Richie’s new gig

Weekend Herald - - Front Page -

Sit­ting in booth 1059 at this week’s Trenz tourism ex­trav­a­ganza in Dunedin is a re­cent re­cruit to the in­dus­try — Richie McCaw.

His com­pany’s site is among the at­trac­tions Can­ter­bury has to of­fer al­most 400 buy­ers at the event. He’s with Christchurch He­li­copters, a firm the All Black great be­came a part­ner in to­wards the end of his play­ing days in 2014.

The com­pany is look­ing to tourism to build on its re­cent rapid ex­pan­sion into com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, res­cue work, train­ing and sales. The fast grow­ing vis­i­tor sec­tor of­fers great po­ten­tial for more ex­pan­sion yet.

“Hence I’m here at Trenz look­ing to grow the tourism side,” says McCaw.

Over three days, there are more than 16,500 meet­ings, last­ing for 15 min­utes each, be­tween sell­ers and buy­ers from around the world. And thanks to McCaw, it’s fair to say the chop­per firm is in higher de­mand than it might oth­er­wise have been.

At the Trenz wel­come event in Dunedin, the queue for a pic­ture with the 148-test All Black stretched 60m.

It’s a bit the same when fly­ing tourists, McCaw says. “I do get a few re­quests from quite a few Ki­wis — I put aside a day a week when go­ing to be the pilot — on other days it may be pot luck.”

He’s also got in­ter­na­tional ap­peal, es­pe­cially among Ja­panese fans, who McCaw says have a spe­cial affin­ity with the Cru­saders.

“I had three peo­ple the week be­fore last who wanted to come fly­ing with me and see the rugby. That was their four days — they’d saved up for ages to do it.”

Brits are another group keen to go fly­ing with the man who mas­tered their rugby teams. He was also in de­mand with English cricket sup­port­ers down un­der for the Ashes in sum­mer.

McCaw is mod­est about the “Richie ef­fect” and says fly­ing tourists who are fans beats mak­ing small talk at a func­tion.

“We did events where peo­ple would come and say ‘hi’ — you have that in­ter­ac­tion, but that was it. You can have that too, but you can give them a thrill by fly­ing — you’ve got some­thing to talk about and you’re not just twid­dling your thumbs,” says the 37-year-old.

His firm has been given an in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian award for its work dur­ing the Port Hills fires and Kaik­oura earth­quake, when McCaw was one of the first to fly in a res­cue team.

He found those mis­sions far more sat­is­fy­ing than when sup­port­ing Cantabri­ans dur­ing the earth­quakes in 2010 and 2011.

“Around the Christchurch earth­quakes I did a bit of PR to give them the right sort of mes­sage — to be fair, you felt like ‘who was I to tell peo­ple’. This time in Kaik­oura I was do­ing some­thing that was re­ally needed. It wasn’t just turn­ing in when you’re not needed.”

McCaw says there sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween chop­per fly­ing and the white heat of a test match.

“If you’re in the back coun­try and the weather is com­ing in, you’ve got be able to make those de­ci­sions be­fore they ar­rive — rugby was the same; when you lost the abil­ity to make a de­ci­sion then you’re well be­hind the eight ball.”

But busi­ness con­trasts starkly with rugby in that the weekly re­sult is harder to see.

“Ev­ery week [play­ing rugby] we got a plus or mi­nus as to whether we were on track or not with the re­sult. With busi­ness, it takes a while to see,” he says.

And that’s what keeps McCaw fully en­gaged. “One thing I re­ally en­joy about it is there is so much to learn — the essence of be­ing mo­ti­vated in what­ever is the learn­ing.

“That’s why I loved rugby — you couldn’t sit back and think I’ve got this mas­tered — you’re al­ways think­ing.

“As a pilot you’ve al­ways got to be think­ing like that — if you think it is easy to­day, that’s when you be­come un­stuck.”

Fly­ing has al­ways been a pas­sion for McCaw, who re­laxed in the off-sea­son by pi­lot­ing a glider around the lower South Is­land.

He be­gan fly­ing as a pri­vate pilot in 2003, gained both his fixed-wing and he­li­copter com­mer­cial li­cences and is now an in­struc­tor.

Christchurch He­li­copters’ prices range from $300 for a city tour to a “World in a Day” tour — price on in­quiry.

He says he is lucky to have some­thing he is pas­sion­ate about, that he could go straight to when he ended his ca­reer in 2015 af­ter lead­ing the All Blacks to a sec­ond suc­ces­sive World Cup tri­umph.

It was still “a hell of an ad­just­ment”.

It would have been re­ally tough with­out a next step in the ca­reer path, and he says other play­ers need to think hard about what they’ll do when they fin­ish rugby.

“One of the things I’ve seen is that peo­ple float along wait­ing for that to come along and years go down the track and they think they’re not go­ing any­where.” he says.

He says other ex-play­ers should get their

teeth into some­thing. “It may not be what they end up do­ing — but give it a crack for a while.”

McCaw also has an ad­vi­sory role with a new tourism ven­ture, the All Blacks Ex­pe­ri­ence, due to open in Sky City in the next 18 months. He and fel­low All Black Keven Mealamu were on hand at Forsyth Barr Sta­dium to meet the long line of fans among the 1500 Trenz del­e­gates from around the world at the open­ing func­tion.

McCaw opted not to take the big money over­seas at the end of his ca­reer, and doesn’t re­gret it.

“A lot of these guys think that go­ing over­seas and earn­ing a bunch of cash is go­ing to set them up — it might do from a fi­nan­cial point of view, but it doesn’t give the ful­fil­ment and pur­pose of get­ting out of bed each morn­ing.”

He says net­works shrink back home when play­ers go over­seas. “That’s been one thing I’ve been lucky with — I’ve still got that net­work of peo­ple that you stay rel­e­vant with.”

Christchurch He­li­copters chief ex­ec­u­tive and busi­ness part­ner Terry Mur­doch jokes that “shak­ing” is the first re­ac­tion of some pas­sen­gers when they see McCaw at the con­trols — but New Zealand is lucky to have him.

“One of the things that blows me away is that they say not only have we met Richie McCaw, but he’s taken me up in a he­li­copter,” says Mur­doch.

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