Media release

Media release: Proven leader and communicator chosen to head ORC

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Richard Saunders has been appointed the new permanent Chief Executive of the Otago Regional Council, replacing former chief executive Sarah Gardner.

Announcing Mr Saunders’ new role to staff today, ORC Chair Gretchen Robertson says he was selected from a 29-strong field of high-calibre candidates.

His appointment, to start June 1, 2023, was approved by the newly-elected Council last week. All regional councillors participated in the interview process.

Mr Saunders has worked the past 16 years in local government leadership roles, specialising largely in consents, regulatory and transport functions, with the Auckland City Council, Auckland Council, Dunedin City Council and currently, the Otago Regional Council.

He has been the council’s Dunedin-based General Manager responsible for Regulatory and Communications portfolios, and a member of ORC’s Executive Leadership Team since 2019.

Among his achievements to date, the 43-year-old University of Otago Masters graduate has also led the regional council sector nationally in the development of the freshwater farm programme and the response to new intensive winter grazing regulations.

Richard Saunders

Richard Saunders.
Photo: Sharron Bennett.

“Richard stood out among a field of high calibre candidates for his strong, clear communication style, his proven ability to build teams and deliver on big performance targets, and his in-depth knowledge of the ORC, the opportunities we have in front of us, and how we can work with mana whenua and our Otago communities to achieve positive outcomes for the region,” Cr Robertson says.

Dr Pim Borren, who stepped into the Interim CE role in June this year following Sarah Gardner’s departure, will remain Interim CE until Mr Saunders takes over in June 2023. Meanwhile, Mr Saunders will step out of his current GM position, and into a transitional role working with Dr Borren in preparation for his new role.

Cr Robertson says the Council is enormously grateful to Dr Borren for his work.

“I would like to share our gratitude to Dr Borren for his part in the journey, and for being willing to support a transition that will set the organisation up for ongoing success.”

Dr Borren says he has enjoyed contributing to ORC.

“I am thrilled for Richard. He will be an outstanding Chief Executive and I think Council has made an excellent decision which I fully support. It is a privilege for me to work as Interim Chief Executive and I will continue to do my best for both Council and staff through this interim phase as we continue to make progress in prioritising our environment from a local community perspective.”

Cr Robertson warmly congratulated Mr Saunders on behalf of her colleagues and expressed the Council’s commitment to working with him to continue the positive journey ORC is on.

Mr Saunders says he is excited to take the role and the challenges that come with it.

“I’m very grateful and humbled to be given this opportunity by Chair Robertson and the Council. We have a dedicated and highly-skilled team at ORC and I’m looking forward to working with them to achieve an ambitious work programme.

“We know communities in Otago value their unique environment. ORC has a significant responsibility to ensure this is protected and enhanced. To give us the greatest chance of success we will continue to build our partnerships with mana whenua as well as our key stakeholder groups. I’m also very keen to see ORC working alongside the many community and catchment groups who are already out there, doing important mahi,” he says.

With ongoing challenges in Public Transport in Dunedin and Queenstown, Mr Saunders says another imperative is to support ORC’s team working through this period of driver shortages for contractors and the associated service disruption.

“We value our customers and want to make the journey better for them and encourage greater use of public transport into the future – while also ensuring our transport system contributes towards improving our environment.”

Mr Saunders says he recognises that the amount of change being faced by many in our community is having a large impact.

“I am looking forward to exploring ways in which the ORC can provide support and advice to those most affected.”