Zespri still seeking Tauranga-based CIO

Zespri is still looking to recruit a CIO a year after first advertising. The kiwifruit marketer reports problems in filling the post because few IT leaders want to live in Tauranga and because of the nature of the role.

Zespri is still looking to recruit a CIO a year after first advertising.

The kiwifruit marketer reports problems in filling the post because few IT leaders want to live in Tauranga and because of the nature of the role.

However, an executive search firm has found several suitable candidates and Zespri hopes to fill the role before Christmas.

Zespri transferred operations from Auckland to Tauranga in August to become closer to growers; a move involving some 70 staff.

Originally the company was to let its 15 IT staff, including six SAP specialists, remain in Auckland because it believed people would not want to move and it might be hard to find suitable replacements. Zespri then changed its mind, saying all the firm’s users were in Tauranga and it felt it did not make sense to have the SAP team in Auckland.

In the end, says Zespri change and strategy manager Grahame Coles (pictured), SAP legacy support was outsourced to IBM because Zespri is looking to replace its SAP system and “it wasn’t viable to bring people down if the product was not to survive”.

Zespri’s SAP system, which went live in 1998, is used for “everything” including financials, supply chain and sales and marketing. The company is looking for cheaper options.

Coles says of the 15 IT staffers, eight transferred to Tauranga, including two of the SAP specialists. The rest remained in Auckland and found other jobs.

He believes about 15 or 20 of the 70 or so non-IT staff also moved south. But of the 130 now employed by Zespri in Tauranga, only one vacancy remains, that of CIO. Initially, the post was to be Auckland-based but will now be based in the Bay of Plenty.

Coles, who is Zespri’s former CIO, quit the role about a year ago to become its change and strategy manager. He fancied a change after working in IS for 20 years.

Coles admits to “some trouble” finding a successor, blaming the Tauranga location and saying that applicants were wary of a post that would involve “the discomfort of reporting to the old boss”. This includes the feeling they could not fairly comment on systems introduced by him, he says. As a result, Zespri last month decided that the CIO would answer to the CEO instead of to Coles.

In February Zespri reported 100 applicants for the post and the firm was confident of an appointment that month. But “a couple of times”, says Coles, people decided at the last minute that they did not want to live in Tauranga. Coles says this is not because Tauranga is an unpleasant place, but due to a perception of limited career opportunities in the Bay of Plenty region.

“Concerning the career path, when you have done your time at Zespri, applicants say they have to move back to Auckland, and if you have kids, that can be hard.”

However, there is no effective solution to this, Coles says, other than maybe offering the role in a contract form, so people feel they won’t become stuck in Tauranga — an option Zespri is not using. But he says the executive search agency appointed by Zespri has found four high-calibre candidates.

Despite the problems in filling the CIO role, Coles says the shift went “pretty good”.

However, he advises companies looking to relocate to give staff plenty of time, at least the three or four weeks Zespri did, to decide on whether to move with them. When a company shifts, staff are forced to make a personal decision about where they live, not just whom they work for.

Coles feels once people have made up their minds the company should get on with the move. He suspects the gap between Zespri announcing the shift in April before moving in August was too long, as it allowed some staff to become demoralised and feel left out of the process.

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