Watch: Outstanding Māori business leader’s emotional reaction to award

The owner of New Zealand’s highest revenue-earning supermarket left school at 16 to work in a supermarket, not knowing what to do nor realising that his first job was precisely where his career would head.

Jason Paki Witehira [Ngai Tawake ki Te Wao Ku, Ngapuhi] got his first job in a Rotorua supermarket produce department during schools holidays.

Witehira liked it so much, he asked his parents if he could leave school permanently to work at the store because he realised how much he liked being around people.

Today, finding the right people is one of Witehira’s biggest challenges: as the new owner of Pak’nSave Albany, his store has many positions vacant.

The shop on Don McKinnon Dr across from Westfield Albany has advertised lately for 10 checkout operators, for new staff in butchery and other departments.

Last decade, Witehira won Outstanding Māori Business Leader at the Aotearoa Māori Business Leader Awards.

The ex-owner of upmarket Victoria Park New World said when he got the award that he felt he was in an esteemed company.

“To be acknowledged in the same category as people (like) Dame Kiri, Sir Ralph Norris, Ian Taylor, they’ve won it in the past, so very proud of being acknowledged like that. But I also feel a lot of responsibility for our people”, he said in an emotional speech when he was named winner.

Witehira is at the pinnacle of his career in the supermarket Industry.

He says the next step in his career is to give back to his people and iwi of Ngāpuhi.

Witehira said at the time he won: “Some of the exciting things that I see for Ngāpuhi is when we do settle, is to utilise and take stock of what some of the other iwi have done, and how they’ve grown their kete and done really well out of it. So it’s exciting times ahead.”

He was a director of his iwi’s commercial arm, Ngāpuhi Asset Holdings and is a current director of the biggest grocery chain, Foodstuffs North Island.

Foodstuffs says: “Jason was appointed to the board in 2019. He began his career with Foodstuffs North Island in 1998 as the owner of New World Taumarunui. In 2001 he became the owner of New World Botany, before taking ownership of New World Victoria Park in 2010 then Pak’nSave Albany in 2021.

“He has played a key role in the Foodies co-op over the years as previous chair for the New World North Island committee, and New World Auckland committee. He is a proud father of four and has eight mokopuna.”

Foodstuffs North Island is New Zealand’s largest supermarket co-operative. Every week, it gets around 2.7m customers.

Next year, the conglomerate will celebrate a century in business.

“We’ve been serving New Zealanders since 1922, when a young lad named J. Heaton Barker called together members of the Auckland Masters Grocers Association to discuss plans for the formation of a co-operative buying group,” FSNI says.

Initially, the buying groups traded under different names, but in 1935 the name Foodstuffs was adopted by all the co-ops.

Over the years, regional co-operatives merged to form two: Foodstuffs North Island and Foodstuffs South Island.They operate independently and autonomously.

Chris Quin is FSNI’s chief executive.

A few months ago, the business moved into new headquarters, leaving Mt Roskill for new purpose-built premises owned by Auckland Airport and leased long-term to FSNI.

That building is on a shortlist for a national NZ Institute of Architects award on November 4.

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