Venture fund spent more than half a million on string of staff termination payments

A government-backed venture capital fund has revealed it spent more than $375,000 on severing ties with two chief executives, including one who never spent a day in the job.

This week the Government released the annual report of New Zealand Growth Capital Partners – previously known as the Venture Investment Fund – which has been given hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in early-stage New Zealand companies.

In 2020 the fund experienced a lengthy string of top-level departures, starting with chief executive Richard Dellabarca. Dellabarca, who had been chief executive of the fund since 2016 quit abruptly in August.

At the time NZGCP refused to discuss Dellabarca’s departure, but just six weeks later it announced his replacement, Daria Murray, amid reports that the fund was undergoing a review of its workplace culture.

Murray was meant to begin at the end of October, but never started, and by the start of December NZGCP announced she would not be taking up the role.

Former NZGCP chairman Murray Gribben had stepped in as acting chief executive after Dellabarca’s departure.

Gribben, like all of the other directors who had been on the board through the period, resigned en masse in late December but never publicly took responsibility for the troubles.

The annual report of NZGCP noted $379,174 was spent on termination payments and associated fees for two former chief executives in the year to June 30, 2021.

In his report, chairman David Smol, the former chief executive of MBIE, announced Dellabarca’s departure only in passing and made no mention of Murray.

Smol described the year covered by the review as a “period of challenges and significant change”.

As well as the payouts for the two chief executives, NZGCP spent a further $145,134 on severance payments for two senior staff, who were not named in the report.

At the end of March, NZGCP released a review into its culture which found instances of low-level bullying and perceptions of gender discrimination and “disrespectful and inappropriate workplace conduct”.

It did not say when the review began or what had prompted it. Initially the fund released only a statement and said it would not be releasing the report but it reversed this within hours.

Smol said the fund “underwent a period of introspection” through the review.

“The review identified issues with several aspects of the organisation culture and workplace conduct. The review made a series of recommendations to address these matters. These included a need for governance and management improvements over staff appointments and departures; gender and ethnic equity practices; workplace behaviour; and staff complaints,” he said.

Through the first half of 2021 James Fletcher was acting chief executive of the fund, until James Pinner, the Elevate Fund investment director, stepped in as interim chief executive when Fletcher resigned and left at the end of August.

In early October NZGCP announced that former FMA boss Rob Everett would become its new permanent chief executive at the start of 2022.

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