New Study from Korn Ferry Urges CEOs to Take The Lead In Government Relationships


Candid conversations with former politicians and leaders in business in Australia and New Zealand provide advice to business on how to work with government.

SYDNEY, September 13, 2019 — CEOs were advised to take responsibility for their organisation’s relationship with government and to work more closely with opposition and minor parties, according to a report by Korn Ferry: Business and Government – a complex dance. The report examined how business can build a better relationship with government, by seeking advice from those who had worked both sides of the fence: business leaders whose former careers were in politics and the bureaucracy.

The former politicians and public servants interviewed by Korn Ferry said the relationship between business and government needs to be stronger and that it suffers from a mutual lack of understanding.

According to the study, the value to society of a productive, working relationship between business and government is clear; government creates the policy environment – the levers - for the economy to grow and business uses those levers to create jobs and prosperity.

“Yet, despite the interdependent relationship between public policy and prosperity, most respondents to this research felt that in Australia, the relationship with governments should be stronger. While some respondents were slightly more optimistic, all agreed that over the past decade or more, the relationship between business and government could be improved upon,” said Tim Nelson, CEO of Korn Ferry Australasia.

Respondents interviewed for the study said there are many factors that are creating tension between government and business; a mutual lack of understanding of how each operates, a 24-hour news cycle that doesn’t allow for considered and careful analysis of issues; a lack of interest by government to engage with business and a lack of expertise by business to engage with government.

Study respondents also conveyed that there is a rise of the ‘professional politician,’ leading to a potential “weakening” in the pool of political candidates who have worked outside the political system and have an understanding of business. Plus, the fragmentation in Australia and New Zealand of the major political parties has broadened the number – and interests – of minor parties and independent politicians.

Respondents agreed that CEOs need to take responsibility for the relationship with government and that chairs can also play an important role. “It is clear that ministers expect to meet with the most senior people in an organisation. Government affairs practitioners and lobbyists play important roles, particularly in relation to intelligence, advice and by paving the way to high level meetings, but CEOs and at times chairs, need to be in the room when ministers are present,” said Katie Lahey, Chairman of Korn Ferry in Australasia.

One certainty in politics is that opposition parties become governments at some stage and business is advised to meet regularly with the relevant shadow minister and start relationships when it is easier to form one. Shadow ministers are often more willing – and have more time – to meet with business.

“Business ignores opposition parties at their peril. The opposition – and in certain circumstances – the backbench and crossbench, influence policy and in many cases, can either smooth its path or halt its progress,” said Mr Nelson.


CEOs who ‘roll up their sleeves’ and are respected for their government relationships share the following approach to more constructive engagement between business and government:

  1. Their approach to government relations is aligned with the overall strategy of the organisation.
  2. They treat the relationship as long term rather than transactional.
  3. They go in person to meet ministers and have constructive meetings about matters that are not only important to their organisation, but important to their industry and the nation.
  4. They meet with the shadow minister.
  5. They meet with department and agency heads – and understand that the bureaucracy does the deep work of briefings and policy creation.
  6. They map and meet influential people in government, or on the periphery, who are important to their industry and organisation. This could include backbenchers, cross bench MPs and senators, and in certain circumstances, union leaders.
  7. They are aware of the politics relating to certain issues, but they don’t ‘play’ the politics.
  8. They take the time to understand the government’s mandate and how this influences decisions.
  9. Their discussion with government aligns with statements they make in other forums.
  10. They are well-prepared and do not waste the minister’s time.

Note to editors: The research undertaken by Korn Ferry, included interviews with 15 former politicians and others who had worked closely with government who now hold senior roles in business. The interviews were conducted between March and June 2019.

For the complete study, Business and Government – a complex dance visit click here.


Hon Anna Bligh AC, Hon Stephen Bracks AC, Hon John Brumby AO, Kate Carnell AO, Hon Bob Carr, Hon Greg Combet AM, Hon Helen Coonan, Hon Peter Costello AC, Rt Hon Sir Bill English, Hon Nick Greiner AC, Phil O’Reilly ONZM, Heather Ridout AO, Tony Shepherd AO, Dr Ian Watt AC, Jennifer Westacott AO.

Media enquiries to:

Kerry Little, Director Strategic Communications, Korn Ferry
T: 0402 013 224,

About Korn Ferry

Korn Ferry is a global organisational consulting firm. We help clients synchronise strategy and talent to drive superior performance. We work with organisations to design their structures, roles, and responsibilities. We help them hire the right people to bring their strategy to life. And we advise them on how to reward, develop, and motivate their people.

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