Celebrity News

Is this Auckland's next mayor?

What sort of woman leaves a high-flying corporate career to vie for the thankless task of becoming Auckland’s mayor? A woman like Victoria Crone, it seems.

Right now the race is on to see who will be the next mayor of Auckland City. But with a growing population, terrible transport woes, unaffordable house prices, and council overspending (not to mention sex scandals) it makes you wonder what rational person would give up their job in the hopes of being mayor, aka boss, of the country’s largest city.
Enter successful businesswoman Victoria Crone, 43, who quit her job as managing director of cloud-based accounting software company Xero, and put her hand up for the position.
As the race heats up we ask, who is Victoria Crone – and is she the answer to the city’s problems?
Talking change
The mayoral hopeful comes in the form of a smartly dressed brunette wearing a duck-egg blue coat, which she wears for the duration of the interview – perhaps wrongly assuming she’ll only be here for 10 minutes.“Sorry I’m late,” she says hurrying into an inner-city Auckland café. “It’s the traffic,” she laments.
Her statement isn’t surprising, given the city’s notorious traffic issues, but I get the impression she does not like to be late. She does, however, acknowledge that her commute, from affluent Parnell, isn’t anywhere as long as that experienced by people from some parts of Auckland who can sit in traffic for more than an hour each morning.
“I think we completely underestimate what the central city will be like for the next five years,” she says. “It’s really worrying. The amount of time people have to spend in their cars… it’s ridiculous.”
From the get-go, it’s clear she is here today for business when she immediately launches into her spiel about what she would do if elected mayor of Auckland. Think robots, drones, 4D printing (self-assembling 3D printing) and driverless cars. It all sounds extremely futuristic, but Crone insists these are the things we need to be looking at to ensure Auckland moves with the times.
“We have growth like we’ve never seen before, we have technology coming at us like we’ve never seen before and we are competing on a global stage in a way we haven’t before. Singapore have said they want to run a third of their bus fleet driverless in the next year,” she says matter-of-factly.
Money Matters
She also talks about sorting out our transport and housing issues – but first she would tighten the purse strings.
“The way that council is spending our money is not okay – whether that’s through rates or service charges around Auckland. So that needs to be cleaned up,” she says.
“We need to bring much stronger discipline around management of costs and we need to provide transparency of how we’re spending the money.”
That means opening the books and letting Aucklanders see how the council is allocating ratepayer money.“That’s really important in the short term because if we are not spending wisely, we are wasting money that we can be investing in the future.”
Auckland Council has recently been under fire for its overspends. There is the $63 million over budget spent on personnel, council building repairs that are budgeted to go from an estimated $4 million to $31 million (and could go higher), and the $1.2 billion (yes, billion) spent on IT in five years, which, says Crone, essentially gave Aucklanders a couple of things like being able to register your dog online and hire books electronically from the library.
“But that’s not a billion dollars’ worth,” she says. “That’s just money we’ll never get back. It is spent, it is wasted and it is gone.”
The 30-year plan
Leave it to someone with business nous to dish out some much-needed financial discipline – an attribute that sets Crone apart from some of her stiffest competition, namely Labour MP and former party leader Phil Goff.
Though relatively unknown to the broader public, Crone is extremely well respected in business circles, having climbed to the very top of the corporate ladder. Starting out as a marketing manager at Telecom in Wellington she quickly moved through the company (in both Wellington and Auckland) before leaving for telecommunications company Chorus in 2011.
She’s used to being in charge, she’s used to getting her own way and she’s used to having employees wanting to do their very best to please her. So why on earth would she give that up to work for what seems like a dysfunctional arm of the government?
“It’s the right thing to do,” she says simply. “I looked at the 30-year plan for Auckland with the view of [what] our city is going to evolve into and I was really disappointed. It was, I think, a plan for the next three to five years at best. It didn’t tackle anything I see happening in the next 30 years, and how can we use it to keep up, if not lead the world? And so I got frustrated and thought actually I’ve got some skills to offer in this space and I believe it is up to leaders of my generation to stand up and say ‘I want to play a role’.”
It is interesting the mayoral candidate is so invested in Auckland given she’s from Lower Hutt; she moved to the big smoke 13 years ago with her eldest daughter and now ex-husband after he was offered a new job.
The couple have two daughters together: Megan, 16, and Mackenzie, 11. So what qualifies her as an Aucklander now?
“My life is here and my family is here,” Crone says, adding that her parents made the move to Auckland almost four years ago. “I also think Auckland is a lifestyle, so it’s that mix of the work-hard, play-hard type approach. The city has so many opportunities that you can do from a career perspective so I have enjoyed that aspect.”
Crone, known as Vic in work circles and Tor by her family, is the youngest of three girls. Her father was an accountant who left school at 15 to help with his family’s expenses. He later put himself through night school to get a degree.Her parents were very big on education so Crone, along with her sisters, were pushed to educate themselves. Learning to play the piano to performance level she almost chose a career in music, but business won out and she enrolled in Victoria University, where she did a Master of Commerce and Administration degree.
She didn’t give up her love of music though; showing her resourcefulness, she set up a piano school to help pay her way through university. There’s still a piano in her house, but she rarely gets time to play it. It’s not surprising given her hectic schedule. Most mornings Crone is up at 5.30am and starts her day by walking Milo the family dog, a retrodoodle (golden retriever-poodle). When she returns, she always makes breakfast for her daughters.
“It’s pretty indulgent but I think it’s the most important meal of the day. Typically I will make them scrambled eggs with bacon and avocado, otherwise it will be an omelette or banana pancakes,” she says.
The rest of the day is a “mish-mash” of interviews, writing policy, giving speeches, meeting people, and networking. A keen sportswoman, Crone enjoys exercise; however, these days she’s inhibited by the fact she ripped the tendons in her knee while playing indoor netball last year.
“I’m not very good with rehab. I’m not very patient because when I go for a run I want to do 10km,” she says.
At her peak, Crone was conquering marathons, half Ironmans and the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic Run – a 36km slog through rough terrain. What drives her to put her body through these events?
“I like setting myself challenging goals,” she says. “Mental determination is such a big part of endurance sports. The desire to finish, to do my best; and when it’s really tough, it’s breaking the goal into small steps and achieving one step at a time, having learned that will get you there.”
It’s clear Crone is extremely media-savvy and knows her PR pitch back to front. Perhaps it’s this approach she’s hoping to use if elected. She has a succinct answer for every question, and all answers seem to have been cleverly constructed to show exactly how she’d be a good mayor. Is it possible to be the high-flying business-woman, mayoral candidate, busy mother and athlete she portrays? I’m not sure, but Crone seems to do it all with drive and determination.
She’s confident she can win; she’s not afraid of failing and she’s not nervous about the public scrutiny that comes with the job. Moreover Crone believes that, if elected mayor, her work, home, community and friends will be impacted but she’ll adapt, just as she has several times before, to big changes in her life. Still, she admits she does have a “Plan A, B and C” if she doesn’t get picked to run the country’s biggest city.
“I’m quite flexible and adaptable to what I’ll do. There is a range of options from finding a job, or continuing my board work, or looking at other public roles. There is a whole lot of doors open. I feel lucky to have created that position.”
Whether or not Crone gets the chains of office remains to be seen. But it’s doubtful someone with her drive, energy and passion will be turning her attention back to that piano keyboard just yet. Watch this space.
The NEXT questions:
I’d like my NEXT big holiday to be…
In a campervan with my girls exploring the beaches around Omaha and Leigh all the way up to Ninety Mile Beach.
When I’m feeling stressed, my NEXT move is to…
Get some exercise – doesn’t matter whether it’s a walk, run or swim.
What’s NEXT on your reading list…
Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World by Beverly Schwartz.
You have three wishes and you’ve picked world peace and a lifetime of good hair days already. What do you wish for NEXT?
An inclusive society – a principle I believe transcends gender, age, culture and wealth.
You’re at a celebrity dinner. Sitting NEXT to you is…
Kevin Spacey.
By my NEXT birthday I’d like to achieve...
Becoming Auckland’s next mayor.
If you could take time out to study, what would you learn NEXT?
I’m a big believer in lifelong learning… my list includes: psychology, philosophy, international politics/history, coding, design, Mandarin or Cantonese.
Words: Sarah Murray

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