June 30, 2021The National PeopleBy PETER ESILA
James Rice is torn between leaving the country he has come to love, and returning to his family in the United States.
As the chief executive officer of Paradise Foods Limited, it is almost natural to him to come down from that high level to mixaround with ordinary Papua New Guineas, visiting villages, sleeping in their huts, sharing their meals.
“I am stuck between a country I love and my family. I will be stepping down from my role as CEO of the ParadiseGroup of companies so that I can return to the US. The Covid-19 pandemic has left me separated from my friends and family from the start. That situation probably has another year to go.”
He told of how more than one year ago when he and other expats went on a motorcycle trip from Madang to Mt Wilhelm.“You will not find our route on a map because we did not take a road. We travelled on a track but miscalculated the time. The sun had set before we arrived in Kundiawa. We found a village and asked the people if we could stay with them. They agreed. The family slept outside and let us foreigners sleep in their hut, sharing only two beds. They fed us a small dinner and breakfast. But I know this was Melanesian hospitality at its best. I will never forget that.”James grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, California and attended the University of California.
“After I graduated from university, I went to China to work. I have been working outside the US all my life. Discovering new places and new cultures has always been fascinating to me.”Since becoming the Paradise Food’s bossman in July 2019, James has visited 18 of the 22 provinces.
“I tell every foreigner that Port Moresby is not PNG. The best of PNG are the people outside the cities. In the Highlands and Niugini Islands, you will find a country that never lost its traditions and culture. The people are amazing and friendly. This country is full of smiles and people waving.
“I have loved seeing the traditional way of life. I have appreciated seeing the life of everyday Papua New Guineans and I have really enjoyed the stories that local people have told me.“The country is full of sounds, smells, and sights that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. It is really paradise.”Rice has a large PNG following on LinkedIn, an influencer in PNG issues.
“I have enjoyed my direct connection with the people of PNG. Other foreigners say I became famous for stating the obvious, but I do not agree with them. I say things Papua New Guineans think but are too polite or too humble to say. Maybe it’s better for me to say it. I can brag about PNG so they don’t have to.”Looking back, James is honoured to have led Paradise and Laga. He will remain involved with the company and continue to work for the board of directors on strategy, business development and new markets.
Under him, Paradise Foods:
- BECAME the first private company to have a full time pastor
- PAID full wages to employees during the Covid-19 State of Emergency last year
- BECAME the first company to announce a freeze in prices at the beginning of the SOE last year
- RECORDED a growth of up 32 per cent last year during the pandemic
- CREATED Rok Rok Ice Cream “because I wanted a PNG version of Cookies N’Cream”
- CREATED 175 new jobs in 2020
- LOCALIZED production of ice cream cones creating 18 new jobs
- LOCALIZED sourcing of raw materials such as peanut butter, vanilla, and coffee flavorings;
- PUT a Bible verse on its packaging
- REDUCED expatriates from 12 to 6.
“Leaving PNG will be sad for me, but I’m happy not to be losing my connection with the country, the company, and all the friends I have made here.”