Kiwi businessman Chris Liddell's new role in Trump administration

A Kiwi businessman with strong environmental credentials who's landed a senior job in the White House could influence US President-elect Donald Trump's views on climate change, a close associate says.

Christopher Liddell, 58, has been picked by Mr Trump as his assistant and director of strategic initiatives at a new think tank called the White House Strategic Development Group.

The group is responsible for the soon-to-be President's "priority projects". Mr Liddell will also work with private sector forums.

Matamata-born Mr Liddell has had senior roles in some of the world's biggest companies such as Microsoft and General Motors.

In New Zealand he has shown a strong green streak, with involvement in a number of environmental groups.

That includes being a trustee of Pure Advantage, a collection of successful Kiwis pushing for green business practices.

Pure Advantage founder Phillip Mills, of the Les Mills gym empire, believes Mr Liddell has a great opportunity to change Mr Trump's scepticism of climate change.

He was thankful for the news of Mr Liddell's appointment, which would counter the views of other Trump picks such as ExxonMobil chairman Rex Tillerson.

"[Trump's] got some other guys in there...who are going to be pushing for fossil fuels, who are really trying to burn the planet, and it's great to have someone in there like Chris who is going to be fighting against that."

On multiple occasions, Mr Trump has called climate change a "hoax" and a way for the Chinese to "make US manufacturing non-competitive".  

In 2014, he tweeted that snow in Texas and Louisiana was a sign "global warming is an expensive hoax!".

"When you're a sole entrepreneur you can have strange points of view like that, but when you're sitting in a position he's in, you're going to have a lot of smart people around him telling him the facts and one of those people is Chris Liddell," Mr Mill says. 

Who is Chris Liddell?

  • Born in Matamata, but now lives in New York;
  • Awarded a CNZM in the 2015 New Year's Honours for services to business and philanthropy;
  • Strong ties to the New Zealand business community, including current chairman of accounting software firm Xero;
  • Previous chief executive of Carter Holt Harvey and former director of the New Zealand Rugby Union and New Zealand Sports Foundation;
  • Co-founder of the New Zealand Institute and founding trustee of Knowledge Wave Conferences;
  • Held high-ranking positions including Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft and General Motors where he was also Vice-Chairman;
  • Involved in the then-largest sharemarket listing in history in 2010 - US$23b float of GM;
  • CFO at International Paper and entertainment and media company WME/IMG;
  • Named Businessman of the Year in 2011;
  • Graduate of Auckland and Oxford Universities;
  • Currently chair of New Zealand environment and education organisation, Next Foundation and has history with a number of conservation projects;

This is by no means Mr Liddell's first foray into American politics.

He was the executive director of 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's transition planning team.

He's also currently part of Mr Trump's transition team as Special Advisor on Presidential Appointments.

He was named along with real estate mogul Reed Cordish who will become Assistant to the President for Intragovernmental and Technology Initiatives.

"Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish have led large, complex companies in the private sector and have played instrumental roles throughout the transition," Mr Trump says.

"Their skillsets are exactly what is needed to effect substantial change, including system wide improvement to the performance of government.

"I'm delighted they'll be part of my executive team."

Mr Liddell says it is an "honour" to take on the role.

Xero chief executive Rod Drury says it would have been Mr Liddell's close ties to the Republican party which meant he was shoulder-tapped by Mr Trump.

"He could have been Mitt Romney's chief of staff had he become president - so he's very close to that world.

"To be that close to power, to have a Kiwi right in the West Wing, we should all be pretty proud of," he told Newshub.

Mr Drury said Mr Liddell's conservation and environmental credentials could have some sway with Mr Trump who in the past has said he's sceptical about man-made climate change.

It could also be good news for New Zealand businesses and even Prime Minister Bill English.

"Chris is well-known to connect people in the US to all sorts of other companies and people down here; he's a great connector so having someone like that probably gives us better access in some countries so that's exciting," Mr Drury says.

Mr Liddell spent "a lot of time" with former prime minister John Key and likely Mr English as well.

"I'm sure those kinds of relationships can only help."

Mr Drury says he'd known the news for some weeks now and while Mr Liddell is still the company's chairman, it will become clearer whether he can stay on over the coming days.

The Next Foundation has congratulated Mr Liddell on his appointment, calling it an "outstanding achievement for a New Zealander - and a great opportunity to have a significant impact on the world stage".

"As Chairman of Next, he has already made an enormous contribution to the support we have provided to eight environmental and educational initiatives - all of which benefit our land and our people," chief executive Bill Kermode says.


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