The outspoken Minister of Regional Economic Development has blasted The Warehouse Group chairwoman Joan Withers for her 'inept' handling of the Kaikohe Warehouse’s U-turn on closing

Regional Economic Development Minister and self-declared “champion for the provinces” Shane Jones is again calling out the chairperson of one of New Zealand’s biggest companies.

Reacting to the news that a Warehouse branch in Kaikohe will no longer be closing, Jones took aim at the company’s chairwoman, Joan Withers.

Although he says he does not know her personally, Jones says he knows she is a “person who likes to put herself forward as a paradigm of all this corporate virtue and sustainability and all the other fluffy words,” he tells Interest.co.nz.

He says its “actually galling” that Withers “lectures and highlights all sorts of credentials that she has about equity and inclusiveness and then has presided over such an inept episode.”

“Well, I would [tell her] to go back to the ABCs of brand stewardship and treating your customers and communities with a great deal more respect than she and the Chief Executive have done today.”

On Wednesday, it was revealed The Warehouse in Kaikohe would be shut down as it had “no choice but to close” after unsuccessful negotiations with the landlord over its lease.

But on Thursday morning, The Warehouse said it was “delighted” to announced the landlord had changed their mind.

But Jones says it should have never got to the point where closing was even an option.

“I think the whole issue has been handled ineptly by The Warehouse.

“What’s disgusting is that the board of The Warehouse were prepared to turn Kaikohe into a zombie town just because they couldn’t find a compromise with their building owner.”

This morning, Jones appeared on the AM show to condemn the closure, calling it a “kick in the guts” for the town.

He did this because he had “zero confidence that the board and its Chair would do anything about [the issue.]”

“I’m a politician – my market is the public of New Zealand. I did what I think a provincial champion should do, highlighting and calling out The Warehouse for its hypocrisy.”

He says he never made contact with Withers or anyone else on the board.

Earlier on Thursday, FIRST Union called on Jones to mediate a deal between The Warehouse and local landlords over pending closure of its Kaikohe store.

Groundhog Day

This is not the first time Jones has taken aim at a major Kiwi company for making moves that would hurt rural communities.

Two weeks ago, he was calling for the chairman of Air New Zealand to resign after the airline announced it was ditching some of its flights to certain regions.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said he went “a step too far” but admitted his comments “won’t surprise anyone.”

Asked if she was confident that Jones was not going to make similar comments again in the future, Ardern said then that Jones is “of course always going to have opinions.”

And it appears that Jones is not likely to rein in his criticism of big companies either.

“[I have] a broader message – if corporate New Zealand is going to trot out these fluffy inanities about how good they are in terms of climate change and social license then expect to be called on it if you don’t practice what you preach.”

He says he is entitled to take these sorts of issues up and publicise them in an effort to put pressure on the companies.

“I am totally disinterested in going cap in hand to their corporate bureaucrats now or ever.”