Choosing the right man to move mountains

How do you turn a dormant volcano into the best known, most used education and visitor destination in Auckland - one that offers a unique Maori world view? 

The answer is to employ the very best strategic marketer you can find. 

When the Mangere Mountain Education Trust Board gave the Mangere Mountain Education Centre (MMEC) CEO role to Simon Kozak, our expectations were high.  But so was the challenge for Simon.

MMEC is an Auckland Council controlled centre that provides environmental and bi-cultural education and visitor programmes about the natural, historic and cultural values of Mangere Mountain and its related environs. It is the only centre of its kind in Auckland, but a year ago its potential was hardly tapped.

It felt like a bold choice hiring Simon.  Culturally, it was a big ask of a senior British adman with Polish roots. But we were impressed as much by Simon’s expansive 25-year background in strategic marketing as his inclusive approach and passion for what could be achieved. 

For Simon, taking on this challenge was about making a life change. As both a teetotaller and father, when he found himself asked by a liquor client to “get more 20 somethings, to drink more beer, more often”, he knew he had to get out.  When the Board talked about a responsibility to curate the authentic identity for Mangere Mountain, traceable back to its roots 30,000 years, he became very excited.

Since arriving in August last year, he has well and truly vindicated the Board’s decision to employ him as the best person for the task. I read an article recently that aptly outlines the features that make Simon so successful - A bias for action, engaging for impact, thinking several steps ahead, and a focus on delivery.

Simon has a clear vision of making the Mangere Mountain Education Centre the best known, most used education and visitor destination that offers a Maori world view of Auckland.  He is steering along a decisive investment and development path which has already seen a massive step change to Mangere Mountain Education Centre.

His ambitious growth plans have resulted in significant increases in visitor numbers with 60% month on month growth in school visits, 62% growth in educational groups and the centre is already 25% ahead of its budgeted earnings. 

In only ten months, he has achieved success are through:

1. Building school participation – ensuring programmes are refreshed and aligned to curriculum, with reach extending to the North Shore and beyond

2. Targeting community service, local and international visitors – that’s mum, dad and the kids plus individual visitors by developing whanau and event days, plus better networks through social and online media

3. Strategic alliances with bodies and organisations that complement and enhance our goals;

4. Invest in resource, to enhance the quality of deliverables; and

5. Build brand and reputation, with a mission, vision and values programme lived internally and demonstrated externally.

So far, Simon has formed partnerships with the Stardome Observatory & Planetarium, MOTAT, the Maritime Museum, Nestle Foods, Kiwicare and Ambury Farm.  The alliances increase MMEC activities discoverability on more websites and feature in combined marketing campaigns, helping to expand the reach exponentially.

These organisations have helped him deliver the Myths and Legends programme, the Land and Skies Programme, supplemented by iPads helping identify star formations from the mountain, and the Indigenous Innovation programme, including a five-week pop-up exhibition at MOTAT of flax weaving with master weavers.  

A key educational programme at MMEC is designed around the site’s vegetable gardens and food storage. Teaming up with Nestle and its Cook for Life programme - which is all about healthy eating choices – visitors attend workshops, learning how to grow, harvest and cook healthy food on a more engaging level.

By curating the landscapes, tilling the soil and looking after cultural and historical landscapes, Simon is working hard to make it more accessible and enable a greater understanding of the Mountain’s rich past and of Maori history. 

As a board member, I have been impressed by the transformation driven by the choice of this exceptional man as CEO.  The impact of investing in the right person for the job has more than exceeded our expectations, and is something all non-profits (or other organisations) should consider.  And for Auckland, I am excited and proud to see this cultural destination become more accessible to our wider community.