Māori business: a driving force in NZ’s economy

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Almost 180 years after New Zealand’s founding document Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or The Treaty of Waitangi, was signed the Māori economy is outpacing global economic growth

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With a relatively recent and undeniably painful history, Māori business has risen from the metaphorical ashes with admirable success in both domestic and international shores. 

"Working between iwi is really difficult and you have to get it right.” - Cross

So how have they done it and what can be learned from New Zealand’s tangata whenua?

Time to rise

ANZ Head of Māori Relationships David Harrison says after decades of consolidation and rebuilding, Māori hold significant assets in New Zealand’s primary industries and these assets are growing.

The Māori economy currently measures $50 billion in assets, which is approximately 6 per cent of the total New Zealand asset base, and represents a rapidly growing segment of the wider New Zealand economy.

“Māori investment has historically been focused in key industries such as farming, forestry and fisheries. While strong ties to these industries remain, Māori are strengthening their footprint in other sectors. For example we’ve seen a number of recent investments in tourism, horticulture and commercial property which is exciting for iwi.”

Ngāi Tukairangi’s purchase of a 60 hectare orchard outside their tribe’s geographical borders in 2017 was one of the most notable Māori investments of the year.  

“The landmark deal was an exciting opportunity for Ngāi Tukairangi,” Harrison says.  “From humble beginnings, they’ve established themselves as top performers in the kiwifruit industry.

“Opportunities to double your size and build scale and diversification don’t come around often and Ngāi Tukairangi seized the opportunity, reinforced their leadership in the kiwifruit sector, and expanded their footprint.”

The Bay of Plenty-based hapū are now seen as leaders among their peers and the deal has become a global reference for successful Māori business with Ngāi Tukairangi trustee Neil Te Kani believing the purchase marked an important milestone for the hapū.

“We have always been leaders in the kiwifruit industry and we’ve maintained our long-term commitment to the sector despite challenges the industry has faced.  We developed a strategy to acquire more land and this purchase is a natural progression,” Te Kani says.

“Most importantly this 60 canopy hectare orchard helps grow our capacity to sustainably provide tangible benefits to our current and future owners.”

Buying the Hawke’s Bay orchard moved Ngāi Tukairangi business outside their traditional tribal boundaries and into the Ngāti Kahungunu region, a first for the tribe. 

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Working between iwi is really difficult and you have to get it right says Ngāi Tukairangi Chairman Ratahi Cross.

“We had a pōhiri to make sure we were obeying the tikanga of the local hapū and that we weren’t breaking any rules. We understand that while this may be our land now – we bought it – it’s still their ancient, ancestral homeland and it has mana that is very important to them,” Cross says.

Ngāti Kahungunu iwi leader Ngahiwi Tomoana welcomed the deal seeing it as a step toward renewing whakapapa relationships and creating co-investment opportunities with other Māori.

Other successful examples include the Port Nicholson Fisheries and Aotearoa Fisheries merger, Kaingaroa Timberlands and Te Pūia Tāpapa.

Moreover, Māori are major stakeholders in the tourism sector and are growing their presence in technology and lifestyle sectors.

Hōhepa Tuahine and Kristin Ross are the creators of the world's first line of Māori speaking dolls for children, Pipi Mā.

In 2016, in a world-first, the couple launched Pipi Mā – and their first line of merchandise called the Kōrero range. The dolls sold out in just 36 hours.

Iwi forging their future

A new business model is emerging globally, one that integrates the profit motive with long-term sustainability alongside care for both people and the environment.

Harrison says this is the innate Māori approach to business with strong, ingrained principles of kaitiakitanga (stewardship) and manaakitanga (relationships built on trust and respect).

“Iwi continue to deliver strong year-on-year net asset growth and solid returns but governors of commercial iwi assets have a tough job. We created the Te Tirohanga Whānui report to help,” Harrison says.

Te Tirohanga Whānui, authored by ANZ, provides metrics for iwi/hapū to self-evaluate their business strategy. The 2018 report compiles confidential financial information provided by 34 iwi/hapū with combined assets of $NZ5.4 billion. 

“The pressure on iwi to increase returns and distributions is universal, driven by growing populations hungry to see the tangible fruits of the Treaty settlement. Opposing this is the deep responsibility iwi and hapū carry as kaitiaki, often creating challenges in balancing risk and reward.”

“With large assets and business strategies to consider iwi are now seeking guidance to help navigate future decisions and drive investment discussions.”

Harrison says iwi find the annual report particularly useful when communicating their tribe’s relative performance among their peers.

“We continue to work closely with iwi as they develop and execute their investment strategies. We’ve seen a number of recent investments in tourism, horticulture and commercial property which is exciting for iwi,” he says.

With businesses booming, iwi are forging an exciting future, and Harrison says he is committed to working alongside them to help manage investments, help provide direction and drive strategic investment discussions through a long-engrained kaitiaki (guardianship) lens. 


As the first ‘peoples’ of New Zealand, Māori hold a unique place in the country’s cultural landscape exercising a constitutional role in New Zealand society and a critical role in the economy.

Between 1840 and 1930, land occupied and controlled by Māori reduced from 100 per cent of New Zealand to just 5 per cent. This has been deemed exploitative and a failing of the Crown’s duty to protect Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.

In a move towards reconciliation, The Waitangi Tribunal was established in 1975. Its purpose was to hear claims of violations of the Treaty and to provide remedies.

The first Treaty settlement under the Waitangi Tribunal was reached in 1989 and involved the popular Waikato tourist destination the Waitomo Caves.

Since its pioneer settlement, The Waitangi Tribunal has registered more than 2500 claims. Remedies have mainly taken the form of apologies from the Crown, cultural and financial redress, and the return of small portions of land that was wrongfully taken, where possible.

The settlement process is nearing completion and the current environment is generally described as the ‘post-settlement era'.

Siobhan Enright is a bluenotes contributor

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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