Founder and CEO - Made Group Ltd.
For someone with a vision to create one of Auckland’s most enduring residential developments school wasn’t exactly an early indicator of his potential.
Spending most of his time at Auckland Boys Grammar in one of the lower academic streams, Charles Ma admits that his later career and university achievements would have been considered very unlikely based on his earlier school results.
“It wasn’t until I got to sixth form that one of my calculus teachers saw something in me. Up until that point I wasn’t particularly motivated at school but for the first time in my life I kicked into high gear and managed to gain just enough marks to scrape into university; but not enough to get into engineering which is what I had set my heart on doing.”
Deciding to take matters into his own hands and with a steely resolve to prove himself, Charles patiently waited outside the office of the Dean of Engineering for three days until finally being granted an appointment.
“I remember that meeting vividly. He looked at me, looked at his screen displaying my very mediocre school marks and then proceeded to tell me that I would never get into Engineering because my grades would follow me for the rest of my life.
Obviously it wasn’t what I expected to hear so I walked out of his office determined to prove him wrong.”
Enrolling in five papers and quickly realising how far he was behind the rest of his class, Charles began studying in earnest. Monday to Saturday he was at his desk working harder than he had ever done previously, but frustrated at his reading speed which made progress slow and was holding him back.
Satisfied with his efforts and feeling he had done enough work to pass the results said otherwise. He had failed all five papers.
“The psychology of that experience was both searing and formative. I decided not to give up but I also realised I needed a whole new approach if I was ever going to get through my degree. I stopped studying the way I had previously and developed my own way of learning and studying. I felt I needed to find wisdom within myself and whatever I did it worked. My grades began to improve dramatically.”
Returning to see the same Dean a year later who was understandably impressed, this time the tables were turned.
“I told him that unless I could do a conjoint B.Com / B.Eng I wouldn’t do engineering. Having already proven what I was capable of achieving he relented and agreed to my request.
I was very emotional. I had been given a second chance but I had also found my own way of learning. It was less about engaging my brain and more about learning from passion and stimulating my curiosity. I felt that my academic abilities had literally been awakened in a way they hadn’t been previously.”
Graduating with his conjoint degree, including gaining honours in Civil Engineering, Charles has gone on to complete executive education programmes at Harvard, Stanford and London Business School. “Stanford had a big impact on me. When I first visited its beautiful, sprawling campus as a tourist I made three promises to myself. One was to study there, which I’ve now done, the second was to create a development on a similar scale that made a statement to the world, and the third was to leave an enduring legacy as the original founders [Leland and Jane Stanford] have done.”
That vision is now being realised through an ambitious development Charles has called Auranga near Drury on the outskirts of Auckland. When completed, it could potentially contain more than 12,000 homes.
“I initially brought 4ha with my mother when we really couldn’t afford it. I don’t come from a wealthy family but we subsequently raised enough money to buy a further 80ha. I want this to be a world class development that Aucklanders can be proud of with lots of wide open spaces and a real sense of community.”
Proving that success is what you make of it, Charles believes that creating places that promote well-being is central to his development philosophy.
“I am passionate about seeing more people realise their potential, and I believe belonging is the first step in liberating that potential. I want Auranga to be that place where you feel like you belong.”
Not bad for someone who showed little potential himself earlier in his life.