Christine Rankin has long been a controversial public figure in New Zealand. Her style of transitional leadership has earned supporters and detractors of what she believes is “the magic of personality; determination and excitement” inspired by her mentor in earlier days of her career. Rankin became a household name in 1999 when she was the chief executive of Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ), for spending $220,000 on a conference that included chartering planes for staff. It was an election year and the Labour opposition seized on the event as illustrative of a culture of extravagance in the public sector. Following Labour’s election victory, Rankin learned she would not be reappointed to her position, though she remained in the public spotlight in other roles. This came after a successful public service career in which Rankin had risen through the ranks at the Department of Social Welfare and had, as manager of the northern region of New Zealand Income Support (NZIS), had taken the region from the organisation’s worst performing region to its best. Legal action against her employer attracted further publicity, not least because of its discussion of Rankin’s style of dress and its supposed effects on male public servants. Christine Ranking herself, in her autobiography “Light the Flame” identifies herself as a transformational leader who was the victim of sexism and an anomaly in a country she believes is resistant to “vigorous, exciting change”.
This case provides an opportunity to examine her leadership style, and also to consider what impact gender issues such as her flamboyant style of dress had on her career. It can be taught in tandem with ANZSOG case 2009-107, The Outstanding Public Servant.
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