#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 3 (continued)

Hey, Pete and your fellow directors – what are you thinking?

Yesterday I bored you with some dates and facts from the timeline of Callaghan Innovation’s botched procurement process, and the subsequent inaction of the Callaghan Innovation Board in making any attempt to put things right.      

Governance is something I know a little bit about. While boards in the main seldom actually do any of the doing, they definitely set the tone for how things are done in an organisation. To the Chair, Pete Hodgson, and the rest of the Callaghan Board, you need to know that the buck stops here, with you!

While you may not have actually caused the hiring of a conflicted investigator, or the leaking of the reports, or the whitewash that was the EY review, you most certainly are demonstrating, by your silence and inaction, that you condone all of these things. That is not okay.

To what extent have you independently checked the facts of the case and read some of the commentary in social and other media? Or have you relied mostly on management to tell you that all is well? Nothing to see here!

And what have you told your Minister about this whole saga?

Callaghan Innovation has so much potential. An organisation populated by so many talented and motivated people, trying to support innovation in New Zealand. As directors, you have a duty of care to the organisation, to uphold and build up its reputation, to position it to attract the best talent internally, and the best partnerships externally.

In fact, your stated vision is to be “the place where talent wants to be”.

Your behaviour should, and I’m sure is, causing people and organisations to reconsider whether they wish to work for you, or partner with you. What right-minded organisation would put themselves at risk of being ‘hung out’ on the public gallows should your next RFP due diligence process uncover something about them, to which you give them no proper right of reply? Information that you allowed to spread, through deliberate sharing and subsequent leakage, in direct contravention of the confidentiality promise in the tender documentation.

What director in their right mind would consider applying for a position at your board table?

In fact, back in February this year, I did exactly that. After several prompts from people I respect, I applied for an advertised position on the Callaghan Innovation Board – a position which I note has still not been filled. In fact, earlier this month, I received the by now regular update email noting that there was still no selected a short list for the position.

In my application, I noted that:

“As an experienced board director who is fully immersed in the early stage, deep-tech and angel investment ecosystem, I am excited by the opportunity to join a board charged with leveraging Kiwi innovation to create a real impact for New Zealand – our economy, our environment and our society.”

I was genuinely excited at the opportunity, though I was totally realistic that I was unlikely to get the appointment. However, following the behaviour, and particularly the apparent inaction of this Board in the face of the Manaaki situation, I had to rethink. Sadly, I withdrew my application, noting (below) that the reputation risk of joining the Callaghan Innovation board is simply too great!

So, my question for the Callaghan directors is this – while I may not have been your preferred candidate, might there be others who now feel the same way?

In a market where talent is looking to work for organisations that do good, and are good on the inside… how important do you think Callaghan’s reputation is? And is it perhaps worth rethinking your inaction.

You are the only ones who can fix this.

Admit that the investigator was conflicted.

State unequivocally that the due diligence reports, commissioned under the confidentiality of a government procurement process, should never have been shared around other organisations by your then CEO.

Make it clear that you are upset and angry (are you?) at the way the reports have been leaked to all and sundry, including social media influencers and the press.

Clarify that the EY review was not a review of the due diligence findings, nor of the conflicts of interest – but simply a review of the mechanics of the investigative process.

Officially withdraw the due diligence reports.

And above all, tell us whether you really want these documents to be used to drive Manaaki out of business, and to destroy the reputations of its founders. Because if that is what you actually want, you’re doing a great job of achieving your goals.

So tell us, Mr Chair and your fellow directors, what are you REALLY thinking?

#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 3

Hey, Pete – what are you thinking?

Last week I pondered the decisions made by Callaghan Innovation CEOs, past and present, in regard to the due diligence process they undertook on Manaaki / We Are Indigo; and the subsequent use of that report, deliberately spread and then widely leaked, as a weapon to destroy livelihoods and reputations.

For those who do not know, “Pete” is Peter Hodgson, former Minister of Research, Science and Innovation some 15 years ago, now the Chair of the Callaghan Innovation Board.

Today I am reflecting on the inaction of the Callaghan Innovation Board under his leadership, in choosing to sit on the sidelines while the battle to destroy Manaaki and its founders continues; a battle which has been partly created and largely enabled by their organisation, its actions and inactions.

So first, let’s recap on some of the flawed actions and inactions. This bit is boring – full of dates, historical facts. Stay with me – once we have the timeline on the table, I’ll move on to governance and why the Callaghan Board should care enough to act. All going to plan – today the “what happened”, tomorrow the “so what?”.

6 December 2021 – Manaaki submits an expression of interest in the Callaghan Founder Incubator RFP. This is a significant tender, with a contract value of $2.1 million Callaghan funding over three years.

29 December 2021 – Robett Hollis makes a series of social media posts about bad actors in the start-up system. On the same day, he writes to the then CEO of Callaghan Innovation, Vic Crone. It is clear there had been conversations before this. He offers to introduce Vic to John Borland (an investigator), who he has been talking with about “these issues” and suggests she engage him in the procurement process.

15 February 2022 – Further communication between Robett Hollis and Vic Crone, in which he explains that Borland has specific knowledge that is relevant, and presents ‘evidence’ of bad behaviour by Manaaki, based on what Borland had apparently uncovered in his prior investigations for an unknown party. He reiterates his desire to have Borland connected into the procurement team at Callaghan.

For me, these communications show clearly that Vic Crone was aware of Borland’s conflict of interest, should he be appointed to conduct due diligence on Manaaki. We do not know whether Vic disclosed this knowledge within Callaghan, and if so, why the conflict was ignored.

But we also see from these communications (released under an OIA request) that some of the allegations being “uncovered” were wholly without basis, for example, a suggestion that money from a named sponsor was used to pay We Are Indigo debts. I mention this because I suspect it reflects the quality of the due diligence reports to come. But let’s go back to the timeline:

9 May 2022 – email from Callaghan Innovation (Ryan Challis, from the procurement department) to John Borland and his company Isacorp, in which Callaghan Innovation asks the question – ‘Ýou have no conflicts of interest related to this activity?’.

9 May 2022 – contract signed between Callaghan (signed by Vic Crone) and Isacorp. Section 10 in the agreement states Isacorp has no conflict of interest.

I find this very hard to reconcile with the conversations between Robett Hollis and Vic Crone in December and February. Callaghan has publicly avoided this issue, stating that it is the responsibility of contractors to declare conflicts of interest. (NBR 7 November). A dissembling response?

11 May 2022 – Isacorp produces an initial report.

Two days turn around from the date of contract signing, for what we know from the EY independent review is an open source process. Extraordinary.

At some point, Callaghan requests a second due diligence report.

During June 2022– Copies of the Due Diligence reports are spread deliberately by Vic Crone to other Government Agencies. And then start being leaked more widely.

I have not seen the reports. But there are many suggestions that they lack balance, and that some of the comments are defamatory and untrue. These reports are subject to the confidentiality provisions of the RFP and require Manaaki’s express permission to have them released.

What has Callaghan done to stop the widespread release? What has it done to check the disputed information and allow balance? I am not aware of anything material that has been done by Callaghan to remedy or mitigate. This goes against Callaghan’s values, its principles. And this is not right.

30 August 2022 – EY signs a contract with Callaghan to review the due diligence reports.

As I have previously noted HERE, the scope of the review was set to exclude any conflict of interest issues. The findings of the reports are not tested. And the referee list was padded with extra respondents. Manaaki was not aware of this padding at the time. Callaghan declined the suggestion that Manaaki be allowed to review the reports.

But we do know the actual physical process of interviewing people happened – EY confirmed this, and this was the agreed scope.

Is it okay for the investigator to have made his own social media comments on this investigation?

Is it okay for a referee to publish his response to the due diligence enquiry?

And is it okay for a Callaghan Board member to have entered into the public debate?

The actions and dates give context to my conclusions. In short, it looks to me as if external parties with their own vested interest have captured the process. Definitely not best practice procurement. But this is just my opinion, you may have reached different conclusions. Personally I remain convinced that Callaghan Innovation must act to fix this, by

  • Either commissioning a genuinely independent review of the process, the conflicts, the reports, and the findings;
  • Or withdrawing the reports, and perhaps even; issuing an apology.

I believe that this has real implications for the governance of Callaghan Innovation, raising serious questions about the competency and effectiveness of its Board in fulfilling their fiduciary duty.

But enough for today…. more on that tomorrow, when I will STILL be asking:

Hey, Pete, what are you thinking? Or are you thinking at all?

#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 2

Hey, Stefan…  what were you thinking?

Earlier this week I talked about my bemusement at the inaction of the Callaghan Innovation Board, in choosing to sit on the sidelines and watch livelihoods and reputations destroyed, as a direct result of their actions, and inactions.

Today I’m moving on to the next episode in this distasteful saga.  Yesterday I covered the CEO who presided over the original procurement process, including the use of a contract investigator to conduct due diligence on the RFP respondents.

So many questions about that process – but let’s move on.

In the face of claims of a conflicted contractor, Callaghan Innovation (now with a new acting CEO in place), commissions EY to perform an independent review of their due diligence process.  Sounds like a good plan, I hear you thinking.  This report from EY will subsequently become the shield behind which procurement, management and the board shelter.

But consider this. 

Based on a release of the EY report under the OIA, it seems that the scope of the review was limited to a simple evaluation of the mechanics of the contractor’s process of investigation.  Specifically, the scope did NOT include questions as to….

  • Whether the process to select the investigator met the standards of government procurement;
  • Whether the investigator was conflicted in accepting the contract to conduct the DD;
  • Whether Callaghan itself has appropriate internal systems to manage conflicts of interest;
  • Nor any of the actual claims made in the reports.    

The EY report states several times that Manaaki should have had the opportunity to comment on the reports when they were in draft stage.  As I understand it, Manaaki has only seen redacted copies of the final reports, and still has not seen the full reports.

There were several “referees” added to the investigator’s interview list without Manaaki’s knowledge, including one whom EY says had no business history with Manaaki at all.  The EY report says that this is not right.

To put this in simple terms – Callaghan set the EY brief to exclude all the contentious issues.  EY, as per Callaghan’s instructions, focused on process mechanics only.  Based on the scope of their brief, I suspect EY’s conclusions were valid.  And Callaghan got the report they sought.  The real question is this an acceptable way to do business? 

The EY report also identified other issues with the process.  If you’re interested, the report is available.

It’s ironic that in the preface to their report, EY states explicitly that:

“EY has not been engaged to act, and has not acted, as advisor to any other party.”

Did the investigator, Borland, make the same statement in his reports?  Could he have honestly done so?

And where is the new (at that time acting) CEO in all of this?

Does he really think that commissioning an independent review, that puts the key issues of contention out of scope and then states all is well in the process, is okay?

Now as Callaghan’s CEO (no longer acting) does he consider that maybe, just maybe, it would be worthwhile to sit down with Manaaki and reach some sort of agreement that allows both parties to move on, and continue doing their chosen business, albeit not together?

And when the matter became increasingly public, being played out initially in social media, and then in the national press, did he consider the potential damage this could cause?

Does he think it’s okay that Manaaki is being essentially blackballed by his predecessor’s actions, when she started the leaking (oh, sorry, “sharing”) of the reports by sending them to other government departments.  This surely provided justification for the subsequent flood – a deluge of the reports being shared far and wide to media and influencers?  Reports to which Manaaki has had no real right of reply.

Does he genuinely think it’s a great outcome that Manaaki is driven out of business, as a result of a small number of business disputes, now resolved, despite the good that they’ve done?  And the thousands of small of businesses supported by Manaaki.

And has the Callaghan Innovation Board considered the longer term impacts of this debacle?

More on that in my next post, but for now, think about this.
How comfortable will you be submitting a proposal in the next government-run procurement process, knowing what can happen when things go wrong?

This is NOT about who wins and who loses out in a tender process.
It’s about Callaghan Innovation’s process and decisions that have provided ammunition to those trying to destroy Manaaki and its founders;  ammunition to continue to wage this destructive war.  How can the Callaghan Innovation Board stand by, putting their own organisation’s reputation at risk, and allow this to happen?

The real unanswered question is who gains from the destruction of Manaaki? And did they use their networks and connections to influence the due diligence reports to their advantage? But that we will probably never know.

It’s time to commission a truly independent report, that covers the full scope of issues identified. 
Or just withdraw the reports, and hey, perhaps even issue an apology.

What were, and are, these people thinking?  Or, one has to ask, are they thinking at all?

And what role does MBIE and the Minister have in all of this?

#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?


#StandWithManaaki – Tall Poppy Bashing

The ongoing campaign to destroy the good work of Manaaki and its founders Pat MacFie, Andy Hamilton and their colleagues, is sadly, and simply, a perfect example of New Zealand’s penchant for chopping down tall poppies.

In more advanced economies, they recognise that failure is the gateway to success, that people who have learned from their failures, make better business leaders in the future. But that is not the case here in Aotearoa, where our past misdeeds come back to haunt us, again and again; where the business media is amongst the first to take up the scythe when there are tall poppies to be felled.

The tall poppy in question here is not actually Manaaki itself (who have quietly and humbly gone about their business), but the inimitable Andy Hamilton, who has dedicated the past few years of his life to supporting his co-founders at Manaaki, honing the work he did in founding and building The Icehouse, to support business success. There is no doubt that Andy has made some enemies along the way – he is driven, opinionated, and definitely not always right! Well, I certainly haven’t always agreed with him.

But those of us who know him, whether we love him or not so much, will vouch for his relentless passion for raising up business builders, and in particular his willingness to give freely of his time and his unbelievably vast network of contacts. Andy is a giver.

Seeing him bowed down under the weight of the current campaign to discredit his co-founders at Manaaki, and destroy the great work they have done (and want to keep on doing) to support small business NZ, is simply heartbreaking.


This concerted campaign, led by a small number of vicious haters – some not even living in NZ – is putting Manaaki’s very survival at risk. Armed with leaked private investigator reports, commissioned by a government agency, and passed on to other agencies, individuals and journalists (probably in breach of every rule in the procurement privacy book!), these bad actors have whipped up support from well-meaning commentators, spouting forth on things about which they are not fully informed.

How could they be, when Manaaki itself has never been afforded the courtesy of access to the evidence against them, nor the opportunity to respond. Despite this, they are taking positive actions to find and redress their failings, as detailed in their post yesterday, linked HERE

This takes courage. This is the action of an ethical organisation.

Here is an organisation, with over 6,500 members, many from the Māori and Pasifika communities, doing good work to support business owners and job seekers to build better businesses, to succeed. 

Now it finds itself a victim of bullying, of tall poppy bashing, at the hands of people with the power to influence whether it lives or dies. Ironically, at the root of the allegations, there appears to be concerns about founder bullying – with the emotive overlay that the founder is question is neither male nor Pakeha, and therefore inherently more vulnerable in the face of the big, bad ‘investor’ guys. Allusions have been made to other founders who were bullied (by other players, including most notably the business media), and the need for more founder protection.

Be that as it may – and more about that in my next post, specifically about founder bullying.

But meanwhile, consider this. These are people who founded a business to support their people, who built a community of mutual trust and support. They have a “past” (don’t we all?) that they do not deserve to have trawled through the media. They have been successfully supporting small business – the lifeblood of the New Zealand economy – funded mostly by government contracts, won in fairly contested procurement processes, creating real impact for the business owners they support.

In the words of a small business owner posted on the Manaaki platform this week:

“I find it sad when others have to tear down people who are doing so well and helping others get ahead in life. It is hard enough at times just living life on your own terms. When you have someone who turns you down time into some horrible monster, they should be ashamed of themselves, as we all have a story or 2 or 3 that can be told. I for one have learnt so much from this group, and the support has been really great”. …Hold your heads high as you have a lot to be proud of. 
The old tall poppy syndrome! Sad but often true.”

If you, like me, want to take a stand against the destruction of yet another #TallPoppy, please #StandWithManaaki and show your support by sharing, speaking up, and telling the haters that this is not okay.