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FWA sold sight unseen – the rugby champ ready to tackle NZ tourism

21 Jan 2022  By Paul Yandall | | @tourismticker

A high-flying television executive and former professional rugby player is acquiring Forgotten World Adventures, agreeing to buy the operator before even visiting it.

The sale of Forgotten World Adventures will complete in February. Image: FWA

Paris-based Kiwi Grant Ross will take over the Taumarunui business after relocating his family this month to New Zealand from France.

FWA came to market last April but founders Ian and Rachel Balme withdrew it in July after finding it difficult to secure a good buyer. But the sale for an undisclosed sum has now gone unconditional.

Ross, now a television industry consultant after working in European media, most prominently as global head of format acquisitions for Dutch giant Endemol, originally hails from Wellington but has lived in Europe for 31 years.

The nearly two-metre tall lock left New Zealand in 1989 to play rugby in South Africa and then France, winning the prestigious European Cup with French club Brive and the national championship with Stade Français.

Grant Ross

A career in European television followed, but Ross and his partner Laura decided last year to relocate to New Zealand to give their children a Kiwi upbringing. Two teenage daughters from an earlier relationship would remain in Paris, keeping Ross’ connection to France strong.

“When we decided to move back to New Zealand, I was really looking for a third challenge in my life after two previous challenges [rugby and television],” Ross told the Ticker from Paris.

“I wanted to buy a company in New Zealand. I didn’t know what but I knew I needed to avoid two sectors – hospitality and tourism.”

But after considering 125 companies in New Zealand to acquire, FWA stood out.

“When I started poking around, I realised it was the only company that I had looked at in six months that had got me excited,” Ross said.

“I even tried to push it away but Forgotten World has been doing extremely well, it was doing so before the borders closed and even better since.

“Still, I tried to move on but realised I was going to bed at night thinking about Forgotten World. What do I like about it? It was the only business that I looked at that I could feel there was a strong culture within the company.”

Ross said the Balmes had not only built a good business but had also instilled great values focused on the team environment – an enduring legacy for the company as the founders looked to retire.

“I’ve always worked in team environments, I’ve never achieved anything by myself. I could feel a culture within Forgotten World that I just did not feel anywhere else.”

Grant Ross

He turned to family and friends in New Zealand for further advice and hands-on experience of the attraction, as well as consumer reviews, and they were all overwhelmingly positive.

“After that, there was no way I could look at another company.”

Ross and his family of four, which includes a toddler and a seven-week-old baby, are scheduled to enter New Zealand’s managed isolation tomorrow. The family planned to settle in the Cambridge area, close to Ross’ family, and he hoped to visit FWA before the purchase settlement date of 28 February.

“I may have bought it without visiting it but not really blindly because I believe I know what I’m getting,” he said.

“I’m getting an operation that has been run incredibly smoothly because there’s a fantastic general manager in place, Kara Matheson, and a team that loves their company, loves their region, and loves what they do.”

While he was new to tourism, he believed his experience in television would help, although he had no plans to alter the “well-oiled machine” at FWA.

“Television is about producing experiences that make people happy. If you can produce a unique experience that exceeds the expectations of your customer, well then you build a [business] and a pretty big marketing team.”

Despite many in New Zealand tourism struggling without international tourists, Ross was optimistic for the future of the sector.

“We all know this pandemic is not forever, and there is light at the end of this tunnel,” he said.

“Everybody has their point of view about what will happen when borders slightly open or fully open, but I have no idea.

“All I know is that New Zealanders love supporting New Zealand-owned and run businesses, and when those borders do open, New Zealand will be a fantastic country to come and enjoy.”


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