LONG LIVE THE ADRENALIN RUSH

AT THIS YEAR’S TRENZ EVENT IN DUNEDIN, NZBUSI­NESS SAT DOWN WITH HENRY VAN ASCH, CO-FOUNDER AND MD OF AJ HACK­ETT BUNGY NEW ZEALAND, TO LOOK BACK AT 30 YEARS OF IN­SPIR­ING PEO­PLE TO GET OUT OF THEIR COM­FORT ZONES.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - BY A NNIE G R AY

Henry van Asch, co-founder of AJ Hack­ett Bungy New Zealand, looks back at 30 years of in­spir­ing peo­ple to get out of their com­fort zones.

It is hard to keep a pi­o­neer­ing ad­ven­ture tourism op­er­a­tor down. Henry van Asch, co-founder and now man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of AJ Hack­ett Bungy New Zealand, con­tin­ues to prove that just be­cause you are a pioneer it doesn’t mean you can’t still be in­no­vat­ing. At the re­cent Tourism In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion’s ma­jor trade event in Dunedin, TRENZ, Henry was much in ev­i­dence, most no­tably as he launched his com­pany’s 30th an­niver­sary cam­paign with a pretty scary look­ing bungy jump from a he­li­copter hov­er­ing 150 me­tres above Dunedin Har­bour. And there’s also a prom­ise of a new “and never been done be­fore ex­pe­ri­ence” en­com­pass­ing height, flight and speed at the com­pany’s Nevis Val­ley site.

The com­pany says its 30th an­niver­sary means it wants to do “some­thing that ac­knowl­edges our place at the cut­ting edge of tourism glob­ally, even af­ter three decades”.

Henry and co-founder AJ Hack­ett launched the world’s first com­mer­cial bungy jump­ing op­er­a­tion at the Kawa­rau Bridge in Queen­stown in 1988. Since then the com­pany has added zip-rides, gi­ant swings, ledge jumps, bridge climbs and a walk around Auck­land’s Sky Tower.

Henry told NZBusi­ness that as well as re­fresh­ing the brand for the 30th an­niver­sary they have re­leased a video high­light­ing a “Live More Fear Less” cam­paign which he hopes en­cap­su­lates the emo­tional jour­ney for cus­tomers as they un­der­take some­thing they have never done be­fore.

“Just like 30 years ago, un­der­tak­ing some­thing like [a bungy jump] means life opens up for peo­ple.” They come through elated and with a real sense of sat­is­fac­tion; feel­ing that if they can do that, they can do any­thing, he says.

Es­sen­tially the com­pany thinks “Live More Fear Less” will res­onate not only with the peo­ple tak­ing on AJ Hack­ett’s ex­pe­ri­ences but in the chal­lenges of ev­ery­day life.

As to what has changed in the past 30 years Henry says it’s a vastly dif­fer­ent land­scape around health and safety com­pli­ance. Al­though health and safety has al­ways been a pri­or­ity for the com­pany and he is jus­ti­fi­ably proud of its 100 per­cent safety record, to­day there is far more reg­u­la­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion and pa­per­work.

So while in some as­pects it’s very dif­fer­ent, what is the same is that when peo­ple come to AJ Hack­ett Bungy, they still leave with the same feel­ing of ela­tion and sat­is­fac­tion.

Asked about this busi­ness phi­los­o­phy Henry says it has al­ways been around re­spect and trust – re­spect for the team and for the cus­tomers and trust in peo­ple to do things well.

Qual­ity is the most im­por­tant thing and he holds his team to the high­est qual­ity stan­dards, par­tic­u­larly from a safety per­spec­tive. So while it’s a fun, and prob­a­bly a pretty groovy, place to work they have rig­or­ous safety stan­dards which are rigidly ad­hered to.

One as­pect that has changed is the im­me­di­acy of peo­ple be­ing able to prove what they have done and com­mu­ni­cate this far and wide. About $1 mil­lion worth of high def­i­ni­tion cam­eras and dig­i­tal record­ing sys­tems on-site pro­vide an

im­me­di­ate record of their ad­ven­ture. The video is mixed on-site and Henry says the ob­jec­tive is to give their cus­tomers liv­ing proof of their feat. In turn their cus­tomers dis­trib­ute the video on so­cial me­dia within sec­onds.

FRIENDS FIRST

Henry is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and the ma­jor share­holder since the com­pany was am­i­ca­bly split into two in 1997 with his co-founder, AJ Hack­ett tak­ing on the devel­op­ment of the in­ter­na­tional bungy sites un­der the AJ Hack­ett In­ter­na­tional brand and Henry head­ing up the New Zealand com­pany.

The two re­main friends and Henry was off to AJ’s 60th birth­day party shortly af­ter NZBusi­ness spoke to him in late May. As he sees it AJ Hack­ett In­ter­na­tional and AJ Hack­ett New Zealand are “ten­ants-in-com­mon in the brand” and there is a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity on each of them to en­sure that qual­ity is main­tained.

He says he has a great man­age­ment team and has al­ways been big on del­e­ga­tion.

“I love to see peo­ple de­velop and take on re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he ex­plains, point­ing to the com­pany’s very loyal staff, many of whom have been with the com­pany for more than 15 years.

The com­pany em­ploys 220 crew, of which about 180 are based in Queen­stown.

He sees his role as main­tain­ing the val­ues of the com­pany and not get­ting dis­tracted with the day-to-day man­age­ment. Al­though he is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor he has had a CEO on board for many years, with cur­rent chief ex­ec­u­tive, Dave Mitchell, in the role for the past six.

“I am the god­fa­ther – en­sur­ing that spir­i­tual side of the busi­ness is main­tained,” not­ing it is much more than a money-mak­ing pro­gramme. He val­ues the fact that stay­ing in New Zealand means he gets to spend a lot of time with his chil­dren, who he hopes will come into the busi­ness at some stage.

He has two other share­hold­ers in the busi­ness and ad­mits the board room can be an in­ter­est­ing place at times as they don’t all al­ways see eye-to-eye. He says it can be a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion for him to deal with as the founder when a board mem­ber's think­ing is dif­fer­ent to his own.

As to his ad­vice to other busi­ness own­ers, it’s around un­der­stand­ing your val­ues and en­sur­ing you don’t skimp on qual­ity. If you are fo­cused on the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence “the fi­nan­cial thing will look af­ter it­self”.

Asked about re­grets, he says bungy has been fan­tas­tic for him. He still loves the adrenalin rush and jumps a few times a year. As a former Olympic ski racer, he loves spend­ing time on the moun­tain and is happy he has been able to con­trib­ute to the tourism in­dus­try, in­clud­ing a stint on the board of New Zealand’s tourism mar­ket­ing body, Tourism New Zealand.

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