Paul Casson liked to cook. His mother worked in catering and encouraged him to help in the kitchen at home. From these small beginnings grew a career that has spanned many aspects of the food and hospitality industry and moved on into education, human resources and economic development.
When he left St Peter’s and trained as a chef, Paul realised that a career in the hotel industry would provide him with a means to travel and meet people and he took full advantage of the opportunities offered.
Coming from a Catholic family in Gore, he feels he had a good solid education at St Mary’s and St Peter’s, but left school in Year 12 to do a chef’s apprenticeship, rather than go on and study for a degree. He has no regrets about this – for him the time wasn’t right for him to do further education.
His early years in the hospitality and tourism industry saw him achieve a top apprentice award and go on to work at the Holiday Inn Corporation in the Transkei, South Africa.
Back in NZ in the 1980s he moved into management and then into further education, becoming a catering lecturer at Otago Polytechnic in 1986. By the 1990s he was in Thailand “training the trainers” for the Thai Tourism Association and the UN and tourism in Asia has remained a key part of his career. He gained his Bachelor degree in Commerce in 1997 and Master of Business in Management in 2000 when he felt the time was right for him to tackle further education.
In 2000 as Head of the School of Hospitality and Service Sector Management at Otago Polytechnic he instigated the joint degree programme with Hong Kong Polytechnic University and later became Degree Director and in 2003 was awarded the Industry Training Organisation top tutor award in New Zealand for his contribution to education and training for the industry. Paul believes that his early work experience has enabled him to move in any circles and relate to a wide range of people and cultures. This has been invaluable in the next phase of his career with the Ministry of Social Development (Southern Region), where he was dealing with industries, unions, local government and other agencies. Communication was the key.
Today, Paul is Chief Executive Officer of Venture Southland, the agency responsible for Southland region’s economic and community development .
Reflecting on education today, he sees Broadband and the Internet changing the patterns of education out of all recognition in the future. The digital sector will especially threaten traditional university courses and young people will need to be endlessly adaptable and believe strongly in themselves to take full advantage of all the opportunities available to them. With his experience in Asia, Paul is keenly aware of the importance of this sector to New Zealand and keen that Southland should be at the forefront of exploiting the opportunities there. With a growing Asian middle class creating an increasing demand for high protein food and wanting food security, we are well placed to deliver. He would like to see more widespread study of Mandarin in schools and also more people from industry talking to pupils about the realities of the workplace today.
Paul still enjoys cooking at home, especially tasty Asian dishes, but also traditional New Zealand fare. He is a keen biker and talks enthusiastically about his Triumph Speedmaster. He lives in Invercargill, but still has many relatives here in Gore, so has maintained his links with the town – after all he says, it gave him a good family, good food and a good education.
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