Beneath the surface II The scuba professional
Based in California, Drew Richardson is global President and CEO of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
How did you get into diving? I was born in the ‘Ocean State’ of Rhode Island and spent my early days in and around the water. My brothers and I were watermen – all competitive swimmers, water polo players a nd l i fe g ua rds. I was heav i ly i nvolved i n lifeguarding, teaching lifesaving and swimming and also marine rescue and recovery. Exploring under the surface of the water was an early and natural extension of my life-long passion for the aquatic realm.
How long have you been with PADI and what inspired you to join them? I have been with the PADI organisation since 1985 when I was recruited from my capacity as an Assistant Professor and Division head of the Underwater Technology department at the Florida Institute of Technology. I saw an opportunity to leverage my diving training, education and exploration passions and academic background (BSC in Oceanography/ Marine/ Env i ronmenta l S cience, MBA i n Business Administration, PHD in Education) to help PADI build out its international training and membership programmes and curriculum across the globe. At that time, I was involved wit h t he design, test ing a nd launch of t he Recreational Diver Planner and many other innovative product and programme releases.
What does your job entail? What does business development mean for PADI? We are all about a future of engaging millions of new divers, training them well to be confident a nd comfortable divers, encouraging a nd enabling them to seek diving adventure and exploration of the planet’s underwater realm and paying it forward as good stewards of ocean and marine environment. In the wake of our 50th anniversary, we have deepened our commitment to ocean health and conservation. We are passionate about creating a preferred view of the future in healthier oceans. As the largest diver training organisation in the world, PADI has the reach and influence to mobilise divers to be citizen activists. We train one million new divers each year across the planet who can engage in strategic alliances, have a powerful voice and get involved in real solutions to drive change. I’m a firm believer in engagement, problem identif ication and mitigation. My life philosophy is to remain optimistic and focused on a ‘future hope’. In my mind, there is no other option. Hope is the anchor to the soul. The danger is that we lose hope, or we feel like there’s nothing to be done.
Chinese divers are transforming the industry in certain places. How important is Mainland China to future growth? Where’s next? India? The trend of outbound Chinese tourism around the planet is impressive and we are inviting many of these people into the underwater planet under the PADI brand. At the same time, we are growing diving under the PADI brand in Mainland China and improving the comfort and confidence of Chinese who are trained in or experience diving. As for t he f ut ure of t he spor t of scuba diving, I feel there are strong tailwinds which will drive future growth in scuba diving. These include countries with a growing middle class (like India and Korea among others), a strong interest in adventure/action sports, strong global tourism trends, and environmentally conscious millennials to name a few.
Many would say that the newer growth markets for dive training are places with a less mature understanding of environmental issues and behaviour with respect to animal life. How does PADI manage these issues? Yes, fortunately we are well down the road in doing so. Marine conservation and environmental ethos with respect to scuba diving are baked into our training programs which are translated into 28 official languages. As a community, we have an amazing and unique opportunity to positively influence the people we train from the newer growth markets. We should always start with the ‘man in the mirror’, stay informed and do what we can to make the world a better place and become a catalyst for change. We already are seeing this in thousands of individuals on a local level and we are helping to get their messages out. All of us who care about these issues can amplify engagement efforts to support life in the waters of this world and support initiatives which promote the sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. We encourage divers across the planet to align with like-minded business and organisations. The diving community will become powerful change agents who share a like-minded love, mission and passion to be a force for good and tackle the problems which threaten our ocean planet.