Derek Handley appointment as CTO ‘terminated’ after Curran controversy

The entrepreneur has written that he accepted an offer of the new position a month ago, but it has been rescinded following the controversy around a secret meeting with Clare Curran and criticisms of his suitability

The controversy around Clare Curran’s use of a private email account and secret meetings, which resulted in her resignation as a minister a week ago, has led to another job loss. Derek Handley, whose secret Beehive meeting with the then-digital services minister triggered Curran’s demise, was offered the chief technology officer position a month ago, he has written this morning.

That offer has now been withdrawn, he writes in a post on Linkedin. “As the government has now terminated my contract I have been offered a settlement payment as per the contract. The amount equates to three months pay plus reimbursement of my costs.”

Curran’s successor as digital services minister, Megan Woods, has confirmed his statement, saying the payout totals $107,500 and that the government has decided to suspend the process with a view to “rethinking the role”. Handley says he will “donate the net proceeds” of that sum to a new fund tackling digital inequality.

News that Handley was on the verge of being appointed, which came to light when documents were proactively released by the government upon Curran’s demotion from cabinet last month, prompted an outpouring of criticism from within the New Zealand tech community, collated in a Spinoff post headlined ‘NZ tech is losing it over the idea of Derek Handley as CTO of New Zealand‘.

Curran this week admitted there may be more Gmail exchanges with Handley yet to be released.

The new role of New Zealand chief technology officer, originally mooted by Xero founder Rod Drury and championed by Curran, was designed “to serve as both a challenge to, and advisor for, the New Zealand government as it responds to the challenges and opportunities of our rapidly evolving digital world.”

In his LinkedIn post, Handley says he felt “deeply grateful and incredibly privileged for this important responsibility to help shape the future of our country. I have for many years repeated that we are in need of a clearer vision and roadmap as to how we will navigate the technological transformations and opportunities ahead, many of which will be brought upon us from outside of New Zealand’s borders.”

Handley, whose job description on LinkedIn is stated as “Astronaut in Waiting, Virgin Galactic / Entrepreneur”, says he was “deeply disappointed to learn that the government will no longer follow through with their commitment and will not be making that appointment at this time”, but “given the unnecessary and sustained lack of transparency around the process and building pressure to rethink the approach, their decision to stop the process is understandable.”

Recent weeks, writes Handley, “have been a distressing time for my family and I who returned to Auckland last weekend in time to take up this position from having lived for over ten years in New York.”

Responding to detractors, Handley offers a defence of his credentials for the position.

“Admittedly, although I am not steeped in the local IT community and don’t personally know those critical of this process, my broad background that I believed may have been of unique service to New Zealand as the CTO, includes: building, investing in and advising dozens of innovative start-up technology companies around the world that disrupt the status quo; co-founding The B Team, a global non-profit that mapped a wide global landscape of issues and efforts and then charted a unique strategic path to transforming the way we conduct business for the benefit of a sustainable and inclusive society; my roles as a thought partner on the future of work and careers at leading universities Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and AUT as well as my corporate strategy experience here in New Zealand with Sky Television and Air New Zealand where I have been deployed to challenge thinking and creativity.”

His experience, “combined with a deep desire to return home to New Zealand to serve our country in some capacity, is why I applied for the role”, writes Handley.

“I enjoyed the challenge of the recruitment process itself, which was one of the most robust, demanding and extensive experiences I have undergone and I am thankful for the work of the many people involved who will also be disappointed at this outcome.”

What remained of the “settlement payment” would be put towards a new fund to tackle digital inequality, he writes.

“The CTO role was also tasked with tackling the issue of ‘digital inequality’ where disenfranchised New Zealanders are being disadvantaged due to lack of digital capability or access. My family and I have decided not to accept the settlement money personally and instead donate the net proceeds towards a fund that supports ideas, programmes and grants that seek to tackle this societal issue in creative ways. I welcome collaboration from all communities on how we may do that.

“I am grateful for what I have learned through this experience and appreciate all the voices that care passionately about our future, including those critical of my candidacy as CTO.”


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