Long way to the top - but MBA helped
Fitter-turner Les Roa vividly remembers his first day in the MBA classroom at Waikato University's management school 13 years ago.
"It was absolutely daunting.
"Everyone else seemed to have a degree - I struggled to get School Cert.
"I felt like running outside and vomiting I was that nervous."
He didn't do either, had a "profound" learning experience, and two years later graduated with a master of business administration.
When he started his studies, Longveld, a specialist in stainless steel fabrication for the dairy industry, employed 12 people.
When he graduated there were 42 on the payroll. Today there are 100.
"It was positive learning. Everything I learned I had the opportunity to implement in Longveld."
Roa, 53, owns Longveld - an amalgamation of his name (Roa means long in Maori) and wife Pam's maiden name Lelieveld - with his wife and two manager shareholders. His is the classic entrepreneurial success story.
He was more of a rugby player at Te Awamutu College than a scholar.
He became a fitter-turner who developed a passion for working with stainless steel in the dairy sector. He met Pam in 1992, and the pair built Longveld from "a little garage" in Ellis St, Frankton. By 1999 the couple had 12 permanent staff and contracted extra help when necessary, and Roa had an itch to expand the business.
"I realised I was a great tradesperson but I lacked business knowledge.
"I wasn't that flash at the paperwork; Pam had the business head. I had a bit of an epiphany and no academic background and asked around."
Roa bumped into someone who had just done an MBA and thought "that would suit me".
He passed the entry requirements for Waikato University's management school and began a programme of "bloody hard work".
It opened a world of strategic planning, vision and goal-setting and, most profoundly, gave Roa new confidence.
He developed a whole new network of contacts, and the programme delivered "a huge amount of kudos from customers and staff" and recognition from stakeholders such as his banks.
On the way, Roa discovered he was slightly dyslexic, which made assignments and academic writing particularly challenging. Wife Pam, who has scientific qualifications, guided him.
He and Pam are today strong supporters of the programme and are student mentors. "I don't think Longveld would have grown without it."