Written by Kimberly Rees, Alumna 2013
Ian Balme attended the Leadership NZ Programme in 2006. At the time he was one of only a couple of participants that came from the rural sector that year.
“When I started the Programme I felt like a fish out of water amongst all those smart people.” However now, Ian admits that “the greatest benefit I got from Leadership NZ was that it made me feel comfortable in my own skin.”
The way Ian presents himself now, you would never have guessed that self-confidence was a prior issue for him. Being pressured to explain he says, “It was the exposure to the top leaders in the country that Leadership NZ provides which made the difference for me. Through the Programme, we had easy access and real discussions with each of them – that along with quality time spent with the other participants (people I would have never got to know otherwise) made me realise that people are people – we are all the same and yet uniquely great and have valuable contributions in our own way. It made me not be afraid to show my flaws and be who I really am."
Ian has an interesting success story around building the Forgotten World Adventures business but before telling it, he is quick to identify the morale up front as being “you just have to back yourself.”
In 2010 Ian left his position as regional councillor, working on the farm and seeing his rural community struggling both economically and socially. His neighbour was importing used golf carts for farm use from America. A spark of an idea came to him about putting these golf carts on the old unused railway line between Stratford and Taumarunui which could be a visitor’s attraction in order to experience the beauty of the area. Some people thought he was crazy, and many obstacles were put in his way to make this idea viable. But Ian says he didn’t take no for an answer “the more barriers that got put up, the more determined I was to jump over them and keep moving forward. The key to making it happen came down to sheer determination and backing myself all the way, no matter what.”
It certainly wasn’t an easy journey for Ian to establish the thriving business of Forgotten World Adventures to what it is today; a rail tour on the historic railroad line (through the Taranaki and Ruapehu Districts) that employs 24 staff, has doubled its revenue each year since opening and is significantly contributing to the economic growth of the rural towns on the tour’s route. Ian remembers “I just kept trying and many times it was jumping into the unknown and giving it a go to see what happened. But I was never afraid of failure. I like the unknown, the challenges, the sense of adventure, you may say.” This statement, in and of itself, shows Ian’s fearless nature.
When asked how he got others to go along with his seemingly crazy business idea, he says “I can credit Leadership NZ for that as it gave me the insight that it is ok to say you don’t know and to ask for help. So if I didn’t have the right skills or ability to do some aspect, I found someone who did. And that happened a lot.” He laughs “before I knew it, I had a whole slew of people that I was leading towards this crazy vision!”
Ian lights up when he talks about how the most unlikely people in his community have contributed to the development and success of Forgotten World Adventures as he says “have given their sweat and blood for it.” The business started a tradition of providing a casual chefcatered dinner once a week for all staff. Ian explains; “It is an opportunity to have those honest, round-table discussions like you do with family,” he says. “You’d be surprised what I learn in this way without any armour on and not needing to be the big boss.” This is a good example of Ian Balme being a Fearless Leader - he’s the first one to stand up and take the hits. Ian says, “I’m not afraid to find out what’s not working because then we can fix it!”
Ian’s closing remarks and piece of advice to others is “Just do it – jump in and do it – be fearless and back yourself. You’ll surprise yourself at what you can achieve.”