New CEO’s view from the top


How does someone who’s spent most of their working life in pharmaceuticals end up running a Queenstown-based tourism giant? Boss Geoff McDonald discusses his job switch with Philip Chandler on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Skyline Queenstown’s iconic gondola

After handling big management roles in global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline, Geoff McDonald was at a crossroads earlier this year.

He’d stretched a three-year contract running its $650 million Australian business into five years but says: “I had a real hankering to get into a smaller, more dynamic business environment.

“With a large multinational – we had 150,000 people around the world, 28 billion [English] pounds’ turnover – it just started to get so difficult to get stuff done.”

Out of the blue, Kiwi-born McDonald, 55, who had more than 20 years in the game, was contacted by a headhunter recruiting a CEO for Queenstown-based Skyline Enterprises.

“It was quite a lengthy process,” he says.

“For me, what was critical was the people, the values of the organisation, the culture.

“I liked the very hands-on involvement by the board, in a positive way. I was told it had a very Southland-type approach, and that appealed.

“I just thought, ‘this feels OK’, so I took the punt and here we are.”

McDonald even sees a connection between his old job and new one heading a diverse tourism, property and casino company.

“In GSK, our division was helping people to feel better, do more and live longer.

“To see people’s smiles when they come down that luge or they look at that view up there, you’re involved in something that’s giving people a positive experience.

“In my mind, it’s still involved in healthcare.”

Asked what he’s bringing to bear on Skyline, five months in, he talks capability-building and systems.

“We’ve got fantastic people – a lot have grown up from frontline customer positions into senior roles – but in a large company that’s got a $200m-odd turnover and is growing pretty rapidly, we need to make sure we’re developing and coaching people, rather than just rely on the skills they’ve developed in the job.

“The challenge is how to make sure that Skyline stays agile and grows, but has just enough corporate structure to enable that growth.”

McDonald’s challenge is also overseeing new projects like further luge expansion overseas, a rejig of Queenstown’s O’Connells mall, the Franz Josef Glacier gondola project and especially Skyline Queenstown’s $100m gondola redevelopment.

“The project on the hill is a big beast, not just the scale of it, but the fact you’re doing it on the side of a cliff.

“There is a complexity of consenting to work through – I hadn’t had a huge amount of experience with that.”

Former Ironman competitor McDonald says living and working in Queenstown is the icing on the cake.

“For me, it was first and foremost about the job and the challenge, but being able to come here and do it is a bit of dream, really.”

He’s not missing his old job. “I’m loving being in a company where you can make things happen, and happen quite quickly.”

“They’ve still got quite an entrepreneurial spirit plus a bit of that Kiwi ‘let’s give it a go’.”

  • To celebrate 50th anniversary, Skyline Queenstown hosts a ‘Fifty Years of Fun’ locals’ day tomorrow from 9am till 9pm. All gondola and luge rides are half-price for locals providing proof of address. Up top, there’s a display of Skyline memorabilia over the past 50 years and $1 birthday cake, For this entire month, locals can also purchase a gondola annual pass card for half-price. With these deals, Skyline Enterprises chairman Mark Quickfall says the company’s acknowledging the community for its support over the past half