Embracing Maori identity Acon Industries’ secret to emerging success

A thriving Maori economy benefits everyone, says Acon Industries’ Eru Tuhakaraina.

Acon Industries, a thriving asphalt and chip sealing company based at Te Puna in the Bay of Plenty, is leading the way for Maori enterprise. Eru Tuhakaraina and his wife Erin started the company seven years ago after returning to New Zealand from Australia, after deciding it was time to move the whanau home. “I busted my gut day in and day out, 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week for 10 years for a company that in return treated me like a number. So I left and started something on the premise of knowing what I didn’t want it to look like.”

Eru started with a ute and tandem trailer that had a homemade asphalt hot box mounted to it, carrying out reinstatement and small asphalt patching jobs around Tauranga. “I would drive around my community and find someone that was home to come help me when I needed a hand.”

Today, Acon Industries employs 18 full-time staff and covers the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions providing asphalt and chip seal surfacings for local government and civil construction businesses in residential, commercial and industrial applications. Eru says the proudly Maori company is challenging traditional barriers of the business world every day. “We are a Maori business that is doing something that no one would have ever expected, we are emerging in a space inhabited by giants.”

Eru emphasises the well-being of staff remained at the forefront. “The desire is to not create an environment of rules and consequences to create obedience; we are whanau, so we look to build on concepts of whanau and tikanga in and at mahi. This is fraught with challenges, balancing acts and a lot of wananga, but is a course we have committed to as we believe there is merit for business and our communities when Maoritanga is present.”

“When we become economically capable and independent, we’ll have an increased ability to regain our rangatiratanga that we had before colonisation and land confiscations, and in a way that isn’t controlled by others.”

His time in Australia had opened up his eyes to the opportunities that existed back home. “I had observed success of privately owned business in the land of giants, and one in particular that we contracted to for three years, it was valuable beyond measure.”

The biggest hurdle is working in a market that is dominated by corporate magnates. Eru attributed this to government policy at a national level, economic planning and distribution at the local government level and procurement models catered more to the capability and capacity of large corporate entities. It is an age-old model that produces minimal economic return back into local economies and communities.

“Wages alone do not go far enough to create economic resilience in communities. New Zealand needs to recognise and accommodate for the 97% of total firms in the country have less than 20 employees, and in a Maori business context, SMEs make up the majority of the Maori economy.”

A thriving Maori economy benefits everyone, he adds. “A thriving Maori economy will enable us to uplift the capabilities of our own communities, ourselves and without total dependence on government putea. When we become economically capable and independent, we’ll have an increased ability to regain our rangatiratanga that we had before colonisation and land confiscations, and in a way that isn’t controlled by others.”

He said local Iwi had developed initiatives to nurture and grow a vibrant and more capable business ecosystem. “Encouraging enterprise is a long game that begins (in a Maori context) in creating belief in the ability of our next generation which will only derive from inspirational leadership in this generation.”

© Waterford Press Ltd 2024 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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