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Ready to grow and diversify

Ngati Porou Holding Company has a chief executive for the first time, Shayne Walker who is originally from Wairoa. Matai O’Connor talks to Mr Walker and holding company chairman Matanuku Mahuika . . .

A further step in the development and evolution of Ngati Porou Holding Company is how chairman Matanuku Mahuika describes the appointment of the company’s first dedicated chief executive officer, Shayne Walker.

Ngati Porou Holding Company started in 2012 and at last count had net equity of

$228.1 million, after paying dividends of $4.8m to Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou last year.

“To date we have relied on the CEO of the runanganui to oversee our operations,” Mr Mahuika says.

“He has done a great job but this places a lot of burden on him — and this will only increase as we grow and diversify, so the holding company decided it should appoint its own CEO.

“In this post-Covid world, a lot of our focus is going to be on ‘where are the opportunities, where can we invest to create further economic activity that will ultimately benefit our people?’

“We are looking at more direct investments because that’s where you create other economic benefits.

“Direct investments take a significant amount of time, energy and focus, and it has to be constant — that’s why Shayne is with us,” Mr Mahuika says.

Shayne Walker applied for the role of Ngati Porou Holding Company CEO because he says it had great alignment with his personal values of wanting to assist people to be the best they can be.

“I’ve always seen commerce and professional activity as a way of growing people and supporting people to be in a position where they can be their best selves and, ultimately, comfortable in life,” Mr Walker says.

He was also attracted to the idea of being based in Tairawhiti with Ngati Porou, because it is closer to his hometown of Wairoa.

He lives in Hawke’s Bay at the moment and will be relocating to the Tairawhiti with his whanau.

“I have a few good mates in Turanga, so I am looking forward to seeing them and strengthening those ties.”

Mr Walker was head of Maori business with the Bank of New Zealand and prior to that was general manager of Maungaharuru-Tangitu Trust, a $50m asset holding company.

His leadership skills and reputation also saw him appointed chair of Hawke’s Bay district health board in 2019. This is one of a number of leadership roles he has held over the past 15 years, across the public and community sectors, local government, private sector and te ao Maori. He holds an Executive Masters in Business Administration from Massey University.

Mr Walker says he likes how Ngati Porou Holding Company has investments in its own region to benefit its own people.

“A lot of iwi and businesses invest outside of their region and diversify like that to protect their assets, or might limit how much they can invest in their own area for their own people.

“Ngati Porou Holdings Company signed off on a strategy — Tahuna te Ahi — that I think is brilliant. It talks about moving towards more direct investment for Ngati Porou along the East Coast that then creates jobs and opportunities for whanau, hapu and iwi,” Mr Walker says.

“I think that’s huge and exciting.”

There are many works in progress, Mr Mahuika says.

“When Ngati Porou Holding Company was established the aim was to set a good foundation, bearing in mind that we are meant to be here for a long time,” Mr Mahuika says.

“As long as we pass things on in a better state than when we got them, and we have established a strong basis to continue to grow and develop, then we would have done our job.”

There is work being done on honey, blueberries and other diverse land uses.

“We also need to continue to engage with our people, because a lot of the assets owned by Ngati Porou are not on the holding company balance sheet,” Mr Mahuika says.

“The benefit of this engagement won’t necessarily flow through into the holding company profit and loss account, but developing our broader tribal capital will be important if we are going to realise our full potential.”

Diversification important for Holding Co

Like others with investment portfolios, Ngati Porou Holding Company took a hit when markets plummeted as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the diversified nature of the portfolio meant the company didn’t see as big a drop as the markets.

“The markets dropped between 20-30 percent at their worst point and we have been tracking our progress alongside those trends on a weekly basis,” Mr Mahuika says.

“The diversification of our investments worked well — first off, that we did not take a hit of the same magnitude as the markets.

“We were consistently tracking at about 50 percent of the hit the market took.

“Our strategy was to be able to continue to fund activities and not realise losses because, although it’s counter-intuitive, to sell when the market falls is not necessarily the thing to do because markets go in cycles and if you sell at the bottom of the market, you lock in that loss,” he says.

“The strategy was to hang in there throughout the Covid-19 lockdown period.

“There’s still volatility in the market but it has come back a long way.”

Diverse strategies are designed for opportunities and risks like that of Covid-19, Mr Walker says.

“The whole purpose of the diversification is so you don’t go too deep in the losses or too high for the rewards at any point, so as to remain consistent.

“You might lose money . . . the best you can hope for in these instances is to recover well.”

Ngati Porou Holding Company saw the first impacts of Covid-19 on forestry in January.

“Our focus at this time was on the crews and making sure they were still able to work,” Mr Mahuika says.

“Whether you love forestry or not, it’s a big employer in the region and therefore a big source of income for people.

“First of all, you don’t want to lose the crews from the industry and second, there’s the human aspect — where you want to make sure those people are OK.”

Mr Mahuika says they provided funding for the wellness centre for forestry workers and were “working hard to make sure the crews were taken care of”.

Ngati Porou Holding Company also contributed towards the wellness packs Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou distributed.

“We were involved in the initiative to make sure people had food during that time,” Mr Mahuika says.

“I’m looking forward to seeing data about the impact of Covid-19 on Ngati Porou,” Mr Walker says.

“Direct investments in the Coast could help — it’s quite exciting to see what we might be able to do.

“Hopefully we can use the data to help improve the lives of whanau.”

The quadruple bottom line, where social, cultural, environmental and economic improvements are measured, is “really important” for an iwi-led organisation, Mr Walker says.

“We are absolutely thinking about how we can have a greater impact, how we can use our balance sheet to create new opportunities,” Mr Mahuika says.

Providing support for things to happen is a large part of why the holding company exists.

“It doesn’t exist just for the sake of making money — it is generating growth and profits for a particular purpose,” he says.

“I think a ‘kindness economy’ is one that does things like caring for the environment, supporting industry for people, creating a better standard of living and opportunities for your people are things you look at alongside profit and growth

. . . if we not looking at those things, we are not being true to the reason we exist.”

“So I think a ‘kindness economy’ is one that looks beyond the numbers to the impact of the business on community, environment, even on culture.”

Mr Walker says “the ‘kindness economy’ korero has spun on from the circular economy . . . for me its manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga”.

“We are fortunate as Maori to have inherited these and naturally understand them.

“Iwi entities have been trying to implement these values of kindness by virtue for a long time.

“With Covid-19 it has heightened them and I think pushes everyone forward faster to make it real — how do we actually do it, and how do we measure it to best understand and have best positive impacts, not just for people but the environment too,” Mr Walker says.

“I don’t underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead but the question is: what do we need to do to move our people and our region forward?”

■ The 2019 annual report for Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou showed Ngati Porou Holding Company net equity grew to $228.1m. Its total assets were $240.4m, up from $230.4m in 2018, while holding company earnings of $9.8m (from revenue of $21.9m) was down from $16.1m (on revenue of $30.6m) in 2018. A 4.1 percent return on assets was down from 7.2 percent in 2018.

The holding company’s key investments are in Ngati Porou Seafood and Pakihiroa Farm.

Ngati Porou Seafood profit was $1.02m, down from $1.3m in 2018. Pakihiroa farm profit was $0.62m, up from $0.4m in 2018.

There was nil sale of carbon credits, down from $3.3m in 2018. No harvesting of forestry occurred during the 2019 financial year.

NEW CEO: Shayne Walker has taken up a new role of chief executive for the around $230m-strong Ngati Porou Holding Company and says he likes how it invests in its own region to benefit its own people. Pictures supplied
Holding company chair Matanuku Mahuika.