Rodney Payne

Bachelor of Business (Commerce) and Bachelor of Law (Hons) and CEO of Destination Think!

Some say you should explore the world before deciding what to study, but Rodney Payne did it the other way round – and university showed him how to make travel his job.

Destination unknown

Pinning Rodney down to talk about his job is difficult.

It's not just because he's busy in meetings but because he's busy in meetings across several continents and time zones. London, Vancouver, New York, Sydney… We grabbed him in Sydney, at his Australian headquarters in Surry Hills before heading back to the northern hemisphere.

"In my fourth year of university I was walking through campus and stumbled across a door with a sign that read 'International Office'," he says.

"That seemed interesting, so I went in."

Rodney says he enjoyed learning and the environment at the University of Adelaide, but at that point had already figured out the corporate lawyer career path usually associated with studying law and commerce wasn't for him.

Less than two months after venturing into the International Office, Rodney was stepping through the doors of a plane bound for Eugene, Oregon.

"I'd never heard of Eugene and barely heard of Oregon, but I stumbled on one of the most amazing experiences you can hope for," he says.

Rodney's international scholarship from the South Australian government was only meant to keep him at the University of Oregon for a semester, but he enjoyed it so much he talked his way into an extended visa and a full year of study in the US, earning enough credits for certificates in environmental and international law.

He didn't even have time to ask for the certificates to be awarded however, as his experiences as an Australian studying with Americans inspired a business idea that would come to be known as the Platypus Express.

Tourism Australia and some State tourism bodies funded the idea, which saw Rodney and three friends travel across the US in a bus promoting Australia as a destination to college students – not bad work if you can get it.

This in turn led Payne into the tourism world, where he co-founded Destination Think, a destination marketing consultancy agency for some of the world's biggest tourism brands such as Tourism and Events Queensland, Tourism Montreal, Tourism Victoria, Visit Huntington Beach and Destination British Columbia.

Payne runs a large team across four offices in the US, Europe and Australia, and is especially chuffed that one of the team is his wife Lindsay, who he gets to work and travel with as she roams the world producing the company's three global conferences.

"We've grown a multi-million dollar consultancy/agency from scratch, simultaneously across four markets," he says.

"We've done it with no investment, so that opens up a lot of challenges in itself; systems implementation, different currencies/accountants/lawyers, international transfer pricing, different cultures and language barriers, not to mention managing cashflow through the early stages of business."

Payne said that even though he has ended up in tourism marketing, he certainly doesn't regret choosing law and commerce when he first started out in his studies, claiming he uses the skills acquired from university most days.

"Reflecting back, I can see that study developed my analytical skills," he says.

"Processing large amounts of information (ie: cramming for exams) has been a huge asset – knowing that you have the ability to complete what seem like impossible tasks in far less time than you'd expect.

"That's helped me with quick thinking, and the confidence to make decisions with imperfect information.

"And lastly; a law degree has really helped me to separate issues when problem solving when making business decisions in an executive setting and to help others do the same when managing people in teams."

He says even more important was the freedom and energy of university life, and the time he had to pursue other interests and pursue a variety of jobs. Rodney valued the exposure to lots of intelligent people from different cultures and walks of life, and the opportunity to get involved in kiteboarding and skiing clubs – he even joined an Ultimate Frisbee team so he could participate in the University Games (it was the only team with any space left, so he went for it).

In terms of advice to people considering university, Rodney recommended just starting "something".

"It is ok to change degrees mid-way through," he said.

"I changed from Economics to Commerce, which seemed like an enormous decision at the time."

Looking back now, Rodney claims he could barely even remember switching courses at all.

 "Your degree doesn't have to define your career," he said.

"It's the first step towards an exciting journey."

Bachelor of Commerce Bachelor of Laws

Rodney drinking coffee… probably somewhere exotic

Your degree doesn't have to define your career. It just helps you get started.

Reflecting back, I can see that study developed my analytical skills.

(Uni) helped me with quick thinking, and the confidence to make decisions with imperfect information.

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