#StandWithManaaki – Bullying is not okay

A guest blog written by my husband, Peter Hall.

Bullying is not okay – and we are seeing a lot of it in many different guises in the controversy surrounding Manaaki and its founders.

As we know, there is a concerted and relentless mainly social media campaign to bring down Manaaki and the people associated with it.  People like Andy Hamilton and Pat MacFie. A core allegation appears to be “founder bullying”, with the emotive overlay of a vulnerable, female founder.  I have known Andy Hamilton for some fifteen years and never seen anything like this alleged bullying. 

I will make some broad generalisations.  And I hate making generalisations.  Many founders are hard work.  They see things others do not see – and this is often a key ingredient for their success. At times, their passion helps them to be persuasive.  And it also at times leads to conflict and an inability to work well with others – no matter who the others are – funders, staff, suppliers.

What we have with Manaaki is a swirl of some truth, with a dollop of innuendo and outrageous inferences.  Much of this is founded on two due diligence reports, commissioned by Callaghan Innovation, as part of a tender process.  These reports have been circulated widely, in leaks to the media and others (ethically questionable), but only provided in part to Manaaki.  Very hard to counter.  Manaaki as a minimum need to have a right of reply, which is shared as widely as the reports themselves have been.  This is fundamental to natural justice.

Callaghan is a major enabler of the bullying that is happening.  The two due diligence reports were commissioned from an individual/organisation who had a clear conflict of interest.  When this became clear, as a minimum, responsible management would investigate further – test the findings with the accused party – and dig deeper.  The reports have been circulated to a range of external government departments, individuals and non-affected people.  This cannot be right.  They have thrown hand grenades, and sit and watch the war continue with a shoulder shrug. 

From my personal perspective, what of my private and confidential business information is Callaghan  going to circulate and to whom?  Is this a precedent for MBIE and other government entities?             

The Callaghan approach is fundamentally flawed and manifestly unfair.

MBIE has some experience with workplace bullying and gender discrimination at another organisation in the startup ecosystem that it oversees – NZVIF.   In mid-2021, a summary report of an investigation into NZVIF was released.  In August 2021, the then CEO Richard Dellabarca resigned, followed by most of the Board a few months later.  Their annual report shows that very substantial termination payments were made.  There was an earlier report which appeared to be a whitewash, but the groundswell of dissatisfaction prevailed.  I wonder what lessons were learned?  See the attached link NZVIF bullying .

The press has not been blameless in this swirl of information.  In particular, the National Business Review.   In the case of Manaaki and particularly Pat MacFie, we see what appears to be character assassination formed on an incomplete picture and yet more innuendo.  It is hard to see the relevance of something 20+ years in the past, except in a remote tangential way – other than to sling mud.  This is bullying, designed to help destroy the individual and his organisation.   See the link to the NBR article and Pat Macfie’s response.  Form your own opinions.    NBR article     Pat Macfie’s response.

I am a regular subscriber to the NBR.  There are occasional insights that are worth reading.  Recent coverage of the startup innovation sector has been good.  I probably would not have mentioned the Pat MacFie-NBR article but for the fact that it seems to be part of a repeated pattern of destruction aimed at generally younger founders.  I think of past coverage of Jamie Beaton (Crimson), and Jake Millar (Unfiltered),  Always the tall poppies, always picking away at their lifestyle, their past and their foibles, sometimes with catastrophic results.  The relevant articles appear to follow a similar destructive pattern to that in the Pat MacFie article, complete with an inflammatory headline about being haunted by his past. This is not OK.

The swirl of some truth, innuendo and outrageous inferences is not doing anyone any good.  I respectfully submit that Callaghan Innovation, or its MBIE overseers, as the central player in all this, could take actions to either front up with an independent review by a person of substance, or withdraw the reports with a statement that they present an incomplete picture.  There are other solutions. 

Do they have the courage to do what is right?  Or will they be sucked even further into this unpleasant vortex?  And what does our government think?  Do they endorse what is happening?

BULLYING IS NOT OK.