Chief Tuaopepe John Ah Kuoi
Story by Sonya Bloomfield, photos by Delena Nathuran
Chief Tuaopepe John Ah Kuoi
It was John’s cherry smile that I first noticed when he opened the door, and I could see a fondness in his face as he began to recount his early years growing up in Samoa.
The second youngest of eleven children, John grew up in the village Savaia and district of Lefaga on the island of Upolu in Samoa. His Dad was the Minister of Education and impressed upon them the importance of education and doing their schooling in the state education system. So when they moved to town to be closer to his fathers work John moved from a catholic school to a state run school. When he was twelve one of his brothers was meant to come to NZ. A month beforehand his brother pulled out so his dad asked him if he would like to go.
On arrival in New Zealand at the height of our summer in January, John said “it was bloody cold”!
It was quite an adjustment for him not knowing how to speak English, and living with an eldest brother who had already been here for many years.“It was a huge challenge for me, there were hardly any island kids, let alone any that spoke Samoan.”
With a huge learning curve ahead of him, it was up to him to make some friends and learn the language. He was homesick for about three years then slowly New Zealand became home.
Then he met Sue...
John met Sue through a youth group while they were at high school and they have been together ever since. Sue is a significant part of his life having been married for 32 years and in partnership in business a lot of those years.
When John left school he wanted to be a pilot and took lessons through Ardmore to get his private licence. John had planned to go back to Samoa to gain his commercial licence and work for the government. Unfortunately when he got there the whole thing had changed and he missed out on the scholarship.
Sue came over to Samoa for a holiday and at that point John decided to come back to New Zealand where his heart was. Mum and Dad accepted who he had chosen and gave him their blessing to go back.
For a few years John was selling door to door insurance for Combined Insurance, playing rugby for Auckland B’s. His manager at the time thought John could help him set up a new distribution line for his corporate apparel business and make rugby jerseys. After couple of years of huge success, he then got an offer to play rugby in Italy, so off Sue and John went for a year.
On their return the owner was selling the business and the new owners didn’t want the rugby apparel side of the business. John and Sue picked up this business and successfully ran this for nineteen years. The market changed two years before the end, most clients went off shore to get their garments made, the global financial crisis hit - they lost everything.
Time for a new start - enter Maurice Trapp (and the Ginger Group)
After a false start elsewhere John went to see a friend at an insurance company and he told him to go and catch up with Maurice Trapp, his rugby coach from Auckland B’s days. The first thing that Maurice said to him was “what does a Marist boy want to do with a Ponsonby guy?” John just cracked up.
Halfway through his presentation John said “what are we selling” and Maurice said “we’re not selling, we’re just putting things in place for people, we’re helping people”.
That was the connection for John and he said “well that’s exactly what I want to be doing. I’m into this.” Maurice said “with your personality and your contacts you will fit right in.” “Straight away I knew, I wanted to be helping people. I knew this is how it is, in business I know exactly how they are feeling, how do I help protect them. It was hard for the first 18 months but it is good now.
”Sue now works with him again and is the perfect compliment to him. “She does everything systematically and I meet the clients, it worked for us in the corporate world and now it works here. I work for Sue now, she’s the boss!”
With a big family over in Samoa he has always kept connected and they took their two girls back every year to visit. He remembers the first year showing them the fale he grew up in and they couldn’t believe how small it was and how the family slept all crammed in beside each other. They’ve taken friends over the years also and love going back for holidays. His father had always wanted him to take his chief title so after his father passed away they had a ceremony in Samoa for John to receive the title Tuaopepe John Ah Kuoi.
He’s coached the Samoan 7’s, Samoan B’s XV and in New Zealand he’s coached the Marist 7’s and has been involved with Manu Samoa in the past.
It doesn’t surprise me that John is now in the business of helping people, his face lit up every time he talked about this throughout our conversation. Whether it was helping his girls, his family, his rugby players, his bosses or his clients this is the thing that was peppered through his story and I am sure is the thing that makes him most happy.
A great opportunity
Ginger Group has helped John achieve his goals of securing a solid business for family, as well as genuinely providing a service that helps those he works with. Ginger Group is keen to expand its Maori and Pasifika Financial Advisers who wish to follow in John's footsteps.
If you are interested in more information visit http://gingergroup.co.nz/securesuccess