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.
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.
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.