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How to successfully engage with a large group of stakeholders to find the right leader

The Nelson City Council recently had their Chief Executive of five years resign. Our mandate was to leverage our search capabilities to identify a leader who understood the dynamics of leading a unitary authority, complemented by political acumen and the ability to provide strategic leadership across diverse functions.

The Nelson City Council

With Nelson’s strong ties to business, community and iwi, there were a large number of stakeholders that we had to engage with. These included captains of industry, Chief Executives and Board Chairs of various council-controlled organisations; an unenviable list of 22 individual stakeholders that we had to engage in discussion with to obtain their views on the ideal qualities of a new Chief Executive.

Our Approach

Grant Pryde and Vishnu Nair, who were co-leading this search, identified three common questions which would be raised with all stakeholders. In doing so, these questions addressed key parts of the search brief, with particular emphasis on the core competencies expected from this new appointment.

Finished in two weeks

The stakeholder discussions were conducted jointly over the phone by both Grant and Vishnu in order to ensure their views were accurately represented back to the Mayor and Councillors. This was a highly fulfilling exercise and all 22 stakeholder discussions were completed in their entirety over a demanding two-week window!

Grant Pride

Key to this appointment was the new leader’s ability to build and maintain strong relationships with the Nelson region’s iwi, a collective Maori term for ‘tribes’, of which there were eight across the city and region.
Grant Pryde (Director Ichor Leadership Search)

  1. Consolidate multiple viewpoints to ensure all voices are heard
    It was highly challenging to consolidate the views obtained from a large number of stakeholders, with differing views on the ideal appointee. Ultimately, we ensured all stakeholders had their voices heard in the process.
  2. Distil the main points
    We distilled 3-4 common themes that were evident across all our discussions and the majority of our stakeholders.
  3. Guide a smooth decision making process
    Distilled themes were then presented in a coherent and cohesive manner to the Mayor and Councillors in a detailed presentation, led by Grant and Vishnu. The key themes assisted with the Council’s decision making process, allowing us to build a strong shortlist, which saw a qualified Chief Executive appointed.

The result

Patrick (Pat) Dougherty was appointed to the role of Chief Executive of the Nelson City Council on Friday 15 September 2017. Pat has been the Chief Executive of the Kapiti Coast District Council for nine years and was earlier the Deputy Chief Executive of the Nelson City Council.

Rachel Reese

Pat was a standout candidate, and we warmly welcome him back to Nelson after nine years away. We are extremely fortunate to have secured not only an experienced chief executive but someone with a significant amount of local knowledge. Pat is highly regarded as a chief executive who can build cohesion across local authority boundaries, and he brings a strong understanding of our role as a unitary authority.
Rachel Reese (Nelson City Council’s Mayor)

Lessons Learned

As a member of the IRC NGO group, this was one of the most challenging assignments we have had to undertake recently within local government despite our prior experience of successfully appointing leaders at both local and regional Councils. With this engagement, we have further strengthened our ability to engage with a wide range of stakeholders within a truncated time period.

Interestig facts


With a population of 50,000 residents, Nelson is a vibrant city located in New Zealand’s South Island. Consistently rated one of the best performing regions in the country, it is a growing city that has an established reputation as a key choice for innovative thinkers.


Iwi are the largest social units amongst the Maori peoples, who are recognised as New Zealand’s first, indigenous settlers. The term ‘iwi’ refers to an extended kinship group, tribe, nation, people, nationality, race – often a large group of people descended from a common ancestor and associated with a distinct territory.

NGO and Not For Profit Practice Group

Executive search has for many years provided a vital role in finding new leaders to adapt to changing landscape in NGOs and Not For Profits. IRC is able to identify these social entrepreneurs that can spur innovative solutions and demonstrate real return on investment to governments, foundations, businesses or the private donor. In doing this, they deliver on their mission to make people’s lives better.

Grant Pride

Grant Pryde (IRC New Zealand)
Asia Pacific Leader NGO & Not For Profit
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