Tongan trailblazers in Business

The New Zealand Tonga Business Council in partnership with the Auckland Council, hosted the Tonga National Day celebration to not only acknowledge the island nation’s history and heritage but to also recognise Tongan trailblazers in the business community. The event featured two of the 2017 NZTBC Business Award winners: Eithne Curran, Founder of Eithne Curran beauty range and Saia Latu, CEO and Managing Director of TROW Group. Read their stories below

The Hair and Now



For many people, the 1980s was a historical decade – Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer, the Berlin Wall came down and the internet was still in its infancy. But for Eithne Curran, the decade was all about the hair. It was the key fashion statement and hair stylists were rock stars.


At the Tonga National Day celebration hosted by the New Zealand Tonga Business Council (NZTBC) at the beginning of November, Eithne reflected on her life experiences and how being ‘different’ was the catalyst in forging a career filled with creativity.


Of Irish and Tongan heritage, Eithne is one of nine children and grew up in the Central Auckland suburbs of Mt Albert and Grey Lynn. Although she identifies as mixed-race, Eithne says her upbringing was very much Tongan, crediting her mother and grandmother.


“I grew up in a Tongan household, surrounded by the Tongan language, so my English wasn’t that great,” she recalls.


“My mother strongly believed in educating women and for them to take on opportunities and move on forward. She worked hard for Pacific women and was a founding member of a long-standing organisation known as PACIFICA Inc, alongside Paddy (Eleitino) Walker.”


As a young child coming to terms with her condition of being dyslexic, Eithne says that rather than hindering her, it unlocked her creative streak.


“I always viewed challenges in life as an opportunity to create positive outcomes,” she says.


“My story of dyslexia puts me in a world of creativity, which has no boundaries.”


Eithne soon found herself travelling, working as a hair and makeup artist in films and TV commercials in a time where New Zealand’s creative industries were starting to take form.


“The 80s was a significant time for New Zealand as we were developing the advertising industry, the film industry and models of ‘colour’ were rare.”


While working on film and TV commercial sets, Eithne noticed that her clients’ hair would often be limp. This led her on an entrepreneurial journey where she would eventually create the Eithne Curran beauty range.


It has taken many years for Eithne to research and refine her products, but she says she draws inspiration from her three daughters who are the faces of her brand, as well as the support of scientist Sir Ray Avery, who helped Eithne ensure that her hair products were natural and ethical as possible.


“Creating my holistic products started 18 years ago, so today I feel a deep sense gratitude and grace.”


When it comes to facing challenges in business, Eithne says she has learnt to ‘fly’ through them rather than trying to avoid them.


“When you’re on the edge, you just fly … I didn’t want to talk about the obstacles in business, but rather what you do in the face of it. Which is why I use the Tongan sea eagle as my brand’s emblem”



A million ways to salvage



Saia (pictured right), who scooped up the 2017 ‘Business Executive’ award started TROW Group back in 2015 with a vision to give back and make a difference. His younger self is a stark contrast to the self-made man he is known as today.


Born in Tonga to a family of nine kids, Saia’s family migrated to New Zealand when he was eight years old and recalls the struggles his family endured.


“I left school when I was 14, I jokingly tell people that I left because I was too ‘brainy’, but the reality was, my parents simply couldn’t afford to keep me school.”


As soon as he left school, Saia went straight to work to help take care of his big family.


“My first job was pushing trolleys at the Auckland domestic airport, and I remember when I’d see people coming in and out of the terminals the first thing I’d notice were their shoes. I couldn’t afford shoes back then and had to wear my cousin’s.”


“So when I’m asked what success is, I say success is like owning a brand new pair of shoes.”


While Saia spent his young years working, he would also network and create relationships which would pay off when he got older.


“I fought hard for every opportunity I was given because there are millions out there like me,” he recalls.


“The journey to get to where I am today has been rewarding but it wasn’t easy, working from 14 years old, then spending 15 years in the machinery hire/civil infrastructure industry.”


Using all the knowledge and contacts he made while in the industry, Saia formed TROW Group. The company works to salvage, reuse or recycle material from building sites to be used in schools, community centres and churches.


Today, TROW Group manages million-dollar projects across the Auckland and Waikato region.


Knowing first-hand how windows of opportunities can open doors, Saia ensures that TROW Group is committed to its social responsibility – providing career pathways and mentorship for young Pacific and Māori looking to get into trades.


Saia admits that when he started becoming a businessman, his goals revolved around materialistic things.


“I lost my way a bit, I wanted the Ferrari, Lamborghini, a house in Mission Bay with the white picket fence,” he says.


“But it wasn’t until a series of personal tragedies came my way, it changed how I looked at life.


“Now all I want to do is give back.”


In conjunction with contracts from the Auckland Council, TROW Group have been able to provide furniture and materials to schools, communities and churches in Tonga.


TROW Group have formed an SME in Tonga to assist in the distribution and storage of these items. The ultimate goal is to replicate this model in other Pacific Islands, which Saia is excited about.


When asked what advice he can give to aspiring Pacific business leaders, he says it’s all about focus and your surroundings.


“Never take your eye off the ball and learn to surround yourself with people who share the same vision and drive as you.”


“Create a team that you can trust. Their support and loyalty will help you because ultimately you can’t do everything.


“At the end of the day, how well your business performs is up to how committed you are to it.”


About Pacific Cooperation Foundation

PCF is an independent partnership between public and private sectors in New Zealand and other Pacific Island countries which aims to strengthen partnerships in both the public and private sectors, sharing knowledge and expertise to promote prosperous businesses and communities in the Pacific.


For more information go to the PCF website.