Alastair Carruthers: Film producer, law firm CEO and CNZM

by Mackenzie McCarty12 Feb 2014
Kensington Swan CEO, Alastair Carruthers, was taken completely by surprise when he found out he’d been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

What might surprise readers even more is the fact that Carruthers, who presided as chief executive of Chapman Tripp for 13 years before taking up with Kensington Swan, didn’t receive the honour for his business efforts – he received it for services to arts governance.

“I guess the work that the award recognises dates back over many years. I was first associated with Creative New Zealand in 2001. Before that, I was a trustee of the New Zealand String Quartet. I’m on the board of the Ballet. I’ve always had an interest outside of my business life to do what I can to help artists.”

His passion for the arts began before his eight birthday, over the course of a fateful summer in the early ‘70’s.

“I definitely have early memories of the arts and they really surround an exposure to music, going back to my early childhood. Both of my grandmothers sang and played music. My family was surrounded by music…When I was seven years old, my parents took my older sister and I to Timaru for a New Zealand Symphony Orchestra concert in Dunedin, where they performed Peter and the Wolf. It was just the most enchanting experience. It was about telling stories through music and the characterisation of the bird with the flute and the clarinet was a duck and the wolf was this bassoon and it is just a truly remarkable way of telling a story.”

Carruthers says he was “slightly overwhelmed” when he found out he’d received the honour, as well as humbled.

“The first thing that ran through my mind when this occurred was that I truly didn’t realise that the work we were doing was valued so much. So I’m frankly delighted that there were many recognitions given this year to people who work in the arts and culture…There’ve been many people making a contribution to the arts over the last 12 years and to the extent that I’ve been given this recognition – it really is the recognition of many, many people.”

When asked how he balances his time between playing chief executive at a top New Zealand law firm and engaging in his role as boardman of the New Zealand Ballet – as well  co-producing a film last year, Carruthers says he has time-management skills and the support of his employers to thank.

“How do you do it? I guess you do it just like other people who have multiple responsibilities. You juggle time well and you do what you can. I’ve only been here a year and I have room, like many other partners and people at the firm, to have a range of other directorships and I think that’s really important - that people in the business world connect with the outside world and with their community. So I greatly appreciate that Kensington Swan and - previously Chapman Tripp - have sympathy with the objective that we do things rather than just out daily job.”

Carruthers is now working on another film script which he hopes to co-produce with contacts in London.

“It’s a legal drama which follows the trial of a guy called William Joyce in 1946. He was the Irish propagandist called Lord Haw-Haw and he annoyed Britain and Churchill a great deal by broadcasting from Berlin. He was then arrested and taken to Britain and tried and ultimately hanged for treason.”

The film will explore questions around the rule of law, particularly after the conflict and particularly the relationship between the defendant and his counsel within the 1946 establishment of London.

“There are a whole bunch of legal and ethical issues associated with the story and it’s a fascinating piece,” said Carruthers.

Carruthers will take part in the Investiture ceremony in late March.