Sautner’s ex boss: This is about right and wrong

Eden Park is backing its chief executive after details emerged of a damning Australian court verdict against him. His former boss tells Tim Murphy of his surprise at the park's appointment.

The man who dismissed the current Eden Park boss from a previous job at a Melbourne stadium for "serious misconduct" says it is wrong to try and paint that as a clash of personalities.

Paul Sergeant, who was chief executive of Melbourne Stadiums Ltd when it dismissed Nick Sautner, told Newsroom: "Those trying to sow the seed that this was based on a clash of personalities are trying to divert the attention away from the facts.

"This was about right and wrong. My Board at that time were involved every step of the way and believe me, they would not have allowed this to go to court based on a clash of personalities. A full panel of five Federal Court Judges, unheard of for such a case in Victoria for 20 years, reached their unanimous verdict based on factual evidence."

That court judgment is strongly critical of Sautner, who was appointed chief executive at Eden Park late last year despite the trust which runs the stadium being aware of its existence. The Eden Park Trust chair, Doug McKay, told Newsroom he hadn't "read it cover to cover" but knew the Australian court judgment had gone against his employee.

The Federal Court said Sautner regarded tickets to major events at Etihad Stadium as 'currency' and he used them as barter for 'mates' rates' repair work on his home, for membership of the Qantas Club, for Bunnings and supermarket vouchers, gym membership, locksmith work, a new car battery, and even flowers.

It said Sautner "blatantly rorted" the ticketing system and that each of three key areas of misconduct "was deliberate, involved elements of dishonesty, and of its very nature struck at the heart of the trust relationship between Mr Sautner and MSL".  It said MSL had been within its rights to dismiss him for "serious misconduct". And it overturned a lower court ruling that he be paid A$150,000 in severance.

Part of the case involved photographs Sautner had taken of his boss, Sergeant, asleep during a work trip and then showed to a colleague and a sponsor - actions the court found were aimed at ridiculing and harming Sergeant's reputation as chief executive.

After his dismissal, Sautner worked for a time at the West Australian Football Commission but left after the Federal Court judgment came out. He then worked for a short time for one of the sport's sponsors, before joining Eden Park as general manager, commercial in mid 2016 and rising to the top job late last year.

Sergeant, who later left MSL to found his own events company in Melbourne, is in Britain at present but told Newsroom: "Like many people across the venue and events industry I was really surprised about his appointment in the first place let alone his promotion to CEO after the departure of [previous Eden Park CEO Guy] Ngata."

McKay told Newsroom he had personally conducted the due diligence on Sautner when he applied for the chief executive job and had received positive responses from referees in Australia and New Zealand. 

In a written statement later yesterday McKay said Sautner had been "the model of propriety" at Eden Park. “Since starting with us, both the board and I have been delighted with Nick’s drive, work ethic and high integrity. Nick’s ever-growing ability to lead our team has been impressive to date. 

“There hasn’t been a single incident which has given me cause to doubt him and unless he proves me wrong Nick Sautner has our full support.”

McKay said the details of Sautner’s court case proceedings in Australia "are complicated however it has been agreed the allegations do not have any bearing on his role at Eden Park and there was no subsequent action taken in respect of any of these findings, which are a repetition of claims made by his previous employer."

The statement did not say who had "agreed" the allegations didn't impact Sautner's role at Eden Park.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who has publicly opposed a bid led by Sautner for the park to host a day-long 'Live Aid' style concert next Waitangi Day to raise $4 million for baby incubators, tweeted:

"Aggressive commercialisation of #EdenPark seemed to step up w/ arrival of top staffer who's now Chief Executive. Did EP Trust know when appointing him that full bench of Australia Federal Court had found unanimously against him w/ regard to misconduct?"

She followed up: "Reading @NewsroomNZ investigative report into Australian Federal Court finding on current #EdenPark CE gives new insights into Park behaviour as it attempts to expand its footprint beyond current parameters. Full public relations machine operates against opponents. Unethical."

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