Newly-appointed Pacific Business Trust chair Fa’amatuainu (Inu) Tino Pereira knows all about the peaks and pitfalls of two decades in business. In SPASIFIK Issue 67, he shares his story with INNES LOGAN and his desire and support for Pacific people rising to the challenge in an increasingly entrepreneurial environment.
The seeds of entrepreneurship were sown into Inu Pereira as a boy on the streets of Apia during the 1960s.
Samoa gained independence from New Zealand in 1962 and the newly-appointed capital was rapidly growing as the educated flocked to Apia in search of white collar jobs.
Inu’s parents were among them and chose to live in town, which gave him the opportunity to earn money for himself.
“During the school holidays I used to go around selling the Savali newspaper. It cost five pence and I got to keep one penny for every paper sold,” he recalls.
“It was hard work and I usually just got enough to buy some pani popo (coconut buns) at Emelios store near the Catholic cathedral. But, looking back, all that running around and making a fool of myself trying to sell a newspaper so I could earn one penny must have taught me something.”
After attending Chanel College, a Catholic school in Apia, where he “learnt Latin under a coconut tree”, Inu was sent to boarding school at St Bede’s College in Christchurch. It was a huge culture shock, as he was initially bemused by the racism, with the term gollywog thrown at him. Inu also slept in his school uniform because the dormitories were freezing.
He just wanted to go home but his parents refused, insisting the commitment made to send him to such an elite school shouldn’t be wasted.
Inu therefore applied himself, was appointed as a prefect the following year and graduated to study at North Shore Teacher’s College and the University of Auckland.
It was the late 1970s. Inu enjoyed the city’s multiculturalism and recalls sharing a few pints on Karangahape Road with local Pacific people at the Naval and Family Bar.
The bar was commonly known as ‘The Flying Jug’, a term patrons used literally.
It was also in central Auckland where Inu endured his “most hideous experience” he could have imagined.
“I was mulling about in a car with friends at the YMCA in Pitt St where I was staying, when a police car pulled up. The police said I had to go the station to line-up for a rape case,” he recalls.
“I was absolutely stunned and devastated. To this day it remains the most traumatising two hours I’ve ever had to endure.”
Inu later discovered the person they eventually arrested for the rape was European.
Knowing the line-up of suspects he was part of mainly consisted of brown faces entrenched his determination to one day represent the interests of Pacific people, who at the time were also under scrutiny through the dawn raids.
In the early 1980s he would gain a platform to bring Pacific issues to the fore as a network journalist with Radio New Zealand.
Not that he would always side with certain entrenched views in the community.
“Domestic violence became a nationwide issue because some were claiming that the right to physically abuse people was a normal part of our culture,” he recalled.
“I said that nowhere among traditional Samoan values and beliefs do we condone violence, and that it’s not part of fa’a Samoa. I got hammered and spent a week trying to counter the bullets coming my way from our people. These days, thankfully, we know violence is not the answer and we’re more prepared to bring it out into the open and confront it.”
And confront it he did with his own family, saying he suffered physical violence from his own father, particularly when his father was under the influence of alcohol.
“How could I call myself a community leader if I wasn’t prepared to stand up and talk about my own personal situation?”
By the mid-1990s, Inu was Radio New Zealand’s acting network news editor. After almost a decade and a half in radio he felt he had achieved everything he had strived for.
“Being in a position of responsibility in a mainstream organisation made me feel I had not only arrived, but achieved all that I had set out to do. It was time to move on.”
His attention turned to how he could best serve New Zealand’s growing Pacific community. Bestowed with a matai (Samoan chief) title from the village of Lufilufi, fluent in the more formal Samoan language and respected for his achievements in the mainstream media, all lent itself to Inu becoming an advocate and spokesperson.
All he needed to do was to convince his wife.
“She said it was all very well for me to chase my dream, but how was that going to help pay the mortgage?” It didn’t take long. He set up his own business and soon won a healthy government contract.
Inu thought he had it made, but was to learn his first salutary lesson in business.
“Once I secured the contract, I upgraded my car and spent a fair bit of money,” he recalls.
“After a couple of months my accountant rang me to check that I had saved enough to pay my taxes. To be honest, I hadn’t. And if it wasn’t for my accountant, I would have been in trouble.
“That was one lesson learnt pretty quickly.”
For almost two decades Inu has gone on to advocate for Pacific people across a number of sectors. While he has seen significant strides in creating greater engagement and success, he admits the socio-economic data shows there still remains a significant gap between Pacific and mainstream.
This includes business enterprise, although Inu emphasises a lot of the Pacific success stories are flying under the radar in mainstream and are less connected to the Pacific community.
He is determined to change this during his term with PBT.
On Friday, 28 October 2016 PBT will stage its first business awards ceremony since 2010.
The Trust will recognise the growing number of Pacific entrepreneurs and businesses.
A new strategic direction for the Trust, announced in April, is aimed at building Pacific business growth, social enterprise and jobs.
Changes involve making the best use of PBT resources to generate sustainable Pacific businesses and enterprises with positive revenues, increasing profitability as well as growing community assets.
Inu says evidence shows Pacific businesses hire Pacific staff, and by growing the Pacific business pie, more Pacific jobs will be created, contributing to improved living standards and wellbeing.
“That is why we needed to reorganise PBT, so it can be in an influential position to build the Pacific economic platform with our partners in the commercial, social enterprise, philanthropic and government sectors,” he says.
The reorganisation will develop a skills-mix allowing PBT to deliver on the new direction.
“We are looking at redeploying our fixed assets so we can provide more value and opportunities to delivering on our new focus.”
Tragically, the person he was confident would effectively lead that change died suddenly in April.
Wellingtonian Rob Neru, a successful businessman who was able to retire at age 40 before realising how much he missed it, had been CEO of PBT for a year.
Inu says Rob was warming nicely into the role and was looking forward to the Pacific Business Awards.
“Rob was a CEO who had entrepreneurship running through his veins,” Inu recalls.
“At first he was frustrated because of the layers of reports you have to do as a government taxpayer-funded organisation. But he came to understand and adjusted. We felt he was well prepared for the challenges ahead before his untimely passing.”
It came at a time when the Trust was under criticism, particularly with the sale of its Auckland premises in Otahuhu. But Inu is determined the Trust will come back stronger.
“We’re not landlords. Our role is to support Pacific people in business or aspiring to be.
“Bringing the awards back for the first time in six years shows there are genuine success stories in Pacific business which we need to acknowledge and celebrate with the aim of inspiring others,” he says.
“It’s time for Pacific to change the narratives, gain control and say there’s nothing wrong with making money if it’s done within the law and allows our families the incomes that give them meaningful choices. That’s what good businesses can provide.”
2016 Pacific Business Awards
When: Friday 28 October 2016
Where: Langham Hotel, Auckland
NOMINATIONS ARE NOW OPEN AND CLOSE 31 AUGUST 2016.
For more info go to www.pacificbusinessawards.co.nz