in GM’s turnaround the “opportunity of a lifetime” and added it was important to ensure the recovery was a long-term plan and not just a matter of posting one quarter of profitability and then lapse back into losing money.

“It was incredibly important to put the foundations for success in place and one of those foundations was sustainable profitability,” he says.

“As a CFO you have to be able to put your foot on the accelerator when you’re pushing for growth offshore, but at the same time be able to put your foot on the brake when economic circumstances mean you have to cut costs.”

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