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'I did not have sexual relations with that woman'

Recently, I had to hire a new receptionist.

I turned, of course, to my ever-trusty HR consultants, Rennie & Co.

We put together a brief of the skills, experience and other attributes required for the position.

A fortnight later, Rennie & Co’s chief executive showed me a shortlist of four over a few beers at The Hamptons.

 We carefully reviewed their academic transcripts, job histories, references and photos but we agreed that, alas, none was suitable.

To try to help, I called the younger sister of a mate of mine from school and suggested she apply for the job, first by contacting Rennie & Co. She seemed perfect for the role.

To make sure everything was fair and square, I also contacted Rennie & Co and told them I had done this, pointing out that we also knew one another.

Well, blow me down, it turned out that the young woman I called was the only one good enough to be interviewed and a little while later Rennie & Co sent me a shortlist of one.

It turned out to be an excellent appointment.

Within days, we found out that some of my over-eager staff were illegally hacking into the IT system at the IRD Policy Advice Division, to find out what crazy new taxes they might come up with next.

I didn’t know anything about it, of course.

All I could remember was that on a PowerPoint slide my staff had shown me a few months earlier, headlined “Business Development: Hacking Strategy,” the photo of the IRD policy boss was very small and on the bottom right-hand corner. Which was why I couldn’t remember it.

When the cops showed up, the new receptionist was able to assure them that neither she nor I knew anything about it and no one had ever talked about it with me.

That satisfied everyone. So while it had all been a bit embarrassing and I had to apologise to the IRD, no harm was really done. 

For a while, things went back to normal. 

Then my wife visited the office.

Somewhat accusingly, and in front of the whole staff, she wanted to know how I had come to employ the new receptionist.

Easy, I said.  She was recommended by Rennie & Co.

Then she said the name seemed familiar and she asked me whether I knew her before she was appointed.

Sure, I said.  Our mothers were friends and I was at school with her older brother, who was very bright. I was even able to say I had disclosed all that to Rennie & Co, who are beyond reproach.

Unfortunately, though, my wife then went through my telephone records. It turned out I had called the new receptionist a few weeks before she was appointed.

Oh yeah, I said. I forgot about that.

Then she asked, if I hadn’t seen the new receptionist since school days, how had I known her phone number. Well, I said, I’ve always had it in my iPhone contacts.

Then I remembered she and I had had breakfast together a couple of times.

None of this went down too well so the wife rang the previous receptionist. She said she knew one of the people on the original shortlist who was eminently suitable, with a degree in Receptionist Studies from Waikato University, and 25 years’ experience in the meet-and-greet and phone-answering business.

I said I couldn’t remember who was on the original shortlist and wasn’t sure I had even seen it.

Things were getting a bit dicey at home until I was able to point out to the wife that people forget all sorts of things – like how she forgot her credit card bill after shopping in New York.

That shut her up, but there’s no doubt the honeymoon’s well and truly over.

Luckily, though, no one who matters in terms of keeping my job gives a stuff how I appointed my new receptionist.

And, unluckily for the Labour Party, no New Zealand voters outside Wellington’s non-existent beltway give a stuff – rightly or wrongly – about how John Key appointed his new spy boss.

More by Matthew Hooton

Comments and questions

Haha. Very good. Put it like a husband trying to dodge the angry wife makes the truthlessness very clear. I think kiwis don't like feeling they are being played though.

Poor comparison... employing a receptionist and a spy boss, hate to degrade the hard working receptionists around the world but one job is hardly as important as the other.... get real

Unfortunately, Anon's comment, like so many of the others below, show exactly where this country has descended to after nine years under a Clark labor government.......God help us all if any of those plonkers ever regain the reins.

I am not from "Wellington's non existent beltway" and I give a stuff.

Possibly because you don't have a life. See Audrey Young's item in today's NZ Herald on the IMF's view of the NZ economy (IMF praises direction of NZ economy. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde was full of praise last night for the direction in which the New Zealand economy was headed.), and tell me which matters more.

And which way is it headed?

All to do with cows, not Key.

Thought Hooton was a bit more intelligent than the article.Must be terrible being so illiterate,or so naive,or all of them.

What does it matter anyway? Discrimination and selection are an important part of life. Having people in important positions in the workplace or wider workplace does involve an ongoing relationship and if there is conflict the productivity suffers. If we know someone is suited to a role and would be productive it should be our responsibility to ensure that they get to know about it, and possible recommend them for the role.

If you dismissed every politician or key government official who heard about a role from someone they knew, Wellington would become a ghost town. That may not be a bad thing, but the important thing is not how they found out about or who recommended them, but are they suitable.

There is nothing wrong with John Key suggesting Fletcher be suitable for the job, as long as Fletcher meets the criteria.

A GOOD manager WILL know who is best suited for the roll, as long as that manager can show the specifics of why the person meets the criteria.

A BAD manager may NOT know who is best for the role, but will want to hire someone they feel comfortable with, even if they are unsuitable of carrying out the role required.

And that is where having criteria and standards comes into play. And not criteria that are set by another person somewhere on the fly, but to a clearly defined standard.

How Fletcher found out about the role is completely irrelevant. What is important is that he meets the criteria.

Perhaps most NZ receptionists should be the wives of the bosses ... problem solved, eh?

The Prime Minister wants to have a spy boss that he can trust implicitly after getting stitched up by some dirty insider deals surrounding the toxic US-driven Dotcom fiasco.

What does this tell you about the level of integrity, honesty and standards inside the Wellington civil service community?

The PM drove that fiasco. All will be revealed in time.

After reading this we can see who the real knucklehead was.

As far as I am concerned you appoint the person who is best suited to a particular job. Whether you know them or not should be irrelevant. Quite simply really.

The saying goes it is never what you know but who you know that will be the main key in getting the job. It is irrelevant - sorry if you see otherwise. People should be participating more. This is your country and whatever is happening affects us all as taxpayers, even the beneficiaries. They, too, are paying tax on their low incomes.

Theresa, beneficiaries are not nett taxpayers at all. Their benefit, regardless of what it is, comes from the taxation the productive sector produces and pays to the IRD. From there, and only after the productive sector has paid, can any government then forward a portion of this overall amount into things like benefits, super, nurses' wages, teachers' wages, politicians' wages, etc...

So saying beneficiaries are taxpayers is a big crock of excrement. The fact they have to give a portion of their free money back to the government in taxes does not mean they pay taxes - only that they receive chunks of free money and some of it goes back to the IRD to pay police, nurses, politicians, etc.

Business owners and private sector employees are nett tax contributors ... everyone else gives a little in "tax" back into the same pot their wages or benefit comes from, resulting in only ever "taking" from the pot and never increasing the overall amount in the "pot". Hence why NZ has somewhere near 50% of the workforce in the productive sector and the remainder rely on state-funded hand outs.

Beneficiaries=DOC workers, miners, Telecom workers, Mainzeal workers, etc, laid off by the economic mismanagement of this pathetic government. Of course, they are (or were) net taxpayers. Wipe your mouth, Solidarity - you been talking it again.

Love this article

Totally agree, who really cares...opposition are getting increasingly more and more shrill over nothing..

Be good to see a bit more teeth from mr Key

He may not be perfect but look at the alternative...

The people of NZ do care about these shenanIgans. This sort of behaviour cannot be tolerated and nor should we, the people be expected to swallow this rubbish.

But it's the perception that looks very, very dodgy.
Not o good look for our "leader"


Corruption is always "explained"away as a lapse of memory or an innocent mistake...

There is a pattern of deception being revealed and most are to stupid to care.

With a population of only 4.4 million, this situation is inevitable. Significantly, neither Labour or the Greens have come up with a credible option as to whom should have got the job. And if Russell Norman suggests one more government enquiry I'll throttle him!

Russel was beaten to the inquiry by David. Russel will be so upset he will ask for 10 new inquiries this week.

and Helen never shoulder-tapped people?

I agree that Key should show more teeth; he should front-foot it and say "yes, I shoulder-tapped him, I knew him from way back, and have followed his carer; I trust him implicitly and want the best person for the job"
At least he got it right by telling the knucklehed reporters to STFU.

Duh...The issue here is not over Fletcher's suitability for the role or, even how Key went about it. Its about Key blatantly denying/lying to you and I, about how he went about it. He’s the Prime Minister of NZ, not a used car salesman. He’s arrogantly treating the people of NZ like mushrooms

Paul Marsden

You and me please. Not you and I.

Quite right. Gutted.

'You and me', please; not, "you and I".

I'm glad somebody said this... if it sounds wrong without the "you" then it's probably wrong, hence, "you and me".

Beyond the obvious rejoinder that the best spy for the East was usually the personal secretary in every Cold War, West German leaders office or in the Admiralty- who the GCSB's head's primary loyalty lies with, the National-Act-Maori Party Govt, the USA, Queen or Shanghai is considered quite important in say-----Washington, LA, Canberra and interesting in Moscow and Shanghai.
We are after all the weakest link in the five fingers of the fist.

It seems the media focus in NZ is on "small stuff". Shame really. Your analogy is good - most organisations will head hunt, shoulder tap call it what you like. Very usual and not worth the fuss that is being made.

You're missing the point, as do most of the comments above and Hooton's article. In the private sector you can appoint by whatever method you want and it's no-one else's business. But when it's the chief spy it's imperative there's a complete separation between the head of state and the appointment - otherwise you're on the slippery slope that can lead to dictatorship, where the spy agency is there to spy for the head of state and keep him in power.

MarkT: In fact, the opposite is true with respect to the GCSB boss. As the prime minister should have pointed out on day one of this affair, the GCSB boss is one of the few who is appointed by, and holds office at the pleasure of, the governor-general (which means the prime minister in practice because the GG can only act on the advice of the prime minister). See s9 of GCSB Act at This is in contrast to most other departmental CEOs who are appointed by the State Services Commissioner. See sections 6c and 35 of the State Sector Act at and This makes the prime minister's initial failure to disclose all the circumstances of the appointment do foolish. On this one particular appointment, at least, he can basically do what he likes. There is certainly no "complete separation", as you claim. For what it is worth, though, I think this should be changed. I don't really like the idea of a future Helen Clark getting to appoint whomever they like as top spy.

Hear Hear

You have forgotten one thing!! The whole time "Bill" was the prez, he was only the spokesperson for "Hills".
To the writer, get the Mrs to appoint your next PA - it will save one hell of a lot of of grief, and it will also guarantee that she is no threat to the Mrs.

When are you going to realise that National runs the country like a business, but everyone else runs it like a charity financed by Robin Hood delusions? Any well-run business will shoulder tap, especially for directors, so what is the problem, apart from being desperate for media oxygen?

Grant Robertson's point is pretty simple.

There's a process. The PM deviated from the process. The PM has not explained why he deviated from it (other than to say the process is unimportant, which is not the same thing). His account deviates from the guy in charge of the process.

Grant Robertson's point is simple: WTF is going on?

To the writer complaining that the media is focused on the details at the cost of the big picture: if there's any truth in that folly, maybe it's because the PM is so chronically short on detail.

And, may we assume that same writer will be silent next time someone writes an op-ed against the "big picture" issue of asset sales?