From Mata­mata to the White House

Matamata Chronicle - - What’s On - ELLEN READ

For a man just named as one of US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s White House as­sis­tants, Kiwi Chris Lid­dell has dis­played very few po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions.

Fo­cused, driven and in­tel­lec­tu­ally very smart is how peo­ple in busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal cir­cles de­scribe him - but a man on a def­i­nite cor­po­rate rather than po­lit­i­cal path.

‘‘He runs things well, climbs to the top, earns lots of money. He’s a straight up busi­ness­man,’’ one said.

Chris Pell Lid­dell was born in Mata­mata in 1958, the youngest of five chil­dren. His fa­ther was a school teacher who died when Lid­dell was young. His English mother then took on a va­ri­ety of jobs, in­clud­ing work­ing in the cafe in up­mar­ket Auck­land depart­ment store Smith and Caughey, to sup­port the fam­ily.

Aca­dem­i­cally bright, Lid­dell went to Auck­land’s Mt Al­bert Gram­mar and the Univer­sity of Auck­land be­fore gain­ing his doc­tor­ate at Eng­land’s Ox­ford Univer­sity.

Strad­dling a work­ing class/ mid­dle class up­bring­ing be­fore mov­ing into in­vest­ment bank­ing draws ob­vi­ous sim­i­lar­i­ties with for­mer Prime Min­is­ter John Key al­though their later ca­reer paths di­verge. One rea­son could be that while Key was widely known as a peo­ple-per­son, that is not ac­knowl­edged as one of Lid­dell’s many strengths.

His cor­po­rate path is well cov­ered (from in­vest­ment bank­ing via Carter Holt Har­vey to US gi­ants Gen­eral Mo­tors and Mi­crosoft) and while he has given in­ter­views pe­ri­od­i­cally, more re­cently fo­cus­ing on his phil­an­thropic work, he man­ages to avoid the per­sonal.

For ex­am­ple, his quote in the press re­lease an­nounc­ing his White House ap­point­ment was vanilla, with quotes say­ing he was hum­bled, honoured and ex­cited to ef­fect change.

It was his third and cur­rent wife, wealthy Amer­i­can so­cialite and phi­lan­thropist Re­nee Har­bers, who brought him into the Repub­li­can fold. (Both his for­mer wives, New Zealand busi­ness­women Sarah Kennedy and Bridget Wick­ham, keep their per­sonal lives pri­vate and have never spo­ken pub­licly.)

Dur­ing his ear­lier life in New Zealand, Lid­dell held no pub­lic am­bi­tions for po­lit­i­cal of­fice but had po­lit­i­cal views on the right hand side of the spec­trum where they sup­ported his cor­po­rate am­bi­tions.

He sup­ported Bob Jones’ (now Sir Bob Jones) New Zealand Party in the 1980s as it waged bat­tle against then Prime Min­is­ter Robert Mul­doon. The party won no seats but is cred­ited with hav­ing split the vote in the 1984 gen­eral elec­tion which saw the Labour Party head to the Bee­hive.

Lid­dell’s first pub­lic foray into US pol­i­tics came with news that he was ear­marked for a job in the White House Ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing Repub­li­can Mitt Rom­ney’s un­suc­cess­ful 2012 Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

It is also ru­moured, but not ver­i­fied, that he was in­ter­ested in re­turn­ing home for the top job at dairy giant Fon­terra at the time in­cum­bent Theo Spier­ings was ap­pointed in 2011.

Lid­dell’s most re­cent US cor­po­rate job was to over­see fi­nances at Amer­i­can tal­ent agency and me­dia com­pany Wil­liam Mor­ris En­deav­our, best known for own­ing the Miss Uni­verse pageant.

LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Chris Lid­dell with his then-fi­ancee, now wife, Re­nee Bar­bers.

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