Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Toa Rangatira CEO Helmut Modlik on how Māori values can enhance a venture’s success

Helmut Modlik recognized early in life that his identity as a Māori was shaping his worldview. Now he leads his community at Takupūwāhia on the shores of Porirua Harbour.

Words: Amokura Panoho  Photo: Birgit Krippner


Ko Tainui te waka
Ko Whitirēia te maunga
Ko Parirua te awa
Ko Raukawakawa te moana
Ko Ngāti Toa Rangatira te iwi
Ko Takapūwāhia te marae
Ko Toarangatira te whare tupuna

Tainui is my waka
Whitirēia is my mountain
Parirua is my river
Raukawakawa my sea
Ngāti Toa Rangatira is my tribe
Takapūwāhia is my marae
Toarangatira is my ancestral house

Helmut Modlik completed an MBA in 1992 before becoming the inaugural CEO of the Poutama Trust. He has headed Telco Technology Services, Connexis, and Patients First (Health Tech Solutions) and directed the masters of management programme at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. Before becoming CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Toa Rangatira, he was the MD of management consultancy Arrus Knoble Developments.


Our focus is the pursuit of three things; enhancing our wellbeing in the wider sense, prosperity in the broadest sense and the mana of Ngāti Toa to live on our whenua (land) as we choose. If one of our family has a need and can’t resolve it themselves, I want us to provide a credible response. Now that’s a journey, of course, an aspiration. But it results in our ability to respond with a mauri ora (whole-of-life wellbeing) approach, a holistic response.

To do this, we must define the narrative of our development: “What is our Ngāti Toa approach given we haven’t always been in the position to determine this?” In this post-settlement environment, we have the resources and are building the capability to deliver these goals.


I grew up in the 1960s, and the rhetoric was that we were “one people”, but I learnt pretty quickly that wasn’t the case. Takapūwāhia is a small Māori settlement of Ngāti Toa iwi where my mother Haneta Rebecca (nee Arthur) raised her five children from the time I was six as a solo mother. It gave me a foundation of knowing where I came from, that understanding of being part of something bigger than myself. I think that is what differentiates our people, that knowledge.

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After returning from missionary service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Australia, I did my BCA at Victoria University. I learnt I had an entrepreneurial nature. As a young married man with a couple of children, I bought my first business and ended up losing money on it, but it made me keen to understand the business world more. So I went back to Victoria University to do my MBA, completing it in 1992 with a thesis titled New Venture Success from a Māori Perspective.

The point was I was determined to be me, to be the person I was raised to be. By doing that research, I wanted to know, “Can I do that and still be a successful businessperson?”

My research was exploratory, and I found that except for whakamā (see below), all of the values that have come down to us from our old people either enhance or are relevant to a venture’s success. My subsequent 30-year professional career has reinforced this.


We are rowing our waka by investing directly in the delivery of whatever we think is needed. We aren’t ignoring statutory, legal, contractual, ethical, or other obligations that the Crown is responsible for as our treaty partner, but we aren’t relying on the Crown doing them very well.

That’s the reason why we’re acquiring all the whenua we can, why we’re standing up a vertically integrated stack of Ngāti Toa-branded businesses to design, build, finance and manage our housing. So far, we have established Te Āhuru Mōwai, our community housing provider, Toa ITM for our wholesale building supply, and Mahi Toa is our skills and job hub.

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We are also close to launching civil construction and home-building companies. We will be the majority shareholder building homes on land we retain “in perpetuity”, made available for our iwi members.

We are also applying that strategy to health where, currently, the iwi owns five GP clinics. And we’ve signalled to the district health board and the primary health organizations in Te Upoko o te Ika (Wellington region) that Ngāti Toa and Te Ātiawa iwi are working together to either acquire or establish additional clinics.

In education, we are focusing on our tribal identity by establishing a special character state primary school and a kura kaupapa (total immersion school). Combined with land acquisition and partnering with Whitirēia Polytech on vocational training, we are actively investing in growing our capability and future leaders.

Investing directly has allowed us to manage our own space credibly and has changed the conversation with our treaty partner and across the private commercial landscape.


My mother, Becky, was the most powerful influence on me. She grew up in a family of 14, with 10 brothers, and knew the meaning of hard work. As a result, she ensured her sons knew how to look after themselves and care for their families. She was a very spiritual person, and when my grandmother Kauhoe (nee Manuirirangi) died, I was eight and during the next five or six years, would go with my mum to the urupā (cemetery) at night where she would have a tangi (cry). Rather than being scared, I got very comfortable with the departed because they were part of our history.

My mother’s brother, Karewa William Arthur, was the other significant influence in my life. He was a people person, and I watched how he interacted with people both as a car salesman and in his commercial property dealings. He had a heart for the people and, in my eyes, was a real rangatira.

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Another influence for me is my name. I had a hard time as a Māori kid living in Porirua during the 1960s for having this German name, but it taught me the importance of identity. When it came to naming my eldest son, I convinced Catherine, my wife, to call him Helmut for two reasons. First, it’s a name you never can hide from; second is that I had to live a life so that my son was grateful and proud that I gave him that name.


If you want engagement with our people to make a difference, connect yourself with those who can help you on that journey. But be genuine, find out what went on for the Māori community you live among. You don’t have to own that history, just learn from it and look to contribute to a better future for our whole country.

The Ngāti Toa Settlement Act 2014 is for the treatment of the rangatira chief Te Rauparaha in the 19th century, land seizures, and for the iwi’s exclusion from earlier land deals with the Crown. It included financial and commercial redress of $40 million, $10 million to recognize the iwi maritime domain over Cook Strait, $11.5 million to buy numerous Crown properties and $6.6 million for iwi development.

The Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act 2014 recognizes the right of attribution to Ngāti Toa of Ka Mate, the haka originally composed by Te Rauparaha. Whakamā is a psychosocial and behavioural belief by Māori that does not have an exact equivalent in Western culture, although shame or embarrassment are similar. ngatitoa.iwi.nz

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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