15 Oct 2023

Christopher Luxon: From the boardroom to becoming the nation's next prime minister

9:30 am on 15 October 2023
Christopher Luxon

Christopher Luxon has swapped success in multiple roles in the corporate world for an office in the Beehive. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

National will lead the next government after the party had 38.95 percent of the party vote and gained 50 seats.

In July 2019 Christopher Mark Luxon resigned from one of the country's most prominent jobs, running Air New Zealand, to become a high flier in the field of politics.

He was named as the candidate for the safe National seat of Botany in Auckland four months later.

He won the seat at the general election the following year, with a 4000 majority over his main rival in an election that saw a 'red wave' return Jacinda Ardern's government to power with the first single-party majority since MMP was introduced.

After months of National Party in-fighting and leaks the political rookie replaced Judith Collins as National's leader on 30 November 2021. Now he has achieved the KPI he set himself on Checkpoint that day - leading his party to an election victory in 2023.

So how did a man with "hardworking middle class values" land the plum job on the ninth floor of the Beehive?

What makes him tick?

  • Born: In Christchurch on 19 July 1970
  • Educated: Primary schools in both Christchurch and Auckland, Howick College and Christchurch Boys' High before completing a masters in commerce (business administration) at the University of Canterbury
  • Married to: Amanda whom he described in an RNZ interview as "my best friend ... quite simply, the most extraordinary person I know: strong, wise, smart, and funny"
  • Children: Two - William and Olivia
  • Favourite animal: guinea pigs
  • One word to describe himself: Extrovert
  • His superpower: Solving problems
  • Favourite movie: The James Bond series
  • Theme song: 'Live like you were dying' by Tim McGraw
  • Musical taste: Country
  • Favourite beach: Onetangi on Waiheke Island
  • Favourite former PM: Sir John Key
  • Learning: Te reo Maori
  • Sports: Supports the Crusaders and enjoys water skiiing
  • Owns: Seven houses including his main home in Remuera in Auckland

Early days

Christopher Luxon was the first in his family to go to university.

Christopher Luxon was the first in his family to go to university. Photo: Supplied

Luxon, who is the oldest of three sons, spent his first seven years in Christchurch before the family moved to Auckland.

He was educated at state schools, including Howick College and when the family headed south again, he completed three years at Christchurch Boys' High School.

He always wanted to be a businessman, he told RNZ's Guyon Espiner during an interview focused on how he was reshaping National.

"If you met me at 12 years old I'd be having window washing rounds, lawn mowing rounds and deck painting. I just loved it," he said.

At Christchurch Boys' High he was a prefect and a good debater but the head prefect of the time did not mark him out as someone special.

"Chris was just your standard, middle of the road kid," Glenn Davis said. "Extremely likeable, and that's probably why he's having the success that he's having today. But, yeah, there was nothing that stood out."

Luxon worked at McDonald's and as a hotel porter while studying for a Master of Commerce degree at Canterbury University.

His studies put him on the pathway to a career at Unilever - within two years he was a Sydney-based brand manager for Australasia followed by more senior roles in London, Chicago and Toronto - chalking up 16 years with the multinational overseas.

In his six years as Air New Zealand's chief executive Luxon oversaw record profits and high customer satisfaction ratings for the airline and Deloitte named him the country's top chief executive in 2015.

"You can't deny that Air NZ's financial performance and increase in profitability has coincided with Christopher taking on the role as CEO," award judge Cathy Quinn told the New Zealand Herald.

However, a prominent union official wasn't so impressed, saying Luxon seldom met with unions or had contact with ordinary workers.

Why abandon business for politics?

Luxon became a multi-millionaire during more than 25 years as a businessman and despite all that has been written about him there doesn't seem to be 'a road to Damascus' moment that inspired his switch to politics.

An evangelical Christian, he was seen by National supporters as the right man for a new mission - building a team that could work together and end the feuding that saw four party leaders come and go in five years.

Luxon made it clear he prized loyalty, telling Lisa Owen on Checkpoint on the day he won the leadership, disloyalty in the job was a sackable offence as far as he was concerned.

The claim was not tested as harmony ruled within the party and after a year, RNZ's deputy political editor Craig McCulloch wrote it was looking more likely he would become prime minister, despite little in the way of new policy.

"Since National's leadership change, the opposition party has climbed some 10 points in the polls to secure top billing and the once ill-disciplined caucus now presents as a cohesive and motivated team," he wrote.

However, there were hiccups. While National polled well, the country seemed wary of Luxon and his favourability ratings were in the negatives for a long period. "A lot of people know what I've done, they don't necessarily know who I am," he explained to RNZ.

He finally edged ahead of Hipkins as preferred leader during the election campaign.

Earlier this year commentators believed the party's momentum of the previous year had stalled while voters' view of Luxon was causing alarm - a Newshub poll detected 44 percent of those polled distrusted him.

"This is a serious problem because leaders who aren't trusted struggle to win elections," political analyst Dr Bryce Edwards at Victoria University wrote for the Democracy Project.

He was blamed for the party failing to change its tactics after the shock resignation of Jacinda Ardern and the elevation of Chris Hipkins to the top job.

However, the departure of three Cabinet ministers in quick succession, a growing scepticism about what Labour had achieved and no end in sight for high food and fuel prices put paid to Hipkins' momentum and gradually support has swung towards the centre right as the desire for change took hold.

Some have criticised his brand of Christianity - a topic Luxon was upfront about during his maiden speech in Parliament.

He said it had "anchored" him, given his life purpose and shaped his values.

"A person should not be elected because of their faith and nor should they be rejected because of it.

"My faith is personal to me. It is not in itself a political agenda."

Luxon is a pro-lifer but has said he would resign rather than change abortion access or funding. "Despite his repeated assurances abortion law would not change under a National government, a lot of distrust remains among women given Luxon's personal position and the make-up of the current caucus," RNZ political editor Jane Patterson wrote in August 2022.

Luxon has stumbled in interviews at time. Not being able to say how much money superannuitants received and telling farmers New Zealand was a "negative, wet and whiny" country that has "lost the plot". In another interview, when discussing making the country more prosperous, he mentioned "bottom feeding" and on another occasion he appeared unaware that public transport was heavily subsidised.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon at the party's launch of its 2023 election campaign.- - this is his wife hugging him.

Chris Luxon is embraced by wife Amanda after his speech at the National party's campaign launch in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

So what to expect from Luxon as PM?

Luxon believes in climate change and the need for environmental action. During his time in corporate roles he pushed for gender pay equity and supported the rainbow community.

He is opposed to co-governance for public services such as health and Three Waters. He is tough on crime and gangs, backing the return to boot camps for young offenders.

He has stressed throughout his tenure as opposition leader his ability to manage a team and get things done. During an interview about how he would sort the obvious divisions between ACT leader David Seymour and NZ First leader Winston Peters, Luxon said he was used to running teams even if they contained people with big personalities.

"He seems less interested in promoting grand visions than he is in advancing policies that are achievable," former United Future leader Peter Dunne wrote on Newsroom in March.

Luxon has been scathing of Labour's so called wasteful spending, and has promoted National's credentials as sound financial managers.

Asked to outline his vision for the country during the first 1News political leaders' debate, he said his priority was rebuilding the economy. Kiwis knew the economy was going backwards "but it doesn't have to be like this. We can be so much better". National would focus on restoring economic fortunes, tackling crime and delivering better health and education outcomes, he said.

Perhaps his deputy Nicola Willis should have the last word: She introduced him at a National gathering last year as a man who "wakes up each day with a smile on his face" and "talks too much to people at airports".

His cheerful disposition may be tested in the months ahead as he manages a coalition with two party leaders who have seemed poles apart on the campaign trail and he is faced with fixing all the problems he believes the previous government has left behind.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis.

Christopher Luxon with deputy Nicola Willis. Photo: Marika Khabazi / RNZ

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