Investigations

‘Get your handbag ... it’s not going to be pleasant’

For more than a year influential Māori leaders have called for the resignation of Oranga Tamariki CEO Grainne Moss, with the heat turned up again this month after the release of the Children’s Commissioner report into the child protection agency’s uplift practices.

Officially, Moss resigned from her last high-powered position as managing director at private aged care company Bupa. Senior managers there at the time say her departure was sudden and with little explanation.

In this Newsroom investigation we examine how it was that within a matter of months of quietly exiting one job she had secured leadership of a big Crown organisation operating in a different sector, and responsibility for looking after vulnerable children.

Newsroom talked to insiders from both Bupa and Oranga Tamariki, Māori advisers, social workers, senior managers and high-up government officials over more than six months. All spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for corporate or departmental confidentiality.

SUDDEN DEPARTURE

On a mild April afternoon in 2016 on Kingdon Street in the central Auckland suburb of Newmarket, something unusual was going down. Inside the national office of New Zealand’s largest privately owned aged care provider, staff had been sent home early.

The ‘People Director’, Naomi Attwood, had flown over from the Australian human resources department of Bupa and was holed-up with the New Zealand managing director, Grainne Moss. According to those who were still there that day, Moss and Attwood were in a room on a conference call with the big boss, Bupa Australia New Zealand CEO, Dean Holden.

“We let our teams go early so they had left for the day. The rest of us were up on another floor purposely when it happened - we knew....” says our insider.

Another said: "It was the afternoon. I was told to get my handbag and leave for the day because... it wasn't going to be pleasant."

When Bupa staff turned up for work again the next day, Moss was gone. According to another source, they never saw her there again.

“I was told she was on leave and then we were told that she wasn’t coming back. There was disbelief. I haven’t lived through that before. I haven’t lived through my boss disappearing.”

Bupa's new offices in Carlton Gore Rd, Newmarket.

Originally from Ireland, Moss emigrated to New Zealand in the 1990s after having worked in the UK National Health Service. An accomplished long-distance swimmer, she is also a practising Catholic. She worked at Carter Holt Harvey Forests in the central North Island as the regional operations manager for forests before getting her masters of business administration in 2003, then in 2007 was hired at Bupa, eventually working her way up to managing director.

Bupa is a London-based multinational company with tentacles in insurance, care homes, health services and hospitals. In 2007, Bupa bought New Zealand’s Guardian Health Care rest homes, hospitals and retirements villages, changing its name to Bupa Care Services in 2009.

Former colleagues say they believe Moss received a payout when she left Bupa.

“I don’t know a lot about what was in her settlement, because that was done by Australia, but I think we paid her six months or even up to a year’s salary," says one.

Sources say the day Moss left Bupa there was little notice of what was about to happen. 

It was also reported in the media at the time that a number of industry articles, Facebook posts and Tweets relating to her departure were deleted.

One insider says Moss would have wanted the conditions of her exit kept confidential. “She has a tight settlement. We couldn’t even speak about it."

Less than three months after her sudden departure from Bupa, Moss was confirmed as the CEO of the Government’s rebranded child protection agency, Oranga Tamariki.

According to a July 5, 2016 official recommendation document from State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to then Minister of State Services Paula Bennett, he recommended Moss be appointed to the new position, stating: “Grainne has most recently been Managing Director at Bupa Care Services New Zealand. She is a highly respected and experienced leader. She is a proven Chief Executive who has led large organisations both operationally and through change. Her strong ability to influence and inspire, along with her collegial and proactive approach to building and leveraging relationships will stand her in good stead for the establishment of the New Children’s Entity (Oranga Tamariki).”

The State Services Commission is responsible for appointing and employing public service chief executives. The process for employing new CEOs is available and published online once the appointment has been made – a quick internet search brings up how and where the State Services Commission advertised for the role, the selection process, the interview panel, as well as the background of the chosen candidate. You can even find the appointee’s curriculum vitae (such as last year’s example for the new Secretary to the Treasury and chief executive, Dr Caralee McLiesh) – but not in the case of Grainne Moss, whose CV is, unusually, fully redacted.

The CVs of successful government department applicants appear on the SSC site. Moss' version (left) is fully redacted whereas others such as Treasury Secretary Caralee McLiesh are complete.

Newsroom asked Moss a series of questions on Thursday about her departure from Bupa. We wanted to know:

- Why did you decide to leave Bupa in April 2016?

- Did you meet with the Australia NZ head of HR, Naomi Attwood, and join a phone call with the Australia NZ CEO, Dean Holden, on the afternoon of your last day at Bupa?

- Is it correct they raised with you issues brought to their attention from NZ Bupa staff?

- Why did you leave the building and business that day and not return?

- Did the circumstances of your departure from Bupa become known at any time to the State Services Commission interview panel at the time you applied for the OT job?

Moss' written reply said only: "I strongly reject any suggestion that my behaviour or management style has been unprofessional. Anyone who has worked with me knows I am a caring and compassionate leader. I loved my nine years with Bupa and am proud of what was achieved under my leadership. I continue to have great relationships with former and current staff."

WHY THE DEPARTURE?

However Newsroom understands a number of people raised issues about the way they were treated during Moss' time at Bupa and we have been told some have received outside counselling as a result. In the corporate talk of the day, there were health and wellbeing issues needing addressing.

Everyone we spoke to was adamant they needed to remain anonymous, concerned for their careers in New Zealand’s small industry and Moss’ reach of contacts. Others were too scared to talk, even anonymously, still scarred from their experiences at the company.

“There’d be yelling and screaming ... the whole shebang. It was quite isolated here in New Zealand," says a former Bupa colleague. “My stomach’s churning now [talking about it]. I can’t even hear her voice on the TV.”

Another senior staff member says: “[Name redacted)] won’t talk to you because ...she nearly had a nervous breakdown about her time there ... I’m shit scared ... but I’ve also dealt with it over the years.

“Grainne told me that I would not last a year with her being there, and that was in front of [the then boss].

“I was challenging her and she thumped the table... Even on her team if she didn’t like you, you wouldn’t get invited to certain things. She would openly challenge and embarrass you in front of others. Her brand is very important to her... working with her, if you’re on the outer she will make that known, too."

Another source said: “I am concerned about Grainne’s reach and network of contacts. I am a bit intimidated by her still, too. I have a somewhat complicated relationship with her - one that makes me think of Stockholm Syndrome [where people come to identify with their captors]."

Others praised her management style, describing it as ‘strong’ and that she’d ‘get the job done’.

Newsroom approached Bupa in Melbourne to discuss the former NZ chief's departure but were referred back to the NZ communications team. Spokeswoman Suzy Clarkson said Bupa would seek more information from its UK headquarters.

"As you can appreciate we can’t comment on any individual employment matters that are private, confidential and historical.  We’d be limited to:

"Grainne Moss joined Bupa in September 2007 as Director of Rehabilitation and Care Services. Ms Moss progressed to the position of Managing Director in April 2013.  Grainne left the organisation in 2016, taking up the position at Oranga Tamariki in August of that year."

Children's Minister Tracey Martin. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

GETTING THE OT JOB

In May 2016, Cabinet agreed to the establishment of a new children’s entity, (a rebranding from Child, Youth and Family to Oranga Tamariki), and the process to appoint its CEO began, with the vacancy advertised in Wellington and Auckland newspapers and on the websites of New Zealand Government Jobs Online and the State Services Commission. Applications closed on May 20 and on May 24 a shortlist was identified. These candidates – Moss included – were interviewed on June 7, and she was then confirmed as the intended CEO later that month for a five-year term.

In the July 5, 2016 official recommendation document from State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to then-Minister of State Services Paula Bennett, he writes: “The panel’s view was that Grainne was the strongest candidate on the basis of her expertise and experience.”

“Grainne’s collegial and proactive style will assist her to build a strong coalition of internal and external support to deliver customer, organisation and sector outcomes. Grainne takes a strategic approach to identifying and seizing opportunities to lift organisational performance. Her strong focus on engaging staff on the vision, championing innovation, and continuous improvement will assist her to drive enhanced business performance across the Grainne’s referees spoke of her as an intelligent, well qualified person who is a strong leader. She was described as courageous with a persuasive and transformational leadership style. Grainne’s collaborative style and ability to work with a wide range of stakeholders came through in her reference checks as a particular strength. Her referees identified no issues that are of concern in relation to her appointment.”

The panel convened by Rennie to make the decision was an all-Pākehā lineup: deputy State Services Commissioner Debbie Power, secretary of education Peter Hughes, and Duncan Dunlop, the chief executive of Scottish charity Who Cares? (which focuses on those who are ‘care experienced’ such as children who have been fostered or adopted).

There is no mention in the recommendation document of Moss’ lack of social work qualifications, cultural competency (given 70 percent of children taken into care are Māori), nor any skills necessary for the role to manage vulnerable families and young people.

The then-Minister for Children, Anne Tolley, told Newsroom yesterday: "The State Services Commissioner is responsible for, and manages the recruitment process for chief executives. Grainne Moss was an outstanding nomination for one of the most difficult and demanding tasks in the public service."

The current minister, Tracey Martin, said the appointment was before her time and she had not gone back in 2017, when she took on ministerial portfolios, to check any of her departmental chiefs' appointments. "Public sector roles are apolitical and it would be a sad precedent if we saw different governments upending the public service to suit themselves.”

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, who was on the OT chief executive selection panel before he took up the job as head of the public service, told Newsroom: "A full chief executive recruitment process was undertaken. Seven references were obtained, including several from Bupa. Nothing was disclosed that was material to the appointment proceeding."

REACTION FROM BUPA STAFF

The reaction from some of those inside Bupa to Moss’ new role was one of disbelief.

“We all went how the heck did she get that job? We’re all in a meeting and we had the TV on and she came on and we heard her voice and we all went what the f***?” a Bupa insider told Newsroom.

Moss also brought with her at least four of her former Bupa colleagues, two of whom were installed as area managers for Oranga Tamariki, despite inexperience in the sector. Two others were appointed to senior positions.

A woman who worked at Bupa under one of the people Moss took with her to Oranga Tamariki says she left Bupa because the company culture was toxic. 

“My boss ... had no experience [for the role]. None whatsoever. She had just worked in that DHB arena for quite some time and was appointed [to the role].”

When she tried to raise issues of incompetence and poor treatment by her superior, she says things turned against her and she was accused of not completing tasks that the insider says were superfluous to her role.

“It was such an awful culture. They didn’t really seem to have a process for dealing with bullying. It’s funny because you get leaders who are like [that] and then you get leaders who achieve the same thing with so much more peace, so much more harmony. And they actually achieve the same result.”

Moss herself clearly impressed her interviewers for the position helming a new children’s agency – one which also came with a hefty salary north of $600,000.

Although she has her detractors, she also had those who wholeheartedly supported her. While the names of those who gave references for Moss’ appointment are not publicly obtainable, insiders say former Bupa CEO Dwayne Crombie was likely to have been one advocate.

“Dwayne moved out to be part of Bupa Australia. He liked Grainne," one former staffer says. 

It is also understood Moss had at least one board supporter.

There is some suggestion Moss was shoulder tapped by those high up in the National Party, with many believing Moss’ network played a part in her being in the frame for the top position at Oranga Tamariki.

Newsroom understands an Auckland-based PR agency that Bupa used also helped Moss stay connected in business and political circles. (Moss appeared in a string of public speaking engagements during her time as Bupa managing director, including for the British New Zealand Business Association, the Public Relations Institute of NZ and a CEO summit on diversity in the workplace. Moss was also a board member of Global Women, an initiative to connect current female CEOs and leaders with those keen be mentored as “future leaders”.)

A well-placed source within the government sector says of Moss: “She has an autocratic way of dealing with things. Why is no one looking at the obvious: the very fact is she’s from the private sector, with no significant history in childcare or youth justice, and she’s become CEO of the biggest child service in the country?"

In the second of our two part investigation, Newsroom looks into what's happened since Moss took over at Oranga Tamariki.

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