Keeping a place at the table

Traci Houpapa was recently awarded the the Distinguished Alumni Service Award at the 2016 Defining Excellence Awards.

“Everyone has 24 hours in a day, and I want to maximise that potential and make the best use of every single day I am given on this earth.” Living by a quote like this, it is easy to see why Traci Houpapa (Waikato-Maniapoto, Tūwharetoa, Taranaki) is so successful.

Earlier this year, Ms Houpapa was awarded Massey University’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award, for her work in raising the profile of Māori agribusiness. She made history as the first Māori woman to head the Federation of Māori Authorities. She specialises in strategic and economic development, advising Māori, Iwi, and public and private sector clients throughout New Zealand, and is a partner in Hamilton-based Te Hanga South & Associates.

Ms Houpapa is a Member of the Order of New Zealand, a Justice of the Peace, a Marriage Celebrant and a loving mother to her two dogs Beau and Harry.

She graduated from Massey with an MBA in 2001 and credits Professor Martin Devlin, the director of the MBA programme at the time, for her success.

“Professor Devlin greatly influenced me and set me in many ways on the path I am treading now I am grateful for the Massey experience – I wouldn’t be where I am without it,” she says.

Working for Aotearoa

Ms Houpapa is driven by what is good for New Zealand, and in turn what is good for Māori. “That’s why I get up for in the morning and some people think that’s slightly mad - I am interested in making a difference. I’m interested in leaving the world a better place. I’m interested in adding value. So across my portfolio where I am often asked to take up roles or sit on boards, I consider them against that aspiration and that motivation and drive for myself personally, along with the myriad of roles that I hold and how they might fit together and combine to influence positive change.”

Other high-profile positions she holds, include being the Chair of Landcorp and Chair of the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women.

Often the only woman in the boadroom, she says it can be an interesting position to be in. “In our pre-colonial history Māori women were always recognised for our leadership skills. We were chiefs of iwi and hapū. We were recognised for our commercial, economic and cultural leadership in times gone by. For a period we lost that recognition, and so it’s nice to see that coming back in contemporary times.”

Ms Houpapa accepts the responsibility to keep Māori women at front of mind in business. “Women like me hold the roles we do because someone gave us a seat at the table, so in turn we need to make a place for other women with similar aspirations and dreams. I think this is critically important in terms of creating an opportunity, not only for the next generation, for other women right now.

“In terms of women on boards, and the whole gender diversity conversation, the research is sound and clear. Gender balanced boards make better strategic and commercial decisions.  For Māori, we need to balance out the gender profile in terms of cultural, economic and social decision making.”

Taking inspiration

The 50-year-old, who grew up in Taumaranui and now lives in Hamilton, aspires to the attributes and characteristics of good leaders. “Whenever I am in meetings, or at a hui or conference and see strengths and characteristics which will help me to grow and expand my skills, I think, ‘I like that’ and I will adjust my own approach accordingly.

“One of the most influential people in my life was a woman called Doreen Chase. She was a kuia from the Whanganui River. She was smart and sound and strategic, and she always talked about leading the people from the people. She was a great influencer and I miss her dearly.

“Another person was my father. He was incredibly smart and taught his four children without us knowing we were being taught, and it wasn’t until many years after he died that we realised his influence. We are all very grateful for that.”

Despite her successes, she is extremely humble about what she has achieved. “I think people recognise those who are prepared to step up, take on roles and responsibilities, and discharge those functions. So whenever I am given a task, I fulfill that task to the best of my ability.  I am focused on success in terms of the role or the parameters of that role and I think that’s what people have recognised. Not so much me, but a job well done.”

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