Outstanding Māori business leaders recognised in University Awards

07 May 2018

Heading the internationally recognised Whale Watch Kaikōura, creating an online Māori warrior wahine to harness the power of gaming, and developing a financial literacy tool used by tens of thousands of students are just some of the local smarts that have been recognised among the winners of this year’s University of Auckland Aotearoa Māori Business Leaders Awards.

Associate Professor Carla Houkamau, Associate Dean, Māori and Pacific of the Auckland Business School, which runs the awards, says that latest estimates put the Māori economy at $50 billion, with iwi assets at $7.8 billion.

“These awards not only raise awareness of some of the many Māori business successes, they also help inspire our own tauira to take their place in a growing economy grounded in Māori world views,” she says.


Outstanding Māori Business Leader Award: Kauahi Ngapora of Whale Watch Kaikōura – Recovery and beyond

Kauahi Ngapora (Ngāi Tahu, Waikato-Tainui) started out at Whale Watch Kaikōura as a caregiver (read: sea sickness bucket emptier) at age 15. Whale Watch is Aotearoa’s only vessel-based whale watching company, offering close encounters with the giant sperm whale at sea year-round.

He worked his way through many roles, learning about every facet of the renowned Māori tourism company, and in 2009, at age 31, was promoted to the top job.

Tourism was entering an uncertain period with the ongoing repercussions of the global financial crisis, exacerbated by the Christchurch 2010/11 earthquakes. The Kaikōura 2016 earthquake halted operations until late 2017.

Ngapora says the tough times made him a better manager. “There is still much to do to return Whale Watch to where it should be, and this recovery journey is my main focus.”

Born and bred in Kaikōura, he and wife Awhi Lee have four kids – the eldest now works at Whale Watch.

“What drives me is my whānau and their future, the people around me and honouring the legacy of the founders of Whale Watch, and contributing to Tino Rangatiratanga for Māori.”

Ngapora says he is humbled by the award, which took him by surprise.

“I graciously accept this acknowledgement on behalf of the Whale Watch whānau who have provided me with the opportunities I have grasped, my whānau who sacrifice much so I can do what I enjoy, and the many others who have supported and mentored me throughout my journey to date - especially (founder) Wally Stone.”

He says that integrity, being inclusive, a drive to see others around you succeed and keeping people at the heart of decision-making are key to being an excellent Māori leader.


Māori Entrepreneurial Leader Award: Maruhaeremuri Nihoniho MNZM of Metia Interactive – Learning through play

Maruhaeremuri Nihoniho (Ngāti Porou, Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāi Tahu) harnesses the power of gaming for education and mental health. She is behind Metia Interactive, an award-winning game development studio in Tāmaki Makaurau. In the 2000s, she collaborated with University of Auckland researchers to create SPARX, which has been proven to help teenagers diagnosed with mild depression. “We basically computerised a cognitive behavioural therapy.”

Before that, she produced several commercial games, including “Cube” for PlayStation.

Today, her focus is on creating fun and entertaining games that are meaningful, incorporating Māori themes including te reo. She has just finished developing a game called Tākaro that teaches the concepts behind coding and systems thinking. (Tākaro means “play”.)

“The goal is to encourage rangatahi into technology-based study at tertiary level, she says.  “Our tamariki and rangatahi are growing up using these technologies and I think that they should understand or know how to make content for them in the least. At best, they will be the future content creators and technologists.”

Born in Ōtautahi, she grew up playing Space Invaders and Defender, and later Tomb Raider and God of War. She moved to Tāmaki Makaurau at 19 and has lived there since. She is married with three children, aged 20, 17 and 8 years.

“It’s an honour to be recognised for the mahi I do,” she says. She hopes awards like this will inspire other Māori to become entrepreneurs.


Young Māori Business Leader Award: Kendall Flutey of Banqer -“Knowledge is power”

One weekend in 2015, Kendall Flutey (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu) got talking to her 12-year-old brother about what he’d just learnt in school about money. “I really couldn’t believe the conversations I was having with him,” she says. “It was obvious that these lessons had changed the trajectory of his life.”

It also changed hers. She teamed up with his teacher and a few helpers to make an online version of the lessons, and simulated online banking platform Banqer was born.

“At first the focus was just one classroom, but soon we realised the impact Banqer was having on the students. Seeing that first-hand, and the effects on my brother, was a real driver and still drives me today,” says Flutey, 27, who lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch with her partner and Banqer COO Simon Brown. “When it comes to money, knowledge is power.”

Flutey partnered with Kiwibank and now more than 40 percent of primary and intermediate schools can access the platform, which teaches concepts of saving, investing, borrowing and purchasing by turning the classroom into a virtual economy. Last year, Banqer began rolling out to students across Australia, working in partnership with FPA and Netwealth. Today it is used by more than 63,000 students in Australasia – 57,000 in Aotearoa – and the social enterprise is eying up expansion to the United States, Canada and Singapore.

Meanwhile, a te reo version of the platform is being developed – Flutey says input is welcome from anyone passionate about financial literacy in tamariki.

“I love that we genuinely prioritise purpose alongside profit, making decisions that a traditional business wouldn’t - we’re thinking about the people and the long-term social change.”

She is “extremely honoured and humbled” to be recognised by this award, and stresses Banqer was a team effort. “Although it can be difficult to stand up and receive recognition it’s vital that we continue to celebrate young Māori in business to see more of it. We need to share the successes, the failures, and the close calls far and wide so that we see others putting themselves out there without fear or apprehension.”


Winners left to right: Kauahi Ngapora (Outstanding); Maruhaeremuri Nihoniho (Entrepreneurial); Whaimutu Dewes (Governance); Kendall Flutey (Young); Mark Ngata (Leadership); Rachel Taulelei (Woman); Maru Samuels (Leadership)
Winners left to right: Kauahi Ngapora (Outstanding); Maruhaeremuri Nihoniho (Entrepreneurial); Whaimutu Dewes (Governance); Kendall Flutey (Young); Mark Ngata (Leadership); Rachel Taulelei (Woman); Maru Samuels (Leadership)

Māori Woman Business Leader Award: Rachel Taulelei MZNM of Kono - Top indigenous kai

Rachel Taulelei (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Koata) is all about excellent kai and inu. For 20 years, she has championed Aotearoa as a producer of premium food and beverages – first as NZ Trade Commissioner in Los Angeles, then as founder of acclaimed sustainable seafood company Yellow Brick Road, and now as CEO of Kono NZ.

A vertically integrated, family-owned Māori food and beverage producer that employs over 400 staff, Kono farms 530 hectares of land and sea and exports to over 25 countries. Its brands include Tohu, Aronui, and Kono wines, Tutū cider, Kono mussels and Annies fruit bars. Kono is also involved with lobster, and growing apples, pears, kiwifruit and hops. Says Taulelei, “Our ambition is to be the best indigenous food and beverage business in the world.”

That means being “driven, smart, and responsive to global consumer demands”, she says. “Our anchor lies in remaining cognisant of our role as kaitiaki – ensuring deep care for our people, whenua and moana.”

Her kaupapa is Māori excellence – “creating a space where our capability meets our potential, because what’s good for Māori is great for the world.

“What drives me is the fundamental belief that anything is possible.”

Taulelei lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Pōneke) with husband Walter (Chair of Wellington Basketball) and daughter 13-year-old Lilly. She works out of Nelson and Blenheim, and also holds directorships in various NGOs, primary industry, and Wellington-related organisations, including Moana New Zealand and Wellington Regional Stadium Trust.

“This award is a recognition of momentous team effort,” she says. “Shining a light on Māori women in business ensures we are visible to young wāhine, which makes it infinitely easier for young women and even young Māori men to identify themselves in future positions of leadership.”


Maōri Governance Leader Award: Whaimutu Dewes – For a new generation of leaders

Governance – charting the direction of organisations, working with management to realise the big picture – deserves the same recognition as executive-level leadership. In his many directorships, Whaimutu Dewes (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Rangitihi) has been instrumental in milestone developments in New Zealand constitutional law, particularly the recognition of Tiriti o Waitangi property rights and structures to realise the economic outcomes of those rights. He has negotiated significant joint ventures in forestry, carbon sequestration, seafood harvest and global marketing.

Currently, he is on the board of Contact Energy and is the chairman of Ngāti Porou Forests, Moana New Zealand, Sealord Group and Ngāti Porou Seafoods. He is also non-executive director of the Treasury Board and a member of Ngāti Porou Holding Company. He lives in Tairāwhiti Gisborne.

His kaupapa is “growth of opportunity for the new generation(s) of leaders to realise the aspiration of our forbears – kia ora tonu ai te Iwi; tona ake reo; tona ake tikanga; moake tonu atu.”

A strong advocate of te reo revitalisation, he and wife Judy have raised their children to be bilingual.

“This award represents recognition of the efforts of the host of people that have guided me and allowed me the privilege of being present during their successes – including my wife who has enabled our children to be proud, capable New Zealanders, fluent in te reo Māori.”


Outstanding Māori Business Leadership Award: Iwi Collective Partnership – Stronger together

The Iwi Collective Partnership (ICP) is the largest collective of iwi Māori commercial fisheries interests. Formed in 2010, it pools 16,000+ metric tonnes of fisheries resources owned by 15 iwi, allowing it to optimise returns and create economics of scale to better manage, protect and grow the pot for all members. It also gives out scholarships, seafood training grants, iwi development funding and customary fisheries initiatives.

Says Tāmaki Makaurau-based general manager Maru Samuels: “We have tended to operate below the radar, focused on doing the mahi. So it was a big surprise to find out about this award. It is an honour not only for the board and management but every one of our Iwi representatives.”

For an organisation like ICP, he says, leadership starts with listening, and a heart motivated to improve the wellbeing of their whanau and tribes. “While we strive to be commercially successful on a global scale, ultimately we exist to support jobs, to fund health and social programmes for the benefit of our people.”

He says the ICP embodies the same values that guided their tīpuna who ruled Aotearoa’s commercial seafood industry in the 1800s.

Tairāwhiti Gisborne-based chairman Mark Ngata sums it up: “Ehara te ika noa iho, ko tatau a tatau tonu (It’s not just about the fish, it’s about us).”

Ngata says the award acknowledges that “collaboration and collectivisation of iwi is the only future of Maori in the fisheries sector if we are to be a dominant force again. Maori fisheries as a sector needs to be more active and influential than it is currently as we are too fragmented. The ICP can and will play a greater role in promoting and providing that collaboration along with Te Ohu and our companies like Moana New Zealand and Sealord.”



Nicola ShepheardTel: 09 923 1515         Mob: 027 537 1319     Email: n.shepheard@auckland.ac.nz

The awards are sponsored by: Bank of New Zealand, Ngāi Tahu Holdings, He kai kei aku ringa - The Crown-Māori Economic Development Strategy, Te Tumu Paeroa, Chapman Tripp, University of Auckland Business School, Fonterra, Vodafone, and Tohu Wines. The awards are supported by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and the taonga are provided by Waewae Pounamu.


List of Winners

Outstanding Māori Business Leader Award: Te Tohu Kairangi mō te Kaiārahi Pakihi Māori

Kauahi Ngapora (Whale Watch Kaikōura GM)

Young Māori Business Leader Award: Te Tohu mō te Kaiārahi Rangatahi Māori i ngā mahi Pakihi

Kendall Flutey (Banqer co-founder and CEO)

Māori Woman Business Leader Award: Te Tohu mō te Kaiārahi Wahine Māori i ngā mahi Pakihi

Rachel Taulelei (Kono CEO)

Māori Governance Award: Te Tohu mō te Kaiārahi Whakahaere Māori

Whaimutu Dewes (Chairman of Moana New Zealand and Sealord Group, and a number of other governance roles)

Māori Entrepreneurial Leader Award: Te Tohu mō te Kaiārahi Rakahinonga Māori

Maruhaeremuri Nihoniho (Metia Interactive founder and MD)

Outstanding Māori Business Leadership Award (for organisations): Te Tohu Kairangi mō te Pakihi Māori Ihorei

Iwi Collective Partnership