26 Nov 2014
Perhaps fate dictated Richard Rooney’s career choice, perhaps not. One thing certain is that getting a job at Rotorua’s Treetops Lodge whilst at school led to being general manager at a prestigious luxury lodge at a young age.
Applying for two after-school jobs – one at Treetops (adjacent to his family’s farm at Horohoro) and one at Countdown – Richard was disappointed to miss out on the supermarket job because his friends worked there so was initially unenthusiastic about the lodge job.
Learning a lot from several lodge managers whilst working at the luxury estate during his final two years at John Paul College, Richard reached the conclusion that the hotel industry might suit him. When the opportunity arose for him to work full-time at Lake Tarawera’s Solitaire Lodge, Richard took it but realised a formal qualification would reinforce his practical knowledge, provide focus for his career choice and heighten his prospects. He juggled his assistant manager’s role with two years of full-time study at Waiariki Institute of Technology and graduated with a Diploma in Hospitality Management in 2004.
“Although school wasn’t for me, I enjoyed tertiary study at Waiariki. The course encompassed every facet from accounting to marketing, offering traditional hotel thinking alongside new fresh ideas and heaps of encouragement from tutors.”
He holds hospitality management lecturer Thomas George in particularly high regard. “He was the one who was incredibly confident things would work out for me,” Richard said, along with Joof in the kitchen, Janie for bar classes, and Jeff, an American who taught the tourism industry management class.
With his diploma in hand and deciding it was time to move on, Richard contacted former colleagues managing Wharekauhau Lodge in the Wairarapa.
“They said come down and help for the summer so I did, thinking I’d stay for a couple months then look for opportunities overseas. True mentors, they taught me a great deal so when they said ‘stick around, good things are coming’ I agreed – and am very grateful I took their advice.”
Richard became assistant manager, a role he enjoyed for three years before his friends decided to move on and the general manager’s position became vacant. The lodge’s American owner, founder of two Fortune 500 companies and owner of 29 vineyards, was impressed with Richard’s part in handling the sale of the property. He suggested that despite Richard’s youthfulness, there weren’t an abundance of people around capable of doing the job well so he was prepared to give him a chance.
Knowing he has been offered a golden opportunity and keen to live up to expectations, Richard has worked hard to take the lodge from an internationally focussed, summer season business to attracting Kiwis and Australians year round on weekend breaks to complement their international business.
Continued study is on the horizon for Richard, as is exploring overseas opportunities created from hosting royal visitors at the lodge recently. But, for now, the 29-year-old is content to continue to grow the business and hone his skills.
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