Thompson's demise a bad omen for his old boys' club

Adieu Alasdair Thompson. But is one man's fall from grace a sign of a larger shift in the business world?

On one level Alasdair Thompson's dismissal is just a story of a guy who has paid the ultimate professional price for a slip of the tongue, revealing an outdated worldview. But on another it's a sign of inter-generational change in New Zealand.

Thompson has been at the helm of the Employers' the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern) for over a decade and there had been no public suggestion that his performance was below par until the fateful Newstalk ZB interview he gave almost two weeks ago.

There will be fuss about the payout he will receive (which is a golden handshake). There will be some jubilation amongst his political opponents that such a staunch advocate of bosses power and the free market has been removed. And there will be a push to make progress on women's pay rates which, while of serious import, will get nowhere in the forseeable future.

The market won't do anything to make pay rates more equal; it will require government. And this government is hardly likely to focus on this issue given its other priorities. Even if it showed the sense to see the potential in this issue to protect some of the female vote it's likely to lose to Labour and the Greens come the election, it won't want to put the money and effort into substantial and complex change.

But what interests me is that fact that Thompson was removed by his fellow employers. For all the debate about Thompson failing to represent the women of New Zealand, that was never his job. His constituency was employers – nothing more, nothing less. If he could say the moon was made of green cheese and as long as they agreed, that would have been fine.

Instead, employers have said "enough". I've spoken to a few leading businesspeople in the past week or so, and I was interested to hear that they were as unimpressed as anyone. The people I spoke with were of a younger generation, and it was clear that Thompson and his ideas did not represent them.

And it wasn't just his ideas of women's work. While you can never generalise, many in the new generation of business leaders are tired of the old debate over the free-market and laissez faire ideology. To them  Ayn Rand may as well be a chocolate bar.

They want to get on with business, do smart deals, and frankly they're not scared of government. Sure, they hate red tape, they may have no great love of unions and they don't want Wellington telling them what to do.

But they see a crucial role for government in business, they understand that as a country of just four million people the free market debate is largely academic. They're serious about New Zealand working as one, whether you call that NZ Inc or something else. If New Zealand wants to prosper and create jobs and grow wages, the government has a role, supporting start-ups, opening doors to new markets, recruiting big companies and wealthy investors, incentivising savings and investment, even picking some winners.

Looking a politics, it's clear that Don Brash's move for control of ACT was motivated because it was his 'last chance saloon'. The old guard of the Business Roundtable are all at or over retirement age and this is their last roll of the dice. Brash, Roger Kerr, John Banks et al are having one last crack this November to engage New Zealand with their unchanging ideology.

The polls have not been kind since Brash took over, and Thompson's demise is another bad omen for that (literally) old boys' club. The rest of the country has moved on. Even those in business, who should be their core constituency.