Stephen Pahl admits family ‘grief and suffering’ affected his work – but there may be more to yesterday’s announcement:
As well as personal “grief and suffering”, unhappy staff may have had a hand in the exit of Destination Queenstown boss Stephen Pahl.
The late-40s Australian promo supremo – thought to earn $130,000 annually – leaves on September 25 after just eight months.
Sources claim unsettled troops complained to DQ’s board about Pahl’s leadership.
One source reveals a deputation to board members “a while ago”. Another says senior staff talked to board members a few months ago.
“Yes, that’s correct,” a third source confirms. “Some staff went to some of the [DQ] board expressing concern at the environment under Pahl.”
In what’s probably his exit interview, Mountain Scene asked Pahl on Tuesday whether he’d had all possible support from colleagues.
“No, look, I don’t want to make a comment.”
Were you undermined? “I don’t think it’s appropriate to answer that.”
Told of innuendo, Pahl responded: “If the knives are out, then the knives are out.”
Among local businesses, levied more than $2 million annually to fund DQ, tongues will wag over a possible payout to Pahl from public money.
DQ chair Erna Spijkerbosch failed to return repeated Mountain Scene calls yesterday – DQ’s statement on Pahl’s exit makes no reference to any payout.
Yet former DQ chair and current board member Vance Boyd left the question open – by failing to deny a payout.
Mountain Scene: Could you confirm the size of the payout to Stephen, please?
Boyd: “Certainly not, no.”
MS: You won’t confirm the size of the payout?
Boyd: “I won’t confirm anything.”
MS: Are you saying there was no payout?
Boyd: “As I say, I’m not confirming anything.”
Before joining DQ, Pahl headed Brisbane-based Ecotourism Australia.
Mountain Scene asked Ecotourism chair Duncan MacKenzie why Pahl left his job there to cross the ditch.
“I guess [he] was wanting to do something different. I know there’d been a bit of sickness in his family and he just wanted to spread his wings and try something different.”
‘Wonderful few months of success’
Stephen Pahl admits “grief” and “suffering” in what’s likely to be his last interview as Destination Queenstown boss.
With rumours of Pahl’s departure swirling, Mountain Scene reached him on Tuesday ahead of DQ’s official statement yesterday.
“My family and I have been [in] great suffering over the past couple of weeks,” Pahl admits.
“We have some specific issues related to our family which have caused us a lot of grief and I’ve been just working through those issues with the [DQ] board.”
In Wednesday’s DQ statement, Pahl cites wife Debbie’s Australian businesses – which she’s been unable to sell “and has had to spend much of her time in Brisbane” running.
“These issues have been compounded by my personal recent temporary health issues,” Pahl adds in the statement.
His troubles affected his work performance, he reveals to Mountain Scene.
“It’s been a very difficult situation for my family. Family circumstances are involved here which have impacted on my ability to work as I want at DQ.”
Nevertheless, after “broad reports of the best-ever winter season” and welcoming two new Australian airlines, Pahl feels his tenure has seen “a wonderful few months of success for [DQ]”.
But “I know there’s rumours around”, he admits to Mountain Scene.
So were you asked to resign? “No, of course not.”
Will you attend DQ’s annual general meeting on Wednesday? “Of course I will.”
Were you represented by a lawyer in exit negotiations? “Well if I were, that’s my business.”
When you joined DQ, how long did you expect to stay? “We viewed our move to Queenstown as a permanent move.”
Sad to leave? “I’m not making any comment.”
What will you miss most about the resort? “My relationship with Queenstown will be continuing.”
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Matthews the man for a crisis
If there’s a leadership crisis at DQ, call Ken Matthews.
The outgoing Skyline chief executive, who takes over from Pahl as an interim replacement, also stepped into the breach at DQ almost 11 years ago.
Back then he took over running the organisation when chair Jan Hunt resigned to manage Auckland’s SkyCity Hotel.
Asked why he’s agreed to take over again, Matthews says: “I’ve got the motivation.”
He says he has no intention of applying for Pahl’s job.
Matthews’s role, which will overlap with his last few months at Skyline, will involve “keeping an eye on the shop, just making sure the things that should be done, are being done, and that the expectations of the board are being met”.
“We have too much to lose by standing still, and we can’t afford just to go into neutral.”
Pahl is the third DQ boss to suddenly leave the highly-politicised job in the promotion body’s 25-year history.
Warren Tocker left with little warning in 1991, then four years later his successor, Fraser Skinner, was made redundant.
By contrast, Pahl’s predecessor, David Kennedy, enjoyed smooth sailing despite several tourism crises, and stayed one month shy of 10 years.
Business community wants its pound of flesh
There’s unrest in the business community over Destination Queenstown – unrelated to Stephen Pahl’s departure.
With business ratepayers levied $2 million-plus to fund DQ, and battling the mother of all recessions, Queenstown Inc. wants its pound of flesh.
Two moves are afoot.
A deputation of big-league businessfolk were due to meet mayor Clive Geddes and council boss Duncan Field this afternoon.
One heavyweight confirmed the meeting was set up but won’t agree to being named nor to revealing who’s accompanying him – all he’ll say is that it’s about DQ.
More publicly, Queenstown’s Chamber of Commerce has triggered likely changes to DQ’s constitution.
Yesterday morning, chamber boss Ann Lockhart said “a fair cross-section of members … are expressing concern [over] the value they’re getting from the rates they pay to DQ”.
“In difficult times [they] need to be certain every dollar of their expenditure is justified.
“One thing the chamber would be seeking is a clearer division between the DQ board and executive staff,” Lockhart added.
She revealed her business group had earlier had the brush-off from the promotion body about putting a motion to next week’s annual DQ meeting for changes to the DQ constitution.
But Lockhart’s now “happy” with Wednesday afternoon’s announcement from DQ that the promotion body itself is to pick up the chamber idea and propose constitutional amendments.
Her group’s “fully supportive” of DQ, Lockhart adds, but “this is simply a debate about the process by which DQ does its business”.
“It’s a democratic process after all.”