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'Best Maori employer' bases success on cultural values

Maori-owned milk processor and exporter Miraka holds Maori values of guardianship and sustainability as the cornerstones of its business.

At the heart of that, says chief executive Richard Wyeth, is “nurturing our world” and protecting the environment in which it operates.

“Kaitiakitanga is number one,” Wyeth says, listing innovation, integrity, tikanga and excellence as the other four.

“They have been critically important in terms of driving our business.  We’re focused on delivering kaitiakitanga but it’s a wider definition than just sustainability. The real focus is around making sure we’re not just looking after the basic environment but the human aspect as well.”

Wyeth points to farmer incentive programme Te Ara Miraka, which pays suppliers 20c/kg of milk solids if they meet externally audited milk quality, prosperity, kaitiatitangi, animal welfare and environmental standards.

“When we tell our stories about our brand we can point to that and say ‘this is a standard we have developed and it is why our milk is in the best in the world’.”

New suppliers are hosted at a powhiri to manaaki them into the business: “We’ve had new farmers who have never been on a marae before, so quite often it’s their first experience as 60-year-olds. It’s trying to show that we are a whanau business and if you’re part of Miraka, we have to work together to achieve success.

“To me, that’s the unique part of the Maori businesses: delivering on those Maori values.”

Miraki is owned by a group of Maori trusts and incorporations and had its genesis when the Wairarapa Moana Incorporation, which owned 10,000 dairy cows, and geothermal power station owner Tuaropaki Trust decided to work together to get a better return on their investments, and were joined by Waipapa 9 Trust, Hauhungaroa Partnership, Tauhara Moana Trust and Huiarau Farms.

The processing factory in Mokai, 30km northwest of Taupō, is the only dairy factory in the world to use geothermal energy - from the Mokai field - to process milk, exporting milk powder and UHT milk to more than 20 countries around the world. It sources milk from 100 farms in an 85km radius of the factory, employing 120 people - it is looking to hire plant operators, technical managers, quality control coordinator and maintenance technicians – from the neighbouring catchments of Taupo, Rotorua and Tokoroa. Late last year was named best Maori agribusiness employer in the country.

“Tikanga is one of our values and the way we describe that is respecting diversity. We have 10-15 cultures within Miraka so, yes, we have a strong Maori staffing base, but we also have staff from all over the world,” Wyeth says.

He admits to having a great sense of pride at being at the helm of a successful “Maori” business - but profit is just as important.

“We’ve been profitable since day one. We are a $200 million business that’s generating dividends back to shareholders since inception and we have one of the strongest balance sheets of all dairy companies. In terms of our debt ratios and ability to grow, we’re well positioned. We’re very focused on what we do and we do it well.

“We’re certainly an example of what a successful Maori business can look like.”

And Wyeth says the Maori economy is only going to grow: “There’s a lot of horsepower within the Maori economy and that is only going to get better and better. I think you’ll see more active investment in the future – it’s only going to become stronger.”

Posted: Mon 11 Feb 2019