20 Mar 2018

Chris Liddell: From Waikato to the White House

8:36 pm on 20 March 2018

Matamata-born businessman Chris Liddell has secured a new role among Donald Trump's top staff, but former colleagues say he remains a "kiwi at heart".

US President Donald Trump and Chris Liddell, director of strategic initiatives, on December 14, 2017.

Chris Liddell (right) with US president Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

Mr Liddell, 59, has been appointed as deputy chief of staff for policy co-ordination, where he'll be in charge of turning Mr Trump's agenda into policy.

When Chris Liddell's promotion was announced, Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka tweeted her congratulations to her "amazing friend and colleague" - giving some insight into just how close he is to Trump's inner circle.

Mr Liddell, who grew up in Auckland, was the youngest of five children - his father was a teacher but died when he was young, leaving his mother to work a number of jobs to support the family.

Mr Liddell and his brother John attended Mount Auckland Grammar School where they were well supported after their father died.

School principal Patrick Drumm said they never forgot that support and recently started a scholarship fund for students.

Mr Liddell was a talented sportsman and played on the First XV, and was a prefect and Dux.

After graduating he studied engineering at Auckland University and later attended Oxford before beginning work in the world of finance and operations.

His extensive CV includes roles at General Motors, Microsoft and Carter Holt Harvey, as well as previously chairing the boards of software company Xero and the Next Foundation.

After finishing his time at General Motors, Mr Liddell began work on 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney's campaign. Despite not being on the winning team, he wrote a book about his experience and presidential transitions.

Barrie Brown worked with Mr Liddell in setting up the Next Foundation and said his book was what led Trump's administration to him.

"Chris had some ideas in the book, I think they tapped Chris on the shoulder said you better come and give us some advice - I think he did that, then they said 'well you better come and work for us'," he said.

Mr Brown said Mr Liddell was passionate about American politics and would be thriving on the challenge of the new job.

"Very stimulating and really at the seat of power in the US.

"He said to me once 'whenever I ring someone around America, a chief executive of a company to come and have a talk about things, they're usually in my office the next day'," he said.

Mr Liddell has adopted children and is married to an American woman - his third wife - but Mr Brown said he's still very much connected to New Zealand.

"He's a kiwi at heart and he will just do whatever he can to help this country - provided obviously it doesn't conflict with what he's doing with the White House," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while she was hopeful having a New Zealander in the White House would strengthen ties between the countries, she appreciated how big his job was and had no expectations.

"He has a much wider job to do than just sit and be an advocate for New Zealand in the United States," she said.

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