Our People: Ray Morrison

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Ray Morrison is buzzing to be back where he belongs - at home. Photo/Ben Fraser

By Jill Nicholas

There's a new 'old' boy back on the block.

He's Ray Morrison who, after nine years on the Gold Coast, has been drawn home to become general manager of Ngati Whakaue Tribal Lands.

The second he saw the job advertised his hat was in the candidates' ring; he's emphatic his was not an appointment made because of that well-known surname of his, any iwi or whanau favouritism with the selection process conducted by an independent recruitment organisation well removed from Rotorua.

He's turned his back on his role as the Queensland Government's Gold Coast (GC) senior economic development manager to return to his tangata whenua (home territory). It's where he cut is employment teeth in the same place so many other Rotorua blokes have - the bush.

Such humble beginnings were despite his Bachelor of Management Studies and double major in marketing and human resources, acquired after a solid five years at Waikato University.

Blessed with that great asset, the gift of the gab, Ray talked his way into an interview with the former Forestry Corp's boss man, the late Tom Rogers.

"He basically said he'd call me back, I thought 'yeah, right' but a week later he did, saying I'd be the first inductee into a new graduate programme. I was doing lots of hotel concerts with Gus and Leah Ratana - had to hang up my piu piu."

Sensing there's a good keen man story to come we insist he takes us to day one of his forestry career, we were spot on, it wasn't the white collar job he'd anticipated.

"Tom chucked me the keys to a ute, said 'go and join the gang out the back of Rainbow Mountain'. I said I was there for a marketing job, he said 'the trouble with marketing people is they don't know anything about forestry operations, get out there in the bush and learn'."

Easier said than done, the new boy was a bush novice, it was inevitable he became lost.

"I just drove around until I found some crews."

Once "broken in" he graduated to logging supervisor then when Forestry Corp was acquired by Fletcher Forests had four years as a supply chain manager. When another company merger loomed he took redundancy.

With mate Jarred Hyland a forestry consulting business was established.

"It lasted about a year then the forestry sector crashed."

Ray set up his own business, Better Marketing Solutions, BMS.

"I thought it was quite catchy because it matched my BMS degree."

Rotorua-based, the company morphed into a marketing, HR and Maori business enterprise.

"The irony was we never advertised, the company just grew organically."

By then he'd married, separated and was caring for his baby daughter.

"I was this solo dad taking her in a pram to meet my clients."

BMS was invited to write the Bachelor of Tourism management course for what was then Waiariki Institute of Technology.

"I did six months' work in six weeks, that paid for my wedding."

It also led to him becoming a lecturer at the institute's school of business.

"I did five papers for them, it was full time but wait, there's more."

Yes, that's a direct quote and the "more" was becoming a director of the International Stadium-based New Zealand Sports Academy at the time it was striving to have its certificate of rugby fitness recognised, a first for a Private Training Establishment (PTE).

What Ray had neglected to tell us (we had to prise it out of him) was that he's been something of a rugby star in his time, captaining Boys' High 1st XV , playing for Waikite seniors and had spent a couple of seasons with the Steamers as a flanker.

For five or six years the sports academy job, coaching included, ran in tandem with his BMS work and the Waiariki job. "My wife got a bit grumpy at times."

By then he'd married Kim "Chicky" Martin. "We were mates from school days, I used to take out her girlfriend, we lost touch for about 10 years, when she moved back to Rotorua we met up again at a party, were married at St Faith's in 2001."

Their son and daughter are Rotorua-born but mostly Gold Coast-raised.

"My wife had lived there, I hadn't been before we went to this wedding there in about 2008, I thought it was a cool place. She said 'why don't we have a change?' We packed up three kids, 10 boxes and turned up on Goldie without jobs."

Unemployment was short-lived, Ray was appointed general manger of an inland-based health organisation.

"After a year I got sick of travelling an hour-and-a-half every day that was just when the Queensland government job turned up. I was running all its GC business development programmes, a huge role that just evolved.

"I can say now without any shadow of doubt that I know about economic development which is why I got the job with Ngati Whakaue Tribal Lands. I have always wanted to come home."

He's only been behind his desk a month but the job's got him buzzing.

"We are the biggest Maori owner of Rotorua farms, Wharenui, Tihi-o-Tonga, Ngongotaha, as well as commercial real estate.

"There's a lot going on in New Zealand for Maori organisations, we're looking to the next 20 years to build our assets, develop our economy. I'm totally excited, I love being back, when your whanau, your roots, are here you can't help missing the place so when you get the karenga [call] to return that's what you do."

RAY MORRISON ("I'm officially Raymon but never use that name.")

Born: Rotorua, 1970.

Education: Rotorua and Paengaroa primaries, Te Puke Intermediate, Te Puke, Rotorua Boys' High, Waikato University.

Family: Wife Chicky ("for ages I didn't know her name was Kim"), two daughters, son. Parents Terry and Wai Morrison.

Tribal affiliations: Ngati Wahakaue, Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Awa.

Interests: Whanau, sport "especially rugby, I was too old to play on the GC but coached my son." Woodwork "I'm always making furniture and stuff." Fishing.

On Rotorua: "One of the most beautiful places in the world."

Personal philosophy: "Family isn't the only thing, it's everything."

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