Behind new bungy boss

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Engineer-turned-manager Dave Mitchell was already ticking boxes in his bid to become AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand’s next chief executive. 

But when the Queens­town-based company co-owner Henry van Asch discovered he had a world title in waveski surfing, Van Asch admits that was the icing on the cake for him. 

“A competitive sportsperson who’s been a world champion – he’s obviously focused and works hard.” 

Van Asch, a former record-setting speed skier and Kiwi downhill mountain bike champion, says he was also impressed by Mitchell’s reason for taking up the sport – he loved surfing but wanted to stay out longer to get more waves. 

“It showed he’s adaptable,” Van Asch says. 

Mitchell’s appointment comes after long-time chief executive Michelle Trapski left last September. 

Van Asch: “We were looking for somebody who was going to be positioned to move the company into the next stage, who was going to have good strategic capabilities. Dave’s not going to have to do much operating the company because it’s really working well, so he can just concentrate on strategy and use his project and engineering skills to drive it forward.” 

Van Asch also liked Mitchell’s local credentials – his wife Sarah is a sixth-generation Queens­towner. 

“We were pretty determined it had to be a Kiwi. Getting an Australian to run an iconic NZ company is probably not quite the right thing.” 

Van Asch says because the bungy business’ market is younger he was seeking someone aged about 35 to 40 – Mitchell’s 40. 

“I’m getting pretty old now so we need to get some good freshness in,” 49-year-old Van Asch says. 

Van Asch also wanted someone familiar with the burgeoning Eastern market. 

Mitchell ticked that box after 15 years’ overseas experience, the last four in Dubai. 

Van Asch: “I just wanted someone who’s open-minded and able to be educated. 

“He’s an engineer, which is mostly good, and the little bit of bad we’re probably going to cope with.” 

Van Asch is already impressed: “There’s been plenty of times where Dave’s asked me, ‘What about this?’ or ‘Why do you do it that way?’” 

With parents in Christ­church and in-laws in Queenstown, returning to NZ was a big motivation for Mitchell. 

“Particularly with the earthquake in Christchurch, it’s been nice to be closer to home,” Mitchell says. 

Before getting the nod Mitchell was interviewed four or five times by Skype and phone. 

“Finally, I came down in November and was interviewed by the board. 

“I jumped off the Nevis for the first time, which was an interesting part of the interview – I had done the Kawarau soon after it opened. 

“Another reason for wanting to join [AJ Hackett] is bungy is not just an adventure sport, I think it’s a big personal challenge for a lot of people.” 

Appropriately for the job, Mitchell had six years’ international bridge design experience. 

“I’ve always had a bit of passion for bridges and bridge structures.” 

For his future career though, Mitchell decided to diversify into management and picked up a Masters in Business Administration while in Dubai. 

“You become more valuable as a manager rather than a technical boffin being pushed into the corner. 

“Tourism is obviously a fairly new sector of business outside of where I’ve been but I’m getting up to speed quickly – under Henry’s wing.”