Occupying one of the remotest corners of New Zealand, the Tairāwhiti (Gisborne/Eastland) region is proving that geography does not need to be a barrier to a thriving economy.
Leading the way is local tribe Ngāti Porou.
Chairman of the Ngāti Porou Holding Company (Ngāti Porou Holdco) Matanuku Mahuika says that Ngāti Porou has a significant role in the development of region.
“We are one of the larger businesses and 45% of the Gisborne population are Māori. If this region is doing well that creates opportunities for our people.”
Ngāti Porou Holdco was estalished in 2012 as a subsidiary of Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou. It is the tribe’s commercial arm, with the distinct purpose to generate sustainable profits for the benefit of the tribe now and into the future.
The holding company has three main areas of interest and investment: managed funds (with NZD 150 million invested); legacy businesses including fisheries, farming and forestry; and emerging businesses and industries.
Such a diverse portfolio comes with its own set of challenges – largely being able to understand and manage such a wide range of business activities. The decision-making process can be slow as the Board makes sure any investment meets a wide range of objectives.
“We have to look at a number of criteria before we decide whether or not we want to invest. Does it make a financial return that is acceptable? Does it provide benefits above the financial return, such as employment? Does it have a local component and do we have capacity to execute it?”
Mahuika says Ngāti Porou Holdco operates under a very unique business model, not just driven by potential profits, but by the contribution it can make to the wider community.
One such example is its recent investment in manuka honey. As well as owning the land the manuka trees are on and harvesting the honey from hives, Mahuika says there is a real opportunity to expand its role far beyond just being a producer.
“The thing that is really attractive about manuka is the opportunity for the tribe, for the region and for our people. Currently we are producers but we don’t go a long way down the value chain. Part of our ambition is to create an environment where we have greater involvement by our people in the manuka honey business overall.”
This kind of innovative thinking is also driving the fisheries business, Ngāti Porou Fisheries. The creation of a new brand ‘Ahia Smoked Fish’ has allowed the exploration of new retail opportunities, adding value to fish species that were traditionally undervalued.
With other oportunities including tourism and the creation of a shared tech space on the Gisborne waterfront, Ngāti Porou Holdco is not resting on its laurels. And ANZ has been supporting it along the way.
“ANZ has been very supportive of us. There’s a branch locally so we can go and see someone if we need to. ANZ has helped us achieve our goals, including financing our honey company and the growth of the fishing business. They have also shared insights about what other iwi are doing and what we can be doing better,” says Mahuika.
And what they can be doing better is something Mahuika and his Board are regularly challenged on.
“We are owned by the tribe so we have a responsiblity to maintain the tribe’s values and make a contribution beyond cash returns. We are often asked, what are you doing to change the circumstances of our people?”
A lot has changed since the settlement between the Crown and Ngāti Porou in 2010 and the transfer of assets to Ngāti Porou Holdco in 2012, with the tribe now seeing regular returns on its investments.
“We have a lot of really talented people, so hopefuly if we do a good job we will get them coming back and sharing their skills and expertise. If we continue to do the things we are doing, then our future is a good future,” says Mahuika.