Durning praised for ‘greatest turnaround’ of chamber’s fortunes

William Durning and Grant Robson embrace.

William Durning and Grant Robson embrace.

The man who turned around Waikato Chamber of Commerce’s fortunes says goodbye and his successor is welcomed.

Wintec’s Atrium was packed on July 26 to farewell William Durning from the Waikato Chamber of Commerce and to welcome his successor Chris Simpson.

Speakers included Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett, Waikato board chairman Terry Wilson and vice-chairman Grant Robson who all paid tribute to William, the departing chief executive.

Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Jason Dawson summed up the feeling when he praised William for the “greatest turnaround of any chamber’s fortunes”.

During his four years at the helm William led a radical resurgence in the chamber’s membership and finances and has been widely acclaimed for his enthusiasm and ability to unite.

Terry Wilson said William had added “significant credibility to the chamber brand” and admitted board members had been worried about how to replace him.

But Human Resources company, Everest Group recruited 40 strong candidates for the job and Chris Simpson stood out from the rest.

Terry praised Chris’  passion for Waikato and determination to ensure the  chamber provides the best possible support for business and also  “for his intelligence, clarity of thought and very engaging leadership style”.

“William was always going to be hard to replace but we believe Chris can do it.”

Grant Robson described how when William first came to the job the chamber had been without a chief executive for months and there were a number of pressing matters “but William had a plan”.

He praised William’s “abundance of energy”, his emphasis on making members realise that as an organisation “we are what we give”  and his ability to get things done that add value.

These included creation of events such as The Villager to welcome new members, the Women’s Workshops Series and the Red Sofa, panel where members meet highly successful businesspeople. He said William also re-engineered and refocused the Westpac Waikato Business Awards and created the Waikato Business Hall of Fame to recognise outstanding business leaders.

Grant also praised William for the way he had planned his exit from the chamber.

“Very few organisations have the luxury of such a structured exit through collaboration between the chief executive and the board. It is a fitting tribute to the character, integrity and professionalism of William.”

William, who received a Waka Huia as a leaving gift,  acknowledged that when he arrived at the chamber in October 2014 he knew it would be a challenge.

“But the more I got stuck in the more I realised there were other people who just like me believed change could be achieved and we have done it.  I could not be more proud that I have accomplished everything I set out to do.”

He thanked the chamber’s board for “absolutely backing and encouraging me”.

William thanked the chamber’s main sponsors, its “Platinum Partners” who by placing their brand alongside  what the chamber did, gave it credibility and confidence.

He also thanked his team, led by branch manager Paula Sutton, and his wife Alison whom he presented with flowers.

He told the audience “Waikato’s time is now” and urged Waikato people to “be brave and place ourselves firmly on the radar for all to see”. He issued a final

“Truly work together to collaborate and compromise even if at first glance it looks as though we are giving up to benefit only others. We must accept that to achieve the extraordinary, alone in isolation, we just won’t get there. But together we will.”


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Geoff Taylor

Waikato Business News editor Geoff Taylor. Email: geoff@wbn.co.nz