Meet Trow Group
CEO and Managing Director Saia Latu has overcome many obstacles to better himself and help his family. Now his dream of walking into an industry meeting where he’s not the ‘only brown guy in the room’, is set to become a reality, too.
“We want He Waka Eke Noa to take off, we want the opportunities. We want to see more Māori and Pacific business. It’s not just ‘feel good’ it’s good for the economy, good for our people.”
Saia started TROW in 2014 as a civil contracting and machinery hire company to help 15 Tainui marae, known as Te Riu o Waikato, take advantage of the half billion dollar Huntly Bypass contract. It was about giving opportunities to locals, upskilling staff and offering employment and training.
He didn’t start his career in this industry, but it has been a space he has thrived in for decades. As the youngest of 11, growing up in Mangere and Otara, Saia dropped out of school aged 14 and began cleaning toilets and pushing trolleys at the airport. Trouble was always trying to find him, so to combat that he started training as a body-builder at Sulley Paea’s Gym. “I used to train three times a day. It kept me out of mischief and really helped me mentally”. He went on to work in security as a doorman. There he learned the importance of people-skills and networking, and eventually managed his own security team. His quick wit, people skills, and strength in forming fast and lasting relationships, saw him being offered a job with McEntee Hire. He rose through the ranks to manager and after a decade, decided to go out on his own.
“I realised I needed to start my own company so I took what I learned and continued it on. I got a loan for $20,000 and started SFL – Saia Finau Latu, a project management consulting company to bring people and parts of this industry, together.” He would do everything from hire equipment out to contractors, to connecting developers with the best trades. This people and product weaving introduced him to a range of services within the industry and he decided to step it up another notch to take on some of the bigger contracts under his business.
Enter, TROW. TROW was a thriving business but a family tragedy had Saia reconsider its direction. After the sudden loss of his brother, he travelled to Tonga to heal. What he saw were some big issues, and an opportunity. “I went for some soul searching and realised I could do more for Tonga through the networks I had made over the years,” Saia says. He returned and refocussed the business to become Aotearoa’s only deconstruction (as opposed to destruction) company, and created a new division to design building projects in Tonga from salvaged deconstructed materials. The model sees deconstructed materials being shipped to Tongatapu for a second life, rather than end up in our landfills. Saia says with 80 percent of Auckland’s waste coming from construction sites, Tonga is helping Auckland by literally taking its rubbish and turning it into treasure.
“There’s a really strong environmental element to our business model. Everyone is in demolition, we are the only deconstruction company in New Zealand – taking it down and putting it back up again. We have all these elements.”
Building up skilled labour is also important and alongside the relationship with TSI for the Māori Pasifika Trades Training programme locally, Saia is also upskilling people from Tonga who come to New Zealand to gain skills, and take them back to their island home. “What we found is only whānau can tell whānau what to do so we just concentrate on one person and one village,” he says. “It’s a hand up not a hand out, that’s very important and the ones who understand the concept have done well.”
Although the business model is only two years old, turnover is growing steadily. TROW’s primary work continues to focus on providing civil maintenance, consultancy and machine hireage for government projects across Auckland. “You have to make a profit to help people, you can’t help people when you are poor,” Saia says, as he talked about his desire to give back.
“It’s a lot more than just civil. In less than two years we’ve built a community. Currently construction is underway in Nukunuku, Tonga, to build the first of many recycling warehouses from deconstruction.”
Saia says this project, which includes shipping containers in the design, will also house a training centre and hub incubator for the small businesses that have been set up in the Kingdom to contract back to him. “As business continues to grow we’re hoping to go to Samoa next and then, across the whole Pacific,” he says, while acknowledging the efforts of his core team, Joe Vagana, Julie Latu and Maeakafa Tu’inukuafe in New Zealand, and Benhur and Amelia Tautua’a in Tonga.
“Before my brother passed we were all about profit. Now it’s about giving back. We have to be
sustainable and reinvest it back in our people. We don’t want a hand out, we want to be in the
same room having the same conversation.”
Story and photos by Qiane Matata-Sipu http://www.qiane.co.nz/