Saturday, 23 February 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

A knight in Kennedy Bay

By Suzanne Hansen

Well-known Kennedy Bay local, Rob McLeod, was named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List for his contributions to Māori and business.

I have recently spoken to him about the honour and his many achievements.

Sir Rob says his success in life derives from the opportunities provided by two strong-willed and nurturing families. The one family he married into through his wife, Joanne, resulting in three talented sons. The other one he was born into. This has been enhanced by the role models he has met along life’s pathway.

He counts himself incredibly lucky for these encounters. He accepted his New Year’s honour with mixed emotions of delight, pride and humility for the opportunities given to him by his family and other people.

Although born, raised and schooled in the East Coast region of New Zealand, primarily on the outskirts of Gisborne, Sir Rob and his family are deeply connected to Kennedy Bay through his mother, Helen Margaret Ngapo, known locally as Dolly. Her family connection to Kennedy Bay dates back to the 19th century.

Raised in Harataunga by her maiden aunt Kate, Dolly met Rob’s father, George McLeod, in Gisborne after he returned from the 28th Maori Batallion in World War II.

Dolly was working as a nurse and George was asked by his good army friend, Tuhaka Ngapo (Sir Rob's “Uncle Dodge”), who was Dolly's whāngai brother, to deliver a gift to her. George delivered the gift, he and Dolly fell in love, married and had five children - Rob being the youngest.

All of Rob’s siblings were schooled in Gisborne, with the exception of brother John, who was sent to Kennedy Bay to be raised and primary-schooled at the request of Dolly's aunt Kate.

Towards the end of high school, Sir Rob was leaning towards acceptance of an apprenticeship as an electrician, but was directed by his mother to go to university like his other siblings had before him. Rob describes his mother as a, “Strong-willed Ngāti Porou woman with red hair, well-known for not taking no as an answer.”

He went off to university and his parents retired and moved to Kennedy Bay to live in 1976. They took over the family homestead, which continues to be the heart of the McLeod whanau. Each of Rob’s three surviving siblings now either live or own property in Kennedy Bay and visit frequently.  His parents are both buried at the homestead.

Rob ended up with a conjoint degree in commerce and law, which he started at Otago University and completed at Auckland University. With this mix of disciplines, he decided a career in taxation would be the best match. 

He has been a specialist tax practitioner for more than 30 years. In his career, Sir Rob has held a number of senior leadership roles in New Zealand, Australian and Māori business organisations, including chairing the New Zealand Business Round Table for eight years (the longest standing chairman) and chairing the 2001 government tax review.

He served as chief executive and managing partner of Ernst & Young New Zealand, before being appointed to the same role for EY Australasia, based in Sydney, for approximately five years. During this time, he pushed an active agenda for gender equity and championed indigenous initiatives, including EY filing its first reconciliation action plan in Australia.

He was also instrumental in actively transitioning EY’s domestic focus on Australia and New Zealand to one of Asia Pacific integration. 

He is a retired member of the Business Council of Australia where he served on the council’s Taskforces on Indigenous Engagement and Economic Policy and Competitiveness. 

Sir Rob, with his Ngāti Porou whakapapa, has been a champion for small business and entrepreneurship and was a key driver of Māori economic development. He served on the 2004 Hui Taumata Taskforce to increase Māori participation, leadership and governance in the workforce.

He was also a member of the Māori Economic Development Taskforce in 2010 and was on the establishment team for Te Puni Kokiri (the Ministry of Māori Development).

Other governance roles held by Sir Rob include serving on an Independent Ministerial Advisory Panel for the Defence Review, the National Infrastructure Advisory Board and the Ministerial Taskforce on Tertiary Education. He has been a Commissioner of the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, and chaired Aotearoa Fisheries Limited.

He has held directorships of Tainui Group Holdings, Telecom NZ, ANZ, Sky City, Gulliver Travel and Sealord. He is currently deputy chairman of Sanford, chairman of Quayside Holdings and the E Tipu E Rea Trust, and a director of the Port of Tauranga.

When I asked this truly inspirational man what his aspirations were for Kennedy Bay, the Coromandel and New Zealand as a whole, Sir Rob gave a passionate response based on the principles adopted by the Ngāti Porou leader, Sir Āpirana Ngata (who is memorialised on our $50 note).

In his whakatauki e tipu e rea, the following message to the then emerging generation of rangitahi was given, “Oh grow, little shoot(s), for the days of your years. Embrace the tools of the Pākehā for the nourishment of your body. Wear your culture and custom as a crown on your head and give your soul to God, the author of all things.”

Sir Rob regards the “tools of the Pākehā” as a metaphor for education, training and jobs focused on material wellbeing.  He says Ta Āpirana depicted God as representing moral and ethical values, accompanied by the need to keep cultural identity as a filter for one’s worldview. Ta Āpirana emphasised but differentiated material from cultural wellbeing.

Sir Rob is a truly accomplished individual who has certainly led a fulfilling life. His New Year’s honour is well-deserved.

Pictured is Sir Rob McLeod.

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