In the comfy chair .... Peter Russell

Our guest blog is entitled 'In the comfy chair' and features conversations with industry leaders, icons and other interesting people. Our guest is invited into the living room of HendersonMC seated in the cyber chair of their choice and together we share a metaphysical cocktail before we talk about the really interesting things.

Peter Russell – Marketing guru

Peter Russell actually hails from a liquor background which is possibly responsible for his penchant for problem solving, light bulb moments and creativity revolving around all things vinous.

Expanding waistlines and red noses not withstanding, Peter has headed the marketing functions of a diverse range of companies across several different industries, from FMCG, liquor, healthcare and for the last several years consumer durables as CMO for Fisher and Paykel Australia. He has become arguably one of the country’s highest profile senior marketers, certainly within the durables during his time at Fisher and Paykel.

A key hallmark of Peter’s style is for grand scale, highly innovative, experiential initiatives intended to illicit consumer/ brand interaction to complement traditional & digital media.

You're sitting in my comfy chair what is your favorite chair?

A ridiculously oversized, leather club chair that is slightly shabby, horribly impractical and too large for most rooms. One kind of needs to sit sideways in it so I decided long ago that the best position was to sit on an angle, legs over one of the arms. My Mum wouldn't approve!

I'd like to mix you a relaxing drink what would that be? Coffee, tea, or maybe something stronger and why is it your favorite?

Well, if it's before lunchtime then a heart-starting triple espresso please (just the one mind, pour me another of those and you'll also need to call an ambulance). Later in the day I'll fossick around your cellar for a good Pinot that I know you must have.

You are originally from New Zealand. What brought you to Australia?

An aeroplane. Fabulous inventions, you put people in one bit and fuel in another. Must be careful not to mix them though.

(Thank you Peter point taken JH.)

What enticed me to Australia? Alcohol. A very nice man named Bruce Tyrrell of Tyrrell's Wines in the Hunter Valley reckoned I should come across from NZ to be his Marketing Manager in 1997. I thought that was a terrific idea and so here I've been ever since.

I have known you as a marketing guru; tell me about your career?

Well I kind of fell into liquor initially, not literally, although I have physically done that (but that’s another story for another time). My career is a bit like my music choices, hugely varied and seemingly without a common thread. My industry choices have been quite different and aren't so much about the company per se but more about the opportunity to do something meaningful, challenging and genuinely interesting. So after a number of years within the wine industry I moved to pharmaceuticals and healthcare. I enjoyed having colleagues test hair removal products on my forearms and graduated to the wide world of consumer durables, appliances. If I look back now, I see that most of my positions were about inserting a’ zig when the others zag’ mentality, interesting as we are now living in uncertain times. Uncertainty breeds caution and cautious marketing quickly becomes very same / same and vanilla. In my mind bold imagination-capturing marketing is what is required for these times. Consumers almost need to be shaken out of this post GFC mind fog.

You were at the marketing helm of Fisher and Paykel for many years, what were the challenges and highlights?

The challenge Fisher and Paykel had and still has, is one of driving reappraisal. Meaning the brand is known for one thing, yet the company wishes to be known for another. Sounds straight forward enough. Most challenges are when you strip away the fluff. But brand positioning exists not as a statement on a piece of paper or nice images on a wall, but within recipients, the consumers minds and that normally entails years of hard wiring. Fisher & Paykel is undergoing long term repositioning work away from a white-box commodity space, towards a high involvement, emotional purchase, cooking space. That takes time, money and dedication to cause. It's a bit like Volvo perhaps deciding one day they don't want to concentrate on cars anymore and want to make and be known for motorbikes. Not exactly a case for simply flipping a switch is it?

The highlight for me? Well Fisher & Paykel doesn't have the large marketing budgets like the global big boys Samsung and LG. So it was always a case of dancing much smarter and doing one or two things really, really well. I'm pleased to say that the all important brand tracking, (the dashboard indicators if you will and of course sales) showed our single minded ‘change how people think of us’ initiatives, mostly centered around cutting-edge experiential experiences were / are working. This gives great comfort to global executives and provides a template for other global regions to replicate.

You are creative with your marketing approach and a risk taker, how did you develop your strategies and what were the highs and lows?

I simply follow a few guiding principles, mean or stand for something (preferably something unique). Don't follow the herd (herd or group think is brain rot for marketers and wasteful for companies). Take calculated risks and back yourself, your team and your brand. The highs are seeing a strategy work, seeing the hard work pay off, the lows are the tougher corporate environment CMOs must now operate in. Well-meaning but ultimately ill-advised armchair experts are an operational reality for the modern CMO.

You're passionate about marketing, what is the essence of a good marketing manager?

Become a vocal advocate for your brand. You need to be like a clarion trumpeter and call your colleagues to rally around. An effective marketer needs to be multi-talented, speak the lingo, feel the pain and live in there and now that is the reality of life with the sales team. He or she must effortlessly talk numbers and metrics with colleagues in the C-suite and be able to balance off good ol' common sense with artistic merit when interacting with creative types.

When you have time off how do you spend your hours?

Dreaming about work! No, not at all. I think filling one's head and time with everything other than work actually benefits your profession and helps with perspective. I like to Zen out by kayaking. I once challenged myself to find a form of exercise that I could achieve exclusively by sitting on my backside.

What is the next exciting challenge for you personally?

I'll gravitate to a company that needs a brand evangelist. A company that doesn't need more of the same and one that supports a culture of ridiculously strong coffee drinking.

Peter Russell

 

Postscript

I met Peter some years back and we worked together beautifully. His professionalism, sense of humour and eye for business made our time together such a pleasure. I wish him all the best for the future and know that his next position will be another triumph.

 

  

Peter Russell

Peter Russell

In the comfy chair.... Mark Simpson from DesignOffice

Mark Simpson – DesignOffice

Mark Simpson is the Joint Creative Director of DesignOffice; a role shared with co-Director Damien Mulvihill. After graduating from the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture in Scotland he worked in the London office of workplace and strategy specialists DEGW before going on to join Allies and Morrison Architects.  

In 2002 he joined Universal Design Studio and worked alongside Damien in the multi-disciplinary practice. In the role of Senior Designer, Mark designed and delivered projects that include London's award-winning Canteen restaurants and the British Red Cross.

Mark moved to Melbourne in 2006 and worked at Carr Design Group for two years. He established the Australian office of Universal Design Studio and re-united with Damien to run the practice, leading onto the formation of DesignOffice.

DesignOffice is a Melbourne-based architectural and interior design practice working across a range of scales and sectors to deliver lucid and authentic design responses to client needs and briefs.

 

You're sitting in my comfy chair what is your favorite chair?

A slightly ridiculous, yet continually rewarding conversation pit we built into our home.  Its about 2m x 3m and sits below floor level with upholstery on every side. 

What is your favorite drink and why? 

Something at the discretion of a good bartender!  After a day of too many decisions I love to defer responsibility to someone else with food and drink.

Did you always want to design?

I went through a reasonably prolonged period of wanting to be a newsreader but I went off it after a realised that you actually had to be a journalist first!  In hindsight the actual progression from childhood to architecture was probably more connected to an early-founded and long-held love of Lego.  

How did you start in architecture and design?

I studied an undergraduate in Interior Architecture followed by a postgraduate in Advanced Architectural Studies at the Scott Sutherland School in Aberdeen in the UK.  I didn't want to make a choice between studying interior design or architecture and this course blurred the boundaries offering a full architecture degree with interior focused briefs.  The projects often required us to develop design responses for buildings working from the inside out, responding to the immediacy of people's requirements, emotional desires and the way they interact with their spaces. It's remained at the core of my design approach to this day.  I was also very fortunate to be in the second year of the course's existence which meant that there was only 15 of us with almost as many tutors.

You come from England. How did you find your way to Australia?

I knew a good number of wonderful Australians in London and just followed them home!  I don't remember thinking about it that much at the time but somehow bought myself a one way ticket, packed my bags and made Melbourne my home.

Why do you like designing in Australia and how is it different to Europe? 

I don't really think they are two separate processes.  The best design is responsive to brief and I just think of Australia and Europe as having different briefs; not just in terms of climate also in scale, lifestyle and location.

How is DesignOffice different to other practices?

Damien, the other Creative Director of DesignOffice, and I are really interested in the process of tailoring both lucid and authentic responses to different briefs regardless of sector or typology.  Whether it is a new build house, an office for a law firm, a remodelling of an existing building, development of brand architecture or the design of a restaurant or shop, we aim to receive and challenge briefs and then respond to them with a design solution which is cohesive and holistic.  We don't separate the disciplines of architecture, interior design and strategy and I think this is at the crux of what we do.  The studio's lineage with Universal Design Studio and Barber Osgerby in London has also definitely informed themes of craft, colour and materiality which are recurrent in our work.  The other influence from this period is our continued belief in exploring and testing design through physical model making.  It takes up a lot of space but its worth it.

Do you have a favorite project and why?

Probably the staircase for the Corporate Culture showroom in Melbourne.  We received a brief to design a staircase within a three storey warehouse that would showcase the brand portfolio and make customers go upstairs.  As a project it brought together all of the things that excite us; a spatial problem, an existing building, strategy, sculpture, craft and engineering.  Its also the project which first introduced us to some wonderful contractors and craftspeople who we have continued to work with subsequently.

Are you a city slicker or country gentleman? Explain.

Can I be a city gentleman and a country slicker?  I spend half of my week in the Goldfields region of Victoria and the other half in Melbourne's Collingwood.  It all gets a bit mixed up between rural and urban.

What’s the next big thing on your work schedule?

We have quite a few things on site at the moment.  The Park & Raphael development in Abbotsford and ABaker in Canberra are both about to launch in the coming weeks.  We're currently designing a boutique for an independent retailer on the northern shores of Sydney which is due to open before the end of year.

 

Mark Simpson, DesignOffice

www.design-office.com.au

 

Postnote

I first met Mark through good friends who had been raving about 'this wonderful guy who had come from England and worked at Barber Osgerby'. We would bump into each other at events and he became my hero when on one particular occasion he stayed to keep me company as he knew I couldn't leave. He knows when that was and I will be forever grateful to him for his gallantry! Since then we see each other from time to time and his boundless enthusiasm and passion for design always inspires me.

 

Mark Simpson

Mark Simpson

Goldfields dwelling. Photography  Scottie Cameron.  

Goldfields dwelling. Photography 

Scottie Cameron.

 

Goldfields dwelling. Photography Scottie Cameron.

Goldfields dwelling. Photography Scottie Cameron.

Mud New York. Photography  Scottie Cameron. 

Mud New York. Photography 

Scottie Cameron.

 

Palace Electric, Canberra. Photography Scottie Cameron.

Palace Electric, Canberra. Photography Scottie Cameron.

Nishi Display Suite, Canberra. Photography Scottie Cameron.

Nishi Display Suite, Canberra. Photography Scottie Cameron.

Corporate Culture Showroom, Melbourne. Photography Dianna Snape.

Corporate Culture Showroom, Melbourne. Photography Dianna Snape.

In the comfy chair .... Andrew Walsh


Andrew Walsh AM – 
Artistic Director, White Night Melbourne

Andrew Walsh has extensive experience creating, directing and managing large-scale events throughout the world. His career started in Melbourne in the 1970s and in 1988 he established Accolade event management. His list of accomplishments and roles in major events is large and varied. He was technical director for Australian Pavilions at three world expos, Director of Sydney’s Australia Day Spectacular for 14 years, Director of the London Millennium Celebrations and Creative Director of the Centennial Ceremony for Australia’s Centenary of Federation. In 2003 Andrew was Director of Ceremonies for Rugby World Cup, was the Executive Producer of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, Executive Producer and Creative Director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games 2006 and a return visit to Greece saw him produce the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Athens 2011 Special Olympic Games.

And as if that isn't enough, Andrew is currently the Artistic Director of White Night Melbourne, the arts and cultural festival that spans a
 12-hour period from dusk to dawn. The inaugural event in 2013 drew more than 300,000 people to the centre of Melbourne.

You're sitting in my comfy chair what is your favorite chair?

More often than not I'm sitting on a plane in an airline’s comfy chair today it's Emirates first class (I got an upgrade) and having had a good sleep what better thing to do but write.

My other favorite is an old armchair in the library at my farm where I can sit and look over the garden while listening to music.

I'd like to mix you a relaxing drink what would that be? Coffee, tea, or maybe something stronger and why is it your favorite?

Lately I’ve been drinking more tea although I still struggle to get a good cup in the myriad of coffee establishments that emerge from every nook and cranny.  It seems to me one is presented with so much coffee choice: latte, latte-macchiato, espresso, cappuccino, Americano, free trade, fair trade organic, capsule, plunger, cold drip, on and on it goes. Ask for a pot of tea, more often that not, it comes in a pot that drips more on the table than is poured into your cup and has a tea bag hanging from the lid. Rant over.

The other drink I like is a very traditional martini made from good quality gin with a hint of vermouth, shaken with lots of ice and an olive. The olive is a key ingredient not just an embellishment and should be chosen with care – firm and from good brine. The preparation, the shaking and serving should be ritualistic and the drink savored. Only one, mind you, well perhaps a second but that’s all.

How did you start your career?

Oh. It seems that I was always interested in the making of art, theatre and music. As a kid I was always playing around with puppets, making things or listening to music. My parents encouraged my brother, sister and I to express our creativity. Although not great concert goers, arts consumers or makers, they were/are very interested in the arts and have an innate aesthetic and creative bent so, it was probably environment that started it off. Norman Kay taught me music and drama and was a strong influence at school and after I left, as were John Wregg and Nigel Triffit when I was very green. I don’t have formal training rather a degree in experience. I haven’t really done much else except some time working in radio and creating corporate events.

I left school to work in and around the theatres of Melbourne, doing whatever jobs I could pick-up, which led to working on bigger shows and tours, then I worked at Ballet Victoria and the Rocky Horror Show, among others. I got a lot of good experience early on and that has lead me on a path to work on all sorts of interesting projects over the years. I’ve been very fortunate.

How did you move from learning about events and theatre to world-class and major events?

How do you learn about events and theatre? There are several very good schools that turn out well-rounded students but nothing beats doing the job, I advocate good education and training and the getting out there and doing the work. There is nothing like standing in the pouring rain at 4am watching the show start to float away. It focuses the mind on the task at hand – above all the show must go on!

The major events business is not for the faint hearted, it can be tough and scary, but incredibly rewarding. The technology incorporated and the skills required mean that the people at the leading edge are constantly innovating and designing new ways to bring magic to life, day in and day out. You have to be on your toes, always open to new ideas and willing to take creative risks and believe in the show, yourself and the people around you.  

The career advice I would give is get a good tertiary education then get out there and do it, stay on your toes, and open your mind. Work hard.

How do your creative ideas appear? When you sleep, in the shower, brainstorming with colleagues...

All of the above. The creative process is part inspiration, part innovation.

Having a sound understanding of the objective and the audiences (there are usually more than one) and the space in which the project is to be staged is fundamental.  Often it's about seeing the same thing as everybody else but thinking of something different. The process requires two distinct thought progressions; divergent – the ability to conjure up original, diverse and elaborate ideas and, convergent – the capacity to logically evaluate, critique and choose the most appropriate ideas for each project. If a project is going to work, on one hand the ideas have to be innovative and compelling, on the other they have to be understandable, deliverable and realistic. So it can be a little 'skit-so' at times.

My process is to consult and to gain as much information as I can and then cook up the ideas from wherever and whenever they come. I can then work in collaboration with my delivery teams to make them happen. In the team process I work very openly, open to criticism and ideas equally. It’s important for a team to have ownership of the idea and eventually the show. It's not a one-man business or show, everybody in the team has their part to play and a voice at the table.

Do you have a favorite genre: theatre, music, installations, art or something else?

What inspires me is when I’m transported into a work. You know those moments, when your whole being is consumed by what you're looking at or listening to.  I like visiting a work that feels like an old friend and at the same time I want to be challenged. So I don’t have a favorite form … I’m eclectic in how I engage with the creative world and the works I collect.

What are the best and worst aspects of your job?

I’m lucky it’s all mostly good; I get frustrated with people who lack vision and courage. The best is seeing an audience taken on a journey of discovery and magic. At the end of the day it's all about the audience, if they love it then I’m happy.

What excites you most about what you do?

The audience response. You know the other thing that really gives me a buzz is listening to and seeing young people devise and create exciting work. Just being around vibrant sharp minds is so inspiring. I do a little bit of teaching and intend to increase that not just for what I can impart to the students from my experience but also to be around inspired and bright young people.

What are the highlights of your past projects and why are they special?

For the Athens Olympic Games we created a ceremony that told the story of the Greeks down the ages, an 'Allegory' that took the audience on a journey through periods of Greek history. This spanned thousands of years and we used sculpture as a metaphor for the growth and evolution of Greek civilization and its contribution across the arts, sciences, politics and philosophy.

The centaur, representing the duality of man as part intellectual, part physical, threw a javelin, which caused a giant Cycladic head, an object, which dates back to 2700 BC, to emerge dramatically from the lake we built that covered the center of the stadium. 

The Cycladic head then rose above the water's surface and broke into eight pieces, which traveled outward through the air to reveal the figure of a Kouros, a sculpted marble body from 500 BC. 

The Kouros then broke apart, this time to reveal a classical Greek statue from 400 BC. They all came to rest on the surface of the water representing the Greek Islands. Finally a male figure was revealed crouching on top of a perfect white cube, a symbol of the earth. The man stood and began walking, the cube twisting and rotating beneath his feet. This represented man's evolutionary journey to become a logical, spiritual being that was searching for knowledge. This was the most technically challenging moment in the history of ceremonies.

We then went on to tell the story of the passing of time as depicted in a dream-like and colorful parade. Stylized figures from Greek frescoes, mosaics, sculptures and paintings were brought to life. This was a chronological procession atop a moving stage of images ranging from prehistoric to modern times. Ten scenes of mythology, discovery, history and culture culminated with a final scene featuring the first Olympic games of the modern era, Athens 1896.

However, for me at least the most emotional moment in that vast production was a single pregnant woman, her belly glowing, and a thousand others standing in the lake as we revealed the DNA helix, the symbol of what makes us human, what makes as all the same, and at the same time all different.

In Melbourne at the Commonwealth Games the approach was completely different. I didn’t want to tell a liner story of Australian history as this had been done brilliantly in Sydney only a few years before. Melbourne is a very confidant city with a very clear view of its place in the world, so drawing on that confidence, I decided to make up a story, a good yarn that would showcase the talents of the people of Melbourne and the City itself. The story was inspired by a poem by Michael Leunig. When working on the Rugby World Cup I had taken some of the ceremony out of the stadium to surrounding areas Sydney Harbor. That experience showed me that we could take large sections of the ceremony away from the arena and still provide the stadium and television audiences with a coherent and satisfying experience. At the same time we could create a show outside the stadium equal to the show inside. I wanted Melbourne itself to star in the show and for the people of Melbourne, unable to get tickets to the main event, to be a part of the opening ceremony. It’s estimated that 500,000 people lined the river to take part in the ceremony.

So the ceremonies started by traveling down the Yarra River on a journey to the stadium. Highlights for me were the flying tram and the duck and the fish, 36 installations that dominated a kilometer of the Yarra River landscape between Princes Bridge and the Swan Street Bridge, all of which are still talked about today. If a show can become part of the collective story of a city then we have done out job. That’s a highlight for me.

How did White Night Melbourne come to be?

White Night Melbourne was inspired by the international Nuit Blanche festivals first staged in Paris, in 2002, in an attempt to bring culture and art to the masses in public spaces. At its core, Nuit Blanche is a 12-hour event with a mandate to make contemporary art accessible to large audiences, while inspiring dialogue and engaging the public to examine its significance and impact on public space.

Approximately 24 global cities including Florence, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Tel-Aviv and Tokyo are producing similar all-night events. 

Ted Baillieu, then Premier of Victoria and Minister for the Arts, made an election commitment to bring White Night to Melbourne and entrusted the Victorian Major Events Company to conduct a tender process to stage the event. Bryn Skilbeck from Right Angle Events and I tendered as a joint venture between our respective companies and were appointed in October 2012.

White Night Melbourne is both a “high art” event and a free, populous event that encourages celebration and community engagement from sunset to sunrise. It's a 'lived' experience for all who interact with it, from performers to audience to the businesses that make up the precincts in which takes place. The only question is how deep into the 12-hour journey of White Night Melbourne people choose to go.

Unusual or forbidden spaces become sites of art and performance open for all-night discovery and rediscovery in a way never experienced before. Cultural institutions, museums, galleries, and artist-run centers open their doors and offer free access to all. For one night the everyday will be suspended as Melbourne’s landscape is transformed to welcome a variety of artistic experiences.

What will make White Night Melbourne fabulous in 2014?

I can’t tell you that – not yet anyway. What I can say is that it will be staged over a larger footprint and incorporate more public and private institutions. At the moment we are in the middle of a submissions process to invite artists to submit work for consideration in 2014 and that’s always exciting. What I will say is expect the unexpected.

Oh and keep the 23rd of February free to be part of White Night Melbourne 2014.

Andrew Walsh

Written on flight EK 406 Athens to Melbourne via Dubai, 4 hours, 46 Minutes, 2974 miles from Melbourne at 39,000 feet. 

 

Postscript

Andrew and I have been friends since we were young. We both attended a school that allowed for part-time study so that we could pursue our other interests. For me it was full-time ballet, for Andrew it was working in the theatre. There has been much water under our respective bridges since those days but I'm proud of what Andrew has achieved. He is one of the few people in the world today who can do what he does, and I'm not biased of course, but I think he's the best. Congratulations to the Victorian Major Events Company (responsible for White Night) for realising this too!

 

Andrew Walsh

Andrew Walsh

The water curtain and helix at the Athens Olympic Games 2004.

The water curtain and helix at the Athens Olympic Games 2004.

Perspective of the Yarra River at the Commonwealth Games Melbourne 2006. 

Perspective of the Yarra River at the Commonwealth Games Melbourne 2006. 

Flying tram at the Commonwealth Games Melbourne 2006. 

Flying tram at the Commonwealth Games Melbourne 2006. 

The crowd at White Night 2013. Lighting effects from The Electric Canvas. Image courtesy of John Gollings and VMEC.  

The crowd at White Night 2013. Lighting effects from The Electric Canvas. Image courtesy of John Gollings and VMEC.

 

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of John Gollings and VMEC.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of John Gollings and VMEC.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

White NIght 2013. Image courtesy of Dianna Snape.

In the comfy chair.... Steve Richardson

 Steve Richardson - General Manager of Rowland Projects

Steve Richardson is based in Melbourne and is General Manager of Rowland Projects. Initially Steve created and operated many businesses such as, The Fitz, Eat and Retro café then some twenty years ago he joined Peter Rowland. He has held numerous titles within the Peter Rowland Group including Director of Food and General Manager Catering and Events, General Manager National Gallery of Victoria, NGVI & NGVA – Peter Rowland, General Manager Melbourne Museum – Peter Rowland. He is currently heading up the Rowland Special Project division and works with architects to provide specialist knowledge for kitchen design.

You're sitting in my comfy chair what is your favorite chair?

I love the shape and the simplicity of the original Grant Featherston chair.  Although I’m seeing more and more of the copies around, the shape still grabs me.

I'd like to offer you a relaxing drink what would that be? Coffee, tea, or maybe something stronger and why is it your favorite?

I’m in and out of cafés, restaurants and function rooms all day, every day, so I’m continually drinking coffee.  I’m a big coffee drinker, but I don’t drink coffee at home. I live in Fitzroy North, most mornings before work I’ll drop in to a café, for a coffee and chat before starting my day. I vary my cafes depending upon who I would like to bump into. Around Fitzroy we are spoilt for choice.

My favorite drink is to enjoy a pinot noir from an oversized glass. I love the aromas of the currant or berry, the soft tannins and the rich lush taste of cherry and plum.

If it’s a late night, I’m partial to a cognac, if I’m having cheese.

A hot summer’s day it’s hard to go past a gin and tonic or an Aperol and blood orange juice.

How did you first become involved with food and how did your career develop?

I’m a chef by trade, although I don’t get to rattle many pans these days. I almost enjoy it when things go wrong so I have a chance to jump behind the range and cook a few meals.

After my apprenticeship I opened one of the first cafés of a modern style in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. The Fitz had a philosophy of serving restaurant style meals in a café environment.  It became so busy I opened a second shop two doors down to enable us to hold more stock and include a preparation area.  The front section was Melbourne’s first serious juicery, Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix described it in one of their books as one of Melbourne’s top ten hidden secrets.

I have owned and operated eight food businesses across Melbourne.

Rowland’s is a major brand in the food market. How did you come to join the company?

I joined Rowlands as director of wine and food after selling the Fitz in 1993 and instantly loved the challenge of the new job.

Tell me about Rowland Projects?

Rowland Projects has grown out of necessity.  As the company expanded, the demand for hospitality solutions grew.  Initially it was a department that serviced our own sites and then expanded to a consultancy.  We design food establishments with better kitchen flow, minimise the crossing over of staff and maximising the consistency of a central kitchen. From a kitchen background and having CAD drawing skills I had the ability to streamline menus, design establishments, develop systems, train staff, include the latest of kitchen technology and minimise costs. We now additionally contract to outside architects and designers.

What are some of the challenges involved with being GM of Rowland Projects?

We are always fighting for an increase in the footprint of back of house areas.  To be honest you only have to tell someone you’re bringing twenty people over to their house for dinner and they change their mind about size of kitchens and equipment needed.

Remote refrigeration or heat exchange of these motors and running water-cooled motors through the cooling towers of large multi-story buildings, grease traps and exhaust air with return air always present a design challenge.

What are some of the highlights of your time at Rowlands?

I loved the time I was sponsored by the Italian Government to eat across Italy. Can you imagine siting back with a blazing fire nearby in a room of a castle, eating a tomato blistered by the coals wrapped in malanzane encasing a buffalo mozzarella, it was delicious.

I loved the experience of tendering for a major event like the Grand Prix seventeen years ago when the event first came to Melbourne and then building a village to feed everyone.  The concept is still relevant today.

I loved it when Ron Walker, Chairman of Melbourne Major Events, requested I go to Manchester, England to cater for a large Australian party using Australian Ingredients to welcome the Commonwealth Games to Australia.

It still makes my hair stand on end when I walk between the many marquees and help to solve menu interpretations at the Birdcage over the Melbourne Cup period. 
I love it when I build and design a local café for an interested person and I sit down for the very first coffee served.

How has providing food and arranging events changed over the last decade?

Regulations, regulations, regulations

Hand basins within five meters, grease traps, canopies in marquees, food safety plans, energy ratings etc etc etc …

Temperature controlled core cooking, sous-vide, blast chilling and regulations, regulations, regulations !

What is the next exciting challenge for you personally?

I have vast experience in hospitality, from large-scale events, street level cafes, high-end corporate entertainment to boardrooms. I would like to give back to the community. As an example I mildly assisted in a new kitchen for Fare Share to help feed the homeless on large scale.  I found I wanted to give more of my time than required and it gave me new energy to contribute.  I’ll look around and contribute my services into similar projects.

Personally I’m into core good quality ingredients, and the local farmer is the hero.

As a hobby I attend two local accredited farmer's markets, Gasworks and Slow Food, Abbotsford Convent, as a stallholder selling my own muesli mix. It’s all about the high quality of core ingredients and the good they can provide for your body and wellbeing.

Steve Richardson, General Manager, Rowland Projects.

 

Postscript

I worked for Peter Rowlands as a contractor many years ago when I was a partner in a food business called Blakes Feast Wholesale. We created and made large volumes of food for organisations such as Rowlands who catered to major events. I remember one year delivering one tonne of salad in individual portions for the Grand Prix in Melbourne. Salad has never been the same since! Steve was working on this event but we didn't finally meet until a few years ago. 

Steve Richardson  

Steve Richardson