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Alasdair Thompson: Learning from the past and moving on

Divina Paredes | April 17, 2014
The former Employers and Manufacturers Association CEO turns his "demise" from public life into personal success and peace.

Nearly three years ago, Alasdair Thompson experienced a very public firing as chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

The news of the sacking (he had offered to resign 11 days earlier) — spurred by the furore from his comments on gender-based pay gap on radio and TV — was played across local, international and social media.

He has since then reflected on his personal life and career, which came out in his book Life Changing: Learning from the past; fixing the future in October 2013.

"The reality is my demise in 2011 and the grief that we felt as a family was the best thing that could have happened to me," says Thompson, who now has a consultancy providing advice to businesses and employment relations.

Thompson joined EMA in 1999, New Zealand's largest business membership organisation.

At the time, Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) needed to respond to the changes a decade ago before he joined the organisation, such as the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991. This meant people did not have to belong to a union and could enter into an employment contract between them and the employer.

"It was a major change for the employers, but nothing had been done in the organisation to recognise that change had happened eight years earlier," he says.

Massive reforms across state and the private sector in the 1980s, meanwhile, hit the manufacturers really hard, he says. Up until then they had protection with tariffs and import.

"All of a sudden, that was whipped away from them," he states. "Despite these two changes 12 years before I joined, nothing had changed at EMA, and the organisation by then was becoming largely irrelevant."

Thompson says before he joined, the board had established a clear and simple strategic plan for the "reinvention" of the EMA.

"It was an old organisation that had not reformed very much over its lifetime and especially in the last decade or so when its cheese had been moved," he says, making a reference to the book Who Moved my Cheese?. "It had to find where its cheese is."

Thompson says he got three job offers that week, and chose EMA which offered the lowest pay and the toughest gig. "But it was the one that interested me more because it was right in my area of interest — good public policy," he says.

"I have always supported business," he states. "Business to me was the coming together of people and capital. Capital buys information technology systems, it buys plants. When you get the right mix, and most efficient use of that labour and capital, you do well.


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