Trust head brings skills to city

By Paul Brooks

EVENTS ORGANISER: Kathy Cunningham has brought her skills and imagination to Whanganui. PICTURE / PAUL BROOKS
EVENTS ORGANISER: Kathy Cunningham has brought her skills and imagination to Whanganui. PICTURE / PAUL BROOKS

It is no accident that Kathy Cunningham is the chief executive of the Wanganui Events Trust. Even before arriving in New Zealand from New York in 1991, she had a history of successful event management in the US.
In this country, Kathy and her company, Empire, continued to stage many high profile gala occasions.
Her photo albums bear testament to some of those grand events.
"What we do is all about people," she says. "We did the PR for the very first Hilton in New Zealand, so we launched the Hilton brand."
She met President Clinton - and has the photograph to prove it. "He really does have that powerful charisma."
Empire's portfolio glitters with clients and major events in New York and New Zealand, so to get her to manage the Wanganui Events Trust is no mean feat.
"I did the Devonport Wine and Food Festival for three years (2006-8)." She changed its culture and made something special out of its festival feel.
"I opened Cadbury World in Dunedin ... we served chocolate martinis on arrival. The Otago Daily Times did a chocolate scented supplement."
Empire did the Barista Awards for Robert Harris for five years with the winners going on to represent New Zealand internationally.
She has planned massive charity benefits, brand launches and events that require huge organisational ability and imagination.
Empire was responsible for the Everest premier for Imax and they built base camp in Aotea Square. "Graeme Dingle [adventurer and mountaineer] was our MC and he abseiled down from the ceiling." The prime minister was present, as was Sir Ed Hillary and a delegation from the Dalai Lama.
She got the Royal New Zealand Navy to fire an 11-gun salute as the victorious Kiwi yachts returned from the America's Cup in San Diego.
She has met royalty, world leaders and film stars (and Andy Warhol), and she has been stuck in a lift with Robert de Niro.
Many of her events have won prestigious awards.
It all started when she was in high school in Madison, New Jersey, where she helped organise an event in her senior year.

Then at university she organised events on campus. "The very first really big event I ever did was a softball game to raise money for Covenant House where I was a volunteer. They offered me a job."
She came to New Zealand for a 10-day holiday after a time in Australia. That was in January 1991. On October 1 that year, she moved here, volunteered a lot to network, acquired a working visa, met her first client in a pub and established Empire in Auckland.
She and her partner, Rob Nesbit-Savage, met at an event 15 years ago in Auckland. Kathy has lived in Whanganui since Waitangi weekend this year with Rob arriving later. The first anniversary of her arrival in Whanganui will be marked by the opening ceremony of the Masters Games, an event she is putting her skills right behind as Events Trust chief executive.
"We fell in love with Whanganui that first weekend we were here [two years ago]," says Kathy. "It's so welcoming." "And we felt we could make a difference," says Rob.

- Wanganui Midweek

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