Tania injects culture, te reo, into boardrooms

02:40, Jul 23 2014

Step into the whirlwind world of Tania Simpson and you will need a fair bit of energy to keep up.

The quietly spoken Tainui, Nga Puhi and Ngai Tahu woman is the founder and chief executive of Kowhai Consulting. She also has a list of directorships longer than most arms, and recently added the Reserve Bank to it.

But what makes her tick is being able to bring her identity - her culture - to even the most hardened of boards. Te reo is key to doing so, she says.

But ironically, the girl who grew up in Te Kuiti to a Maori mother who spoke only English, and a Pakeha father who encouraged te reo, didn't start out with the language.

While there were the activities at school, and the phrases used in the small, Maori community she grew up in, it wasn't until she took a Maori language class at university that the fire lit inside of Simpson. From there, it grew.

"We should know our history, and in knowing our history we should understand Maori culture to some extent, and to understand Maori culture we need to understand a bit of the language as well," she says. "Maori language and culture are two halves of a whole."


That's why the jetsetting director says te reo week is "significant".

"I think it's a key mechanism for keeping it on the country's agenda, and secondly for imparting some knowledge of the language to a wide range of people." she says. "The language is still in a perilous state . . .We're still on the edge of a cliff in terms of whether or not the language will survive."

Despite her strong views on encouraging te reo, Simpson doesn't believe stretching the week into a longer period is the way to encourage its use.

She says the first step for New Zealand is to be committed to the language, through institutions like schools, and then it will flow into every day life; even business life.

"The degree to which you do that is based on the competency which you have to work with at the time," she says.

"So it's really a commitment to develop competency."

So how to convince hardened business people that learning te reo is worth their while?

"Having the language makes you better at doing business with Maori," Simpson says without a pause.

"Being able to . . . engage with them in a culturally appropriate way means that you are better able to strike a good relationship and then the relationship becomes a platform for the business that you do."

She practices what she preaches too. Simpson says she brings te reo into the boardroom wherever she can - through conversation, negotiations or anything else involving Maori.

"With Pakeha corporate entities, in some cases I say karakia, I do the mihi if we have Maori coming into the board . . . I advise the board, I become a bit of a translator and interpreter."

Ironically, the avid te reo advocate is not yet fluent herself.

"I'm proficient I suppose, conversationally proficient," she laughs. But getting better is on the agenda, and when it comes to Simpson, that means it will get done.

"In order to become really proficient in the language it takes a fairly significant commitment," she says.

"My view is that any progress is good progress . . . Even if it's a little bit, that's great." 



Taapuwharawhara te maunga Taapuwharawhara is the mountain Taumarere te awa Taumarere is the river Otuihu titiro ki Pewhairang Otuihu looks out to Pewhairangi Puketohunoa te pa Puketohunoa is the pa Whakarewahuia raua ko Puhangahau nga urupa Whakarewahuia and Puhangahau are the burial grounds Karetu te whenua Karetu is the land Ngati Manu te marae Ngati Manu is the marae Ngati Manu te hapu Ngati Manu is the sub-tribe Nga Manu te tangata Nga Manu is the eponymous ancestor Whetoi Pomare and Te Rangingangana are my ancestors

Waikato Times