Rachel Taulelei (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Rarua) oversees a diverse agriculture organisation that exports to over 25 countries. As CEO of Maori-owned agribusiness Kono, an associated business of Wakatū Incorporation, she leads over 400 staff and is answerable to approximately 4,000 shareholders descending from the original Māori land owners of the Nelson, Tasman and Golden Bay regions.
Kono, a top 100 New Zealand food and drinks company, is known for producing high value brands including Tohu and Aronui wines, Kono mussels and Tutū cider. Guided by kaitiakitanga – a holistic Māori approach of guardianship and caring for the environment and people – Rachel’s goal for Kono is to be the best indigenous food company in the world. “We have a great responsibility to ensure the resources with which we are entrusted are cared for, valued, and enhanced for future generations.”
From an entrepreneurial family who had always been involved in small businesses, the primary industries weren’t high on the agenda when Rachel left school. She opted for an LLB at Victoria University and upon completion the dynamism of business won out over practicing law. From here Rachel worked for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise [NZTE]. Within the first year of working for NZTE she led a delegation of Māori artists and entrepreneurs to a First Nations business and cultural conference in Vancouver. It was the first time she really considered indigenous principles of business and how they could lead to strong collaborations.
While serving as a North American Trade Commissioner for NZTE, Rachel studied New Zealand’s fishing industry more closely. After spending time in the market with American chefs she became increasingly aware that our primary sector, fishing included, was focused on volume and not value.
Seeing a gap to tell the story of New Zealand fisherman - in particular placing emphasis on telling the story of who caught people’s fish, when, where, and most importantly, how - Rachel left her US posting to concentrate on her start-up business. In 2006 Yellow Brick Road Ltd was born.
Catering for a market demanding quality seafood caught in a socially and environmentally way, Rachel set out developing an innovative, provenance-based supply of responsibly caught fresh premium seafood. In doing so she became a trade leader in sustainability and conservation and has been instrumental in leading change in the New Zealand fishing industry.
With over 20 years’ experience in promoting Aotearoa as a world-class producer of food and beverages, Rachel’s commitment to New Zealand’s primary sector goes beyond the companies she works for. Giving back to women and youth in leadership roles is important to her – she mentors aspiring youth and women through a number of organisations including the Young Enterprise Scheme, and the Sir Peter Blake Trust. In 2012, Rachel was the recipient of a Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award, a board on which she now sits. She also sits on a number of boards in the sector and is currently a director for Moana NZ, New Zealand Wine Growers and Aquaculture New Zealand.
A fierce advocate of New Zealand’s Primary Industry, Rachel has created values-based business models focused on sustainability. In recognition of her services to the industry, Rachel was honoured to be made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (services to food and hospitality) in 2015.More recently she was named a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Business Scholarship in 2017.
One to watch out for, Rachel you are clearly a trail blazer not only in the primary industries but in New Zealand and international business circles. Keep up the good work, we look forward to following you into the future.