Maori business leaders recognised
Photo: Carmen Bird
Jason Witehira (pictured) started stacking supermarket shelves at age 16. Thirty-two years on, he owns New World Victoria Park in the wealthy Auckland suburb of Freemans Bay, and lends his expertise to the Foodbowl, an open-access processing plant used as a testing ground for new food products. 
His achievements were honoured at the Aotearoa NZ Māori Business Leaders Awards 2016, where he received the Outstanding Māori Business Leaders Award.
“Personally I am very humbled to be categorised alongside other amazing people that have won this award before me,” he says. “Professionally I am very proud to be acknowledged and intend to continue to add value within the Māori economy where I can.”
The awards are run by the University of Auckland Business School, and are widely regarded as the nation’s premier Māori Business awards. A steering committee of Māori business and government figures from throughout the country guide selection of the winners.
“These awards are an occasion to recognise the tremendous contribution that leaders – individuals, organisations and their communities – make to a strong and growing economy that is grounded in Māori worldviews,” says Dr Chellie Spiller, Associate Dean, Māori and Pacific.
The breadth and depth represented by the 2016 winners testify to a mature and burgeoning Māori economy, which has grown from an estimated asset base of $9.4 billion in 2001 to $40 billion in 2015, she says. Some analysts forecast this figure could top $100 billion in the next few years.
Winners come from food retail, agribusiness, property, tourism, sport and fitness, small business and organisational development.
Jaimie Tuuta received the Young Māori Business Leaders Award. Since Tuuta was appointed Māori Trustee in 2011, he has overseen the renaming of the Trust as Te Tumu Paeroa, and worked to make it more responsive to owners of the 100,000 hectares of land that it administers.
Miriana Stephens won the Māori Woman Business Leaders Award. Stephens is a director for Wakatū Incorporation, producer of premium food and beverages such as Tohu wines and Kono premium seafoods. She also runs small business and money management courses for communities throughout Aotearoa and has published three books that support small business and indigenous business development.
Karen Vercoe won the Dame Mira Szászy Māori Alumni Award. Vercoe is founder and principal of KTV Consulting Ltd, whose tagline is “turning organisation passion into organisation performance”. KTV has consulted to government agencies and uses Results-Based Accountability, a data-driven discipline designed to benefit people and communities.
Ngāi Tahu Holdings (NTH) took out the award for Outstanding Māori Business Leadership (Organisation). NTH is the investment company of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. It has achieved a period of record financial results over recent years, with assets now exceeding $1.4 billion and net worth of $1.2 billion. NTH has directed approximately $400 million into growing the wellbeing of Ngāi Tahu whānui, and anticipates nearly $50 million in annual distribution next year. 
The company has used profits to develop a diversified portfolio including farming and forestry, property, tourism, transport, seafood and mānuka honey.