Last Friday, 4 February 2022, a fierce competition of ‘Who knows best – client or consultant’ took place between association friends IPWEA NZ and ACE New Zealand. Battling it out for glory, honour and a very prestigious prize, a Weetbix Box Medal, of course!

Read on to find out more of what went down!

We are thrilled to be joined by two outstanding teams and a range of special guests! Most notably Ms. Sarah Lang, a self-confessed stickler for time, a debate leader of military precision – the contestants got an early warning, don’t run over or risk being muted!

On the affirmative Team Blue, arguing that the client always knows best, we have:

  • Ceinwen McNeil, CEO of BVT Engineering and the Vice President of ACE NZ.
  • Dr Brett Ogilvie, Director at Tonkin + Taylor and ACE NZ board member,
  • Glen Corneilus, CE of Harrison Grierson, VP of Engineering NZ and ACE NZ Board Member.

What an impressive line up!

And on the Negative Team Red, fighting for the consultant does indeed know better, an equally prestigious group of people! Opening we have:

  • Erin Moogan, GM of Infrastructure Services at Invercargill City Council.
  • Rob Ashley the Community Assets Manager at Waikato Council and current Chair of the NAMS Forum committee
  • Gary Porteous, Client Director – Asset and network Performance at WSP and current Vice President of IPWEA NZ.

Ceinwen McNeil opens with a right hook for Team Red, a very noticeable bribe to the adjudicator, a trend which continues throughout the Blue Team’s endeavours. Opening with arguments that it is in fact the Client’s brief which is most key to any project, Ceinwen proceeds to quote Harry Gordon Selfridge, it is indeed the ‘Customer who always knows best’. Clients know their businesses better than anyone, along with the complex issues that come with them.

Campaigning for the consultants, it’s Erin Moogan who confronts Ceinwen. Erin argues that clients after all do understand the value of a hired gun, a practice which has been going on long before either team stepped foot in a public service building! It’s with this remark that the first reference to Wyatt Earp, of Tombstone, is made. Afterall, a consultant, like Wyatt Earp, is hired to get you out of hot water, someone who is trusted time and time again! Crummy consultants end up on the bones of their backside, but a crummy client, says Erin, will just hang out in a grey cardigan for 20 years longer! Closing up, from someone who once had to google Three Waters, Erin says that recognising one’s limitations and hiring an expert, is key to doing better for communities. This is ultimately what everyone wants, along with a new grey cardigan!

Dr Brett Ogilvie takes on Erin for the next phase of the debate, another noticeable bribe is thrown in for good measure. Opening with true fighting talk, Brett makes it clear that he’s come to bury the consultants and not praise them! Acknowledging an enormous rate of change in the world, he notes that clients understand the big picture and the problems of our stakeholders and communities, often fundamental needs of food, water, shelter, healthy environments, transport and communicating. The Whakatauki: Ma te huruhuru ka rere te manu – summarises it for Brett. Clients are the birds that fly, while consultants, are the feathers… lightweight, decorative, and ultimately disposable. It is with this thought that Brett closes his argument, the client is like the wise old Ruru – seeing everything from above to understand the bigger picture.

Rob Ashley rebuts with some real talk – ‘specialist consultants offer industry wide experience and are on a path which has been regularly worn.’ Just like Wyatt Earp, consultants resolve problems quickly and in a no fuss manner. Expensive you say? Well, says Rob, they are experts and can offer invaluable solutions and results. They come in, work to the brief and take pressure off governance and executives. Closing with sound philosophy, Rob quotes Barack Obama – ‘if you think education is expensive, just wait until you see what ignorance is going to cost us.’ Mic drop!

Glen Cornelius is next for team blue and offers the adjudicator a cheque… what a way to start. Clients live and breathe their organisational work he argues. Consultants on the other hand don’t really take the time needed to understand the complex situations clients are faced with. In fact, consultant projects can often end up not-proceeding, being re-worked, running over time, with costs blown up!

Closing the debate for the day, with the final say, is Gary Porteous. And what a final say it is! Gary emphasises the skill shortage that we’re faced with – in the infrastructure sector alone, that’s around 60,000 short, and that number is expected to double. He concisely argues that capability needs to be shared across the industry, and who better to do this than consultants who can work across numerous clients and projects, providing knowledge and lightening the load for everyone.

At the end of the day – everyone manages to agree on one thing, the success of mutual engagements is vital for our communities – it’s the outcomes that we’re all pursuing. Clients need consultants and consultants need clients – A bird without wings is vulnerable, like a nocturnal, flightless kiwi.

The winner you ask? It was a pretty close call, but the Weetbix Box Medal, went to….. drum roll please… Team Red!

Congratulations and a massive thank you to all involved. Whilst it was a real loss to cancel Future-Fit Aotearoa, it is with pride and pleasure that we were able to take part in this fun and thought-provoking debate.

Watch the whole debate here!