Southern role lures chief executive

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Destination Rotorua's Mark Rawson will head the new Nelson Regional Development Agency.
Destination Rotorua's Mark Rawson will head the new Nelson Regional Development Agency.

Destination Rotorua chief executive Mark Rawson opted out of putting his hat in the ring to compete for the job of heading up the new Rotorua council controlled economic agency, to take up a similar role in Nelson.

After coming to Rotorua in 2003 for what he expected would be a four- or five-year stay, he will next month take up the role of chief executive of the Nelson Regional Development Agency, recently formed by the merger of Nelson Tasman Tourism and its Economic Development Agency.

"I'm really excited by the challenge," he said. "The characteristics of that economy are very different from Rotorua. It's a new organisation with a new board, merging two organisations together to focus on economic development."

Mr Rawson will take with him considerable experience from the similar process Rotorua has been through. He said he considered the option of applying for the new role in Rotorua. But he wanted to make it clear early in the process whether he would be interested in pursuing the Rotorua role or not, and the position in Nelson came up "at pretty much the right time".

Mr Rawson said he had been fortunate to work with "an amazing business community and staff".

Another appeal of the new role is that it takes him and his wife, Debbie, back to the South Island, where they have family.

Mr Rawson was born and brought up in the small Otago town of Palmerston, near Dunedin. After finishing school at 17 he moved to Timaru, did a diploma in sports science and then followed up with business studies at the Aoraki Polytechnic while supporting himself working in and then managing various bars and a nightclub. A keen cricketer who played for South Canterbury for a decade, he also helped manage the side in the early days of the sport becoming more professional. His first job outside hospitality came when he joined Aoraki Development Trust, Timaru's economic development agency, as their client manager.

He relocated to Rotorua in 2003 after securing the role of general manager of what was then Destination Rotorua Economic Development.

It was his first foray into working under a council development function, as Aoraki had been led by the private sector.

After four years with the council, he became general manager of EROS Capital, the private equity company set up to handle investments of the Verry family, which owns Red Stag Timber. The company developed a mix of investments, but refocused after the onset of the global financial crisis on forest and wood processing, Red Stagg's core business.

In 2011, he was offered the opportunity to rejoin Rotorua Lakes Council as group manager economic and regulatory services.

"It was an opportunity to bring a bit more of an investment awareness and culture to the way we delivered regulatory services," he said. "It was also an opportunity to work with a reasonably large team compared to previous roles."

Gary Gillespie, of Gillespie Cleghorn & Jensen Valuers, credited Mr Rawson with helping make the council more business-friendly.

"His time in the private sector with a large commercial business gave him a really good understanding of the difficulties private investors or local business people have had in dealing with local government offices," he said.

"Mark was part of a team whose attitude was 'let's see how we can make this work'. That attitude seems to have gone through council and I think he was one of the major instigators. He's Rotorua's loss and Nelson's gain."

In July 2014 Mr Rawson became chief executive of council-controlled Destination Rotorua, which brought together three business including Destination Marketing, i-Sites, and Events and Venues, and completed the foundation work around the merger with economic agency Grow Rotorua. "I landed in the right spot at the right time," said Mr Rawson.

"In every respect, Rotorua has been a pretty amazing place for us, mostly because of the people, the staff and stakeholders I've been able to work with."

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said Mr Rawson had brought real passion to the job and was really enjoyed and appreciated by the sector.

"Destination Rotorua set some very lofty goals, including the $1 billion in tourist expenditure by 2030," she said. "He and his team also helped set up the Rotorua Tourism industry partnership programme, which is hugely regarded nationally as a flagship on how to engage industry with council. He also guided us often on our international relationships. Mark did a great job and Nelson will welcome him."

The chief executive role of the new merged Rotorua economic development agency has been advertised. Ms Chadwick said there was strong interest in the position. Current Grow Rotorua chief executive Francis Pauwels confirmed that he would be applying for the role.

Sporting loyalties part of the deal

Mark Rawson has been a sports fanatic all his life. He played cricket and golf for South Canterbury for a decade, and captained the Rotorua cricket team, but stopped playing three or four years ago. However, he still enjoys golf.

"Like everybody in Rotorua, I got into mountain biking," he said. "I had my lessons of thinking I was better than I was, and a couple of decent accidents. I'm currently doing a bit of road cycling to keep fit."

One other advantage of moving to the South Island is that he will have more opportunities to support the Crusaders and the Highlanders, he said.

He is married to Debbie, and has a stepdaughter, Baylie.

Mark Rawson:

* Role: Chief executive, Destination Rotorua (current); chief executive, Nelson Regional Development Agency (from July, 2016)

* Born: Palmerston, New Zealand

* Age: 41

* First job: Barman

* Recently read: Domino - the simplest way to inspire change by Nick Tasler

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