When he first started working at Whale Watch Kaikoura, Kauahi Ngapora was the guy emptying out the spew buckets out on the boat. Fast forward 26 years and now he’s running the place as the general manager.
The Ngāi Tahu and Waikato descendant is a perfect example of how to rise through the ranks in the workplace.
"My first role at Whale Watch is what’s called caregiver, which was really a flash name for a 'spew bucket' emptier," he says.
“So I had about 12 buckets, so if you felt sick I'd hand it out to you. You’d do your business because we had that saying its 'Better out than in'. Then I'd clean it up and give it back to you."
Kauahi Ngapora and kaimahi at Whale Watch Kaikoura. Source. File
At first, he wasn't keen to work there and got forced into it by his parents when he was 15.
"I said 'Yeah, nah mum. I’m not keen. I've got plans to go hang out with the bros over summer so I'm quite keen to do that', says Ngapora.
“And so my dad comes in and says, pretty simple, 'You're going to work for Whale Watch' and I've been there ever since."
Kauahi Ngapora. Source. File
After a year and a half working as a "caregiver", he starting moving up the ranks as a guide, a skipper and supervisor.
"I obviously did something right and eventually became the manager, Maritime operations, overseeing all of the boat operations, about 25, 30 staff, he says.
"I know all the bits and pieces. I've cleaned the toilets. I've done all those things. So one of the staff asked me 'You don’t understand what it’s like’. Well. I say actually I do. I’ve done it."
The business is run under core Māori values and people enjoy working there, so the staff turnover is small, says Ngapora.
“It's a real whānau business. We want to see our people develop.”
Due to its success, the Whale Watch Kaikoura is up for the Te Tupu-ā-Nuku Award for Business & Innovation at the Matariki Awards later this month, alongside Moana NZ and Tipene Funerals.