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Maori businesses urged to exploit their X-factor

6 September 2012

Maori businesses urged to exploit their X-factor

Having a Maori schoolkid greet a Chinese businessman out in the wilds of East Cape – speaking perfect Mandarin – is the kind of distinctive touch that gives Maori business its edge.

It certainly worked for Sir Wira Gardiner and the new company he is involved in, New Zealand Manuka.

“He was a Chinese investor looking for a business partner in New Zealand and he had seen all the flash people, who had wined and dined him. So we did exactly the opposite,” Sir Wira told an industries conference in Rotorua last week.

“We took him to a rural area, Whangaparaoa [where the company works in partnership with local Maori], and a boy from the local school got up and mihi-ed him in Mandarin. That was the breakthrough for us – the moment the student started speaking, his eyes lit up.”

The resulting deal, signed in June, secured potential revenue of $8 million to New Zealand Manuka and gave the fledgling company’s manuka honey health products access to 1700 outlets in China.

Opening the Nga Whetu Hei Whai: Charting Pathways for Maori Industry Futures conference, Sir Wira, a founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal and former chief executive of the Ministry of Maori Development, said: “That agreement came from relationships; from doing the unexpected; and from doing the only thing we’ve got as Maori, te reo me ona tikanga [the language and its culture] – you’ve got to play to that strength.”

The point of difference that Maori could offer in the business world was a recurring theme of the two-day conference organised by Te Putea Whakatupu Trust, an education, training and workforce development organisation established in 2004 under the Maori Fisheries Act.

Te Horipo Karaitiana, chief executive of the Federation of Maori Authorities, saw being Maori as a distinctive plus-factor on the international stage.

“Whenever we’re building businesses at an international, national or local level, we need to be mindful of the concepts of comparative and competitive advantage. I’d put to you that there’s one more – our distinctive advantage: our cultural advantage.

“Being Maori makes a difference internationally – I see it all the time. We have a long-term, inter-generational view. In China, there is a concept called guanxi – a concept similar to whakawhanaungatanga (relationship-building). We understand that concept, so we’re one step ahead of everyone else,” he told the conference.

“The Maori nation is a developing nation within the developed country of New Zealand. We’re worth about $36 billion according to latest BERL report and we have to ask ourselves ‘what is the future of the Maori nation?’ It’s a real simple answer: Whatever we decide it will be.”

Looking back to Maori success as international traders in the 1830s to 1860s, Mr Karaitiana said: “Maori enterprise is absolutely prospering again.”

“It’s an exciting future for our young people coming through, steering these large-scale businesses that are based on collective asset bases, into global value chains. I know that Maori and what we’re motivated to do will change this country.”

Te Putea Whakatupu Trust chairman Richard Jefferies was delighted to have brought together so many prominent Maori business leaders for the trust’s second annual conference.

“We need to collaborate and ask ourselves what will key Maori industries look like in 30 or 40 years, and how do we get there?” Mr Jefferies said.

“The aim is to identify a strategic vision for Maori industry and support our economic growth through education and skills development.

“With the assistance of industry leaders, the trust will develop education and training strategies to boost Maori capability at middle and senior management level and help provide the skills that these key industries will need from their workforce in the future.”

More than 20 other speakers included Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples; Aotearoa Fisheries chairman Whaimutu Dewes and its chief executive Carl Carrington; Ngati Porou Seafood Group general manager Mark Ngata; agriculture consultant Hilton Collier; Tutehounuku Korako, director of International Inbound Travel Services; Antony Turoa Royal, chairman of the Maori Broadband Working Group and a director of 2Degrees; Hemi Rolleston, chief executive of horticulture company HukaPak; governance strategist Rawinia Kamau; and Hinerangi Raumati, former chief financial officer of Tainui Group Holdings.

An international perspective was provided by keynote speaker Sophie Pierre, a member of the British Columbia Treaty Commission and a representative of Canadian First Nations.


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