The boss of Wellington’s economic agency could be leaving after less than two years at the helm, and a city council officer is being primed to fill the role until a replacement is found.
Chris Whelan, hired from South Africa to be chief executive of Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (Wreda), is understood to have been asked by its board of directors to consider his position.
Whelan declined to comment, but Wellington Mayor Justin Lester confirmed on Tuesday that the council’s city growth and partnerships director Derek Fry, who was set to retire in June, was being lined up to take over the role in the interim.
The circumstances surrounding Whelan’s pending departure are being kept under wraps, but sources say it stems from concerns from the board and senior management about the direction of the council-controlled agency.
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More than two years ago, the agency brought together the functions and activities of Grow Wellington, Positively Wellington Tourism, Destination Wellington, Positively Wellington Venues and Major Events.
A lack of progress since the merger has been cited as the major push for the directors’ move.
In December, councillors called on the agency to ramp up its efforts and give ratepayers more bang for their buck.
In March, the agency was placed under further scrutiny, urging it to lay out a clearer plan for growing the local economy.
Wreda chairman Peter Biggs declined to comment on discussions between executives, saying: “I am not going to comment on internal discussions.”
Whelan was appointed the inaugural chief executive in May 2015, and took up the role the following September.
At the time the South African, who moved to New Zealand for the job, was hailed as the guiding light for the new agency.
Biggs said then that Whelan, who was previously chief executive of business think-tank Accelerate Cape Town, was a standout candidate with exceptional knowledge and experience in economic development.
He was just the person to help realise the enormous potential and confidence in Wellington City and the region, he said.
During this first month on the job, Whelan said there had been a lot of “pent-up expectation” about what he would bring to the role, and he had a strategic plan for the agency that included interaction with the community, businesses and staff.
Before he took up his role, the Wreda board had announced it aimed to make Wellington the most prosperous city in Australia and New Zealand within 10 years, which Whelan had called a “massive audacious goal”.
In his view, Wreda would be an advocacy group that also engaged with the business community and strengthened partnerships.
If Wellington could get the “city vitals” of connection, innovation, distinctiveness and talent, it would see long-term growth, he said in 2015.
“In five years, I want Wreda to be the go-to agency for economic data, trends and opportunities. This will become the DNA of our agency.”