[As published in September/October BayBuzz magazine.]
A cultural evolution is happening in Hawke’s Bay telco Now, and it’s all down to one man. Not the chairman of the board, not CEO Hamish White, but another local, who is inspiring his co-workers and leaders in equal measure.
Te Moana Barlow-Bartlett is gently guiding and encouraging his colleagues to learn about Māori culture, enriching Now’s challenger brand ethos that has seen the company win countless awards for customer support. But it doesn’t stop there. At Barlow-Bartlett’s behest, Now is also focusing on doing more business with Māori-owned companies, recognising the huge potential of the Māori economy, which is forecast to reach $100 billion by 2030.
While it’s a natural fit for Now, some in Hawke’s Bay might find it surprising. It wasn’t so long ago that a wāhine was asked to leave a Havelock North playground because her moko kauae was scaring children, and in another incident, a young McDonalds worker was asked to dial down his use of ‘kia ora’.
Thankfully, these incidents are out of step with the resurgence in te reo and renewed appreciation of Māori culture that is happening across the motu. A nationwide poll conducted in August 2022 for Te Papa showed that 50% of all New Zealanders took action to mark Matariki in 2022. And here in the fishhook of Māui, Te Matau a Māui Hawke’s Bay, hundreds of bonfires lit up the coast to celebrate Matariki, drawing an estimated 25,000 spectators.
That interest in Māori culture is echoed in the business community. Local business, AskYourTeam, has been helping its public sector clients on their cultural competency journeys for the past two years.
In late 2022 the company released an insights paper aggregating the progress of the first 30 organisations to deploy Te ara ki tua, its cultural competency survey, covering feedback from 4,900 respondents, says AskYourTeam CEO Chris O’Reilly.
“Across the board, there is strong desire from employees at all levels to improve cultural capability, be it learning about language, world view, or knowledge of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. A large proportion of employees said that building their capability in te reo Māori is worthwhile.”
Steeped in Māori culture
Barlow-Bartlett (Ngāti Kahungunu) joined Now in 2021. Hailing from Waimārama, he was raised in a community steeped in Māori culture that had a huge involvement in the revitalisation of te reo Māori, including learning and teaching the language. Kaumātua included knight, scholar, and a pioneer of the Māori language Sir Timoti Kāretu, the first head of the Māori Language Commission. With role models like that, it’s no wonder that Barlow-Bartlett is an emerging leader in his own right.
He has been instrumental in awakening interest in Māori culture and language at Now, which started in 2022 with the country’s first Matariki public holiday. At the time, Barlow-Bartlett was working in the call centre. Boss Hamish White asked him: what do you think we should do? Barlow-Bartlett says that Now’s first Matariki celebration was quite small. “We had a morning tea and a chat from me about the importance of Matariki to Māori.
“This year, our celebrations were a bit bigger with a focus on remembrance of loved ones who have passed away, including a video, a bigger seminar about the traditions and history of Matariki and how it can be celebrated today, and an inspiration wall.
“We had stars on the wall, and the team put their inspirations up. It’s so important to bring these ideas into every context possible. I get a lot of feedback from our staff saying that their kids are learning so much about Matariki at school, and they feel they can’t meet that, because they haven’t had the same opportunity (to learn). Obviously, I’m not going to solve everything here at Now, but giving them the avenue to have those discussions and some knowledge, a lot of people have come up to me and said: ‘I’ll never forget what Matariki means because of what I’ve learned’ and to me, that’s a win.”
No Kiwi without iwi
Anecdotal feedback was the genesis for Now to target Māori businesses, says Barlow-Bartlett.
“I’ve got lots of cousins that own small businesses, and a lot of connections with larger (but still small) businesses owned by Māori. And they feel the service they get is very transactional. It’s very one-sided. You just pay the bill and that is that. There was no importance given to relationship building, or looking at them as more than just a number. And in my mind (and I didn’t think it could come to this) I thought, there’s a massive opportunity there for Now.”
Barlow-Bartlett says that the Māori business market was something new for him. “A lot of my work was researching for my own knowledge and making Marie (Now’s chief customer officer) and Hamish aware of how many businesses are within the sector.”
Soon, he was pitching his big idea: For a company proud to be 100% locally owned and operated it made sense for Now to embrace, celebrate and foster our country’s indigenous culture. And that a planned approach to products and services tailored to Māori business customers in a way they could understand and relate to will allow Now to flourish in the growing Māori market.
It was an immediate yes, says Hamish White. “It wasn’t only about what Te Moana could bring to Now if he was given the remit and the space to do it in terms of culture, it was also about how he felt we could resonate more strongly with a part of the community,” he says.
Chief customer officer Marie Fryer says that what Te Moana pitched is very similar to what Now stands for.
“His presentation affirmed that the Māori business segment is a great segment for us to legitimately be in, because what we stand for is great relationships with our customers and providing that great service.
“And we’ve done some thinking about our structure … and reshaped Te Moana’s role a little bit, because it was a sales role, and then (the customer) was handed to someone else in our account management team, because that’s how we’re structured.
“What came through really strongly from Te Moana was that doesn’t align to the idea of a long term relationship. So now we’re shuffling the role to say if you sign up with Te Moana, he will continue to look after you.
“It’s bringing the strength of the relationship that Now holds dearly to the light and making sure we’re doing it in a way that really aligns with modern customs and values,” Fryer says.
Barlow-Bartlett says he likes to call it the manaaki factor.
“Taking the time. Traditional business, it’s all rushed … get the signature as fast as possible. Māori businesses tend to move slower. Before the cyclone I travelled to Gisborne to meet with some local Māori organisations. And a lot of the feedback I got was that they got amazing stuff at the beginning from the providers … and then they were just dropped and left.
“And they said to me: ‘Boy we don’t want that from you’. So that was good feedback to hear. The style of service that Māori businesses like, aligns really well with how Now provides its service. So it’s not a huge difference that we do, but just those added extra cultural values,” he says.
A local icon, Now is a telco brand that’s proudly Kiwi, and proudly from Hawke’s Bay, says CEO and founder Hamish White.
“Now was founded on the belief that Kiwis have been deprived of good service for decades. The move to embrace and learn about Māori culture has happened organically. It’s not like we sat down and said what’s the market and let’s have a strategy.
“We have Te Moana to thank for that. He came into this business and he made an instant impression on us all. He has a spirituality about him that I think we were ready for as an organisation.
“Culturally, he’s really enriched us with some of the Māori practices that he has started to slowly, but surely introduce. He’s started to spiritually enrich Now, and he has done it in a lovely way. And the business and the people that make up Now wanted more,” says White.
Learning and involvement in Now’s cultural journey is not mandated.
Playing the long game
White says that culturally Now is much richer for having the cultural aspects of Māoridom incorporated into the business.
“And it’s starting to manifest itself in all sorts of unplanned ways. It just happens and it feels right.”
Interestingly, in a sector known for targets, Now is not setting any output targets for Barlow-Bartlett, and White is very happy to play the long game.
“We’re not measuring Te Moana on results or outputs,” says White. “It’s more about an agreed programme of work, and we’re still working out what those should be, because it is a different way of doing business. And it’s so fitting for us because it’s about building relationships, and I attribute all of Now’s success to building relationships.
“The biggest thing for me was the cultural significance of embracing this, in terms of it feeling right. If anything we are going to be culturally much richer, elevating Te Moana in the business and having him have a far greater span of influence in terms of how things manifest themselves. We’re going to be stronger and richer for it. And if we benefit as a business, then that’s a bonus,” says White.
Entrepreneur, coach to Māori business owners and interim general manager of Whāriki Hawke’s Bay Māori Business Network, Theresa Carter (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Rarua), says the essence of how Māori connect into entrepreneurship derives from the way ancestors used to trade.
“We do look at business and entrepreneurship through a different lens. Māori businesses operate from a collective mindset.
“It’s never actually about the money. Profitability and wealth for our people doesn’t sit in a dollar value. A profitable business model and wealth from business is seen by connection to whakapapa, the connection to the whenua, ensuring that whānau as a collective, hapu as a collective, iwi as a collective, and Māori as a collective are thriving. Those are the elements that drive us in business. And you’ll see a lot of us in business actually have quite a social impact in what we do.”
As for what is important to Māori businesses when dealing with suppliers, Carter says it’s relationships first and foremost.
“It’s about whakawhanaunatanga and building those relationships where you can have reciprocal and mutual benefits.
“Coming back to an indigenous framework for business and enterprise, it comes back to principles that feed into us as Māori, like kaitiakitanga. How as Māori business owners are we ensuring that our environment is being taken care of, that our culture is being protected? There’s this huge resurgence and reclamation of our culture and this intention to better engage with Māoridom, however a small bit of knowledge, can be dangerous.”
She advises businesses wanting to embrace te ao Māori (Māori world view) to follow up with the right action. “It’s not about putting a Māori logo on things and saying, ‘we’re embracing’.”
Carter says it’s becoming more common for organisations to appoint Māori business advisors.
“It aligns with the reclamation that we are having as a whole country in terms of our identity to te ao Māori.
“I think that it is quite different and innovative for Now to take that approach, because generally speaking with corporates it’s all driven by targets, so to have a different approach where it seems like they are focused on internal growth, is that in the long term it will prove to be more beneficial to their organisation and will filter into their client base as well.”
Carter talks about one of her mentors, “He says if you want to change the world, look at yourself in the mirror. I see that as Now. If you want to change the business sector and how you engage more with Māori, look at your own internal processes and your own ways of doing business and start from there, and organically your engagement with Māori will begin to occur.
“What we are starting to see – and Now is a perfect example of this – is privately owned businesses starting to follow the lead of public sector organisations, because we are starting to see the benefits of being unified.
“When you connect deeper to te ao Māori …you actually open yourself up to receiving this beautiful culture. So rich in so many things that it can offer our country as a whole in order to be able to move forward and shift into the future the way we need to.
“I really applaud Now, and I acknowledge the movement they’re taking and the way in which they’re doing it. They’re not forcing it (Māori culture) on anyone in working with the willing, and if you’re not willing that’s fine.
“I’ll be keeping a close eye on their journey and see how they evolve. But no doubt they’re going to be really successful in that area.”
The final word in this story has to go to Te Moana Barlow-Bartlett. “My family are so shocked that I have this job. They don’t believe it’s real. They can’t believe I took my idea to pākehā and they were willing to work with it!”
TE MOANA BARLOW-BARTLETT
• Ko Te Whanganui a Tara te maunga
• Ko Waingōngoro te awa
• Ko Ngāti Kurukuru, Ngāti Hikatoa
• Ngāti Whakaiti me Ngāti Ura Ki Te Rangi ngā hapū
• Ko Taupunga te whare
• Ko Waimārama te marae
• Ko Tākitimu te waka
• Ko Ngāti Kahungunu te iwi
• Kaiarahi Pakihi Māori – Māori Sector Lead at Now New Zealand
• 2023 recipient of Now’s Crafter of Culture award
Now NEW ZEALAND
• 100% locally owned
• Consumer NZ People’s Choice Award for Internet
• Canstar Best Customer Support 2020, 2021, 2022
• NZ Compare Broadband Provider of the Year 2021
• NZ Compare Best Customer Support – Broadband 5 Years running