Origin of Te Hono
Realising opportunity in vulnerability
Where did it all begin?
Like many successful ideas, Te Hono started from a concern that as a sector, we were falling behind. It was time to seize the opportunities of the global marketplace.
Today, as we emerge from the global pandemic of 2020 – 2022, Aotearoa’s food and fibre sector is uniquely positioned to seize the new opportunities arising. Te Hono is the connector enabling this action, and those in the Te Hono network are adapting and leading.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
The food and fibre sector has undergone a significant transformation in the last two decades. But in the late 2000s, it remained a poorly connected industry, lacking strategic cohesion and leadership. At the time, John Brakenridge, as CEO of New Zealand Merino Company, was challenging the fine wool industry, shifting from a volume-based commodity focus to a longer term, value-led strategy.
John reflects that a chance conversation sparked a change in the trajectory of the food and fibre industry.
“I was at Stanford University undertaking some executive education, and I struck up a conversation with Professor Baba Shiv, an expert in neuroeconomics. We had a shared love of New Zealand, and Professor Shiv was bewildered, as I was, that our country wasn’t doing more to take our vast natural capital from commodity to high value.
“It was an interesting conversation, and it sparked a seed of potential in us both,” John recalls.
Soon after, the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquakes created a change in New Zealand’s dynamics.
“It was a whole different vibe. People were coming together, connecting and helping each other, homing in on what matters. It felt like a pivotal moment,” says John.
John connected with some of his peers from his original Stanford experience, discussing how beneficial it could be to bring a larger group of New Zealand’s primary sector leaders together for an intensive learning experience.
“We agreed there would be so much value in booking a week at Stanford, and running an event that brings us all together, exposing leaders to those Silicon Valley experts and thought leaders, and connecting over our common interests for our country.
“I got on the phone and the support for the concept was boundless. There were plenty of nerves too, as it was a significant financial commitment, but we quickly gained momentum. Supported by the ministers and CEOs of NZ Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and the Ministry for Primary Industries, as well as many primary sector CEOs, the first Stanford Bootcamp took place in 2012,” says John.
Pete Crisp was the newly minted Chief Executive of NZTE at the time. He recalls that there was a strong feeling that New Zealand’s commodity model of primary production was under threat.
“We needed to reach out for global best practice, to reach in for better relationships and collaboration, and to transition to a new core model - for the good of New Zealand, and the good of the world.”
Bootcamp’s early days
By the end of their week at Stanford, the 28 New Zealand leaders were convinced of the opportunity for their sector.
“The magic that happens when you take people out of their own world, out of their comfort zone, and immerse them with global thought leaders, you can’t create that at home,” says John.
John believes that much of Bootcamp’s success comes down to the connections made.
“As much as we can, we remove any notion of status. Over the years, we’ve gotten better and better at this. From the start, you park your status and ego to the side, and you’re there for the learning.
“Part of this magic was that we weren't running Bootcamp as a big organisation, for our own purposes. It was a genuine passion and a cause, and we were running it as volunteers, in our own time, for the good of our sector.”
The value of deep connection
John believes the most valuable outcome of Te Hono’s Stanford Bootcamps has been the connections made.
“There used to be so little trust there in the sector. This isn’t something you can force, and you can’t fix it with a whiteboard session here in New Zealand. To do it properly you need to have a carefully curated experience, and this is the benefit of being offshore, in one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the world, in one of the most globally impactful areas of the world. The benefit of distance highlighted how immature we were as a country, how unsophisticated we were in how we took products to market."
Chair of Te Hono, Olivia Egerton has seen first-hand the effects of the collaborations inspired and established by Te Hono Bootcamps.
"Shared experiences create trusted connections - alumni can get on the phone to anyone across New Zealand to share ideas, perspectives or challenge new thinking.
“The difference in how the entire sector is now working and communicating is significant. There are countless examples of collaborations or mini-JV’s that have started up because of Te Hono and the meaningful, deep connections made,” she says.
Pete Crisp agrees, saying that Te Hono was always hunting for innovation from the edge.
“It was never about the core of the Food and Fibre paradigm, but rather about the edge of the paradigm, the exposure to global best practice and learning experiences, and the building of foundational, mana enhancing relationships amongst people,” he says.
Foundations for the future
The first 2012 Bootcamp provided the foundations for what was to become a regular event. Graham Stewart, CEO of Sealord, and independent director Jamie Tuuta, recognised Bootcamp’s value to improve cohesion within Māori agribusiness, and created a second, Māori leader’s Bootcamp, which took place in 2013.
Since 2012, Te Hono has organised nine Bootcamps and provides opportunities to continue the connections within New Zealand.
“We quickly realised that there was so much interest, not just from people who wanted to come on Bootcamp, but those who had been on it and returned – they needed more than just the Bootcamp sugar hit. They wanted to continue to connect back in New Zealand, and so we developed Te Hono as an organisation to facilitate this,” says John.
The story behind the name: Te Hono
Che Wilson was (and still is) a board member for Ātihau-Whanganui Inc., an ancestral Māori farming company based at the foot of Mt Ruapehu.
When Che, and his wife Missy (who is also involved in the primary sector) attended the Māori Leaders Stanford University Bootcamp in 2013, Te Hono was a year old and didn’t have a name.
“After going to Stanford and seeing the connections, learning that my own ancestors had been there in the 1920s as part of the Rātana contingent, and being inspired by everything that is now Te Hono, those of us at the Bootcamp thought well, how do we package this up that gives it legitimacy?
“At the Māori Leaders Bootcamp, the Stanford delivery team wondered where we were from because we were able to jump, and often quantum jumps, as a group because we were diverse. The fact that we were unashamedly Māori and able to share our difference without realising it; that took us to a place where we thought, this is our gift to this kaupapa.”
Hono Tangata, Hono Whenua, Hono ki te ao
After a number of discussions amongst the group, Che went back to a saying that is connected to his maternal grandparents’ marae. That saying is Hono Tangata, Hono Wairua.
“Hono Tangata, Hono Wairua is about the connection to the seen and the unseen. After thinking about that a bit more I thought about what the primary industry and the Māori bootcamp is all about, and that’s when I came up with the phrase Hono Tangata, Hono Whenua, Hono ki te ao.
“That phrase is about connecting to people, to the land in its broadest context (whenua is encompassing of the things that we do on the whenua and that connect to terra firma) and if we can connect people and connect to the land this will help us connect better to the world.”
Che was deliberate in choosing 'Hono ki te ao', a saying that means connecting to people as if they are our relations from throughout the globe and also connecting people to the rest of the natural world.
“From a Māori world view, a tree is our relation, those insects are our relations and it’s about us having a better connection, a better hono and emphasising building a connection for more than just a touch or to see, but one so that you are in tune with each other. If we are in tune with our own earth, we will be more in tune with everyone around the earth when we meet them, because we will take our time to meet them, talk to them and be deliberate. The intention behind that will be felt and experienced.”
Before Che created the Te Hono name, he wrote a karakia (prayer or chant).
“The karakia speaks of awakening our consciousness so that we are better connected to the land, because when you are connected to the land you are not going to destroy it. When you are connected to the land and connected to people, and relationships are more meaningful and not transactional, you are also not going to destroy those relationships with those people. That takes you to a relationship that is founded not just on values but on being different, being different going forward, because we need to change our behaviour.”
Asked what he would tell other Māori leaders about Te Hono, Che believes being part of Te Hono is an opportunity to spend time with key leaders from the primary sector, and that Bootcamp is an opportunity to learn how some of the best in the world do things and bring that home.