Henare O’Keefe – CEO Business Marketing Interview 38

I ask Henare the 40 year question of what drives him, why he serves those who haven’t got the ability to serve back, the touchstones that capture the hearts, minds and souls and what he feels about the accolades he’s received.
Henare talks about giving back without expectation and why he believes relationships are the currency of the future. He also shares how businesspeople are giving back in kind and with time and how to fill a void through purpose and continuous improvement.

We also talk about the identity marketing in Hastings, whether Flaxmere could be rebranded.

PLUS Henare shares a personal insight and reminder he received after a recent stint in hospital, and how it’s renewed his outlook. (26 mins 50 secs)

Give us your feedback in the comments below!

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Transcription episode 38

Ryan: This is the Ryan Marketing Show and you’re listening to Episode 38 of 100. Today on the show, I have a very special guest Henare O’Keefe who is, kind of like you’re an evangelist, a leader, you’re not a CEO as such so this is this is slightly different from what this interview series is all about, but the reason I wanted to have you on this show Henare is there’s a lot of leadership attributes that you display that I think many CEOs could strive for themselves and many parallels, but first let’s take a step back and tell me a little bit about what you’vedone over the past 10 or 20 years and what you’ve been involved with and and why that’s important to you?

Henare: You know that’s a very good 40 year question.

Ryan: We don’t shy away from the hard questions

Henare: I guess it’s been a sojourn of evangelical proportions, I would put it and it is littered intentionally with, not so much leadership but serving, servanthood and serving those who haven’t got the ability to serve you back. I kind of pride myself on that approach, so it’s about capturing the hearts and minds and souls and the bricks and mortar etc, tend to follow. In other words I believe in the adage that the relationships are the currency of the future and so that’s really what it’s been about and whatever I put my hand to has been littered with that I’m waking up in the morning and I’m going to serve. I’m looking for an opportunity to do good. That’s not an exaggeration or an overstatement, I truly believe as does my wife that we’ve been put on this earth to serve. That’s our sole purpose and whatever comes about as a result of that, it’s a bonus.

We just finished talking about the Crucible. In other words severe tests that’s been a part of the package as well. So we have forsaken all material belongings, we don’t know anything and that’s been deliberate on their part so if we have the inclination to go to India or wherever we could just up and go, we have no commitments as such and what little we have give it away. So it’s been a deliberate ploy on our part and it’s been hugely rewarding in terms of the kickbacks in terms of the relationships and without those relationships it would be nigh on impossible to achieve what we’ve achieved.

Ryan: So on the relationship side you say relationships are the currency of the future… looking back, relationships have been a big part, you’ve almost stepped in where some children needed that relationship or a mother or father or at least a mentor figure when those haven’t been around. How important is that family unit whether it’s the maternal / paternal or having someone to look after, how important is it to a community?

Henare: It’s absolutely vital. I would take it a step further. I would suggest that the home, we’re talking about the home, the family, it’s the Alpha and Omega, that’s where it starts and that’s where it finishes. Fix the home for want of a better description and you fix the community.

So it’s vitally important. I’m not saying this is the opinion of the general populace but more and more the matrimonial constitution is being put to one side. I’m a total believer in that because it shows commitment, it shows commitment to your partner and you’ve committed your love, your worldly possessions, your body, your heart, your soul and your mind and that’s what that means to me. It’s like a covenant between two people. And that’s almost being disintegrated on a daily basis. So that’s the foundation. That’s the absolute core and foundation for the children and their children’s children. That’s my opinion.

In my opinion we need to restore that into the home. And there are still those that do a damn great job as solo parents who have not endorsed the matrimonial Constitution and still turn out pretty good citizens but at the end of the day it’s disintegrating, you know that hardcore solid family unit and I don’t know what the stats are but there are quite shocking I would suggest you be if you look into the stats in terms of how many homes.

Ryan: Were quite high in hawke’s Bay, so hawke’s Bay has around 20, 21 percent solo parents and in some areas like Flaxmere, it’s higher it’s around 40 percent just looking on the Hastings District Council site. What does someone in that position, what should they be doing for their son or daughter if they are the solo parent? how do you plug that gap, what do you do in that situation?

Henare: That’s a very good question. Well try as they may, if it’s a solo father, try as they may they will never ever be able to mimic or duplicate the matriarchal constitution or the female side of the relationship and vice versa.

Try as we may we will never ever be able to mimic or duplicate that. So outside of that when that’s been diluted in some way shape or form. I mean you’ve got to look to extend that family more and more now we have grandparents stepping into the breach when they’ve done their time so to speak as parents. But all of a sudden they find they become the surrogate parent to grandchildren. So it’s about embracing uncles and aunties and those around your extended family. But more importantly the old adage it sounds like an old cliché but it’s OK to ask for help. We’ve had 200 foster children, we’ve been married since we’re 18 and I’m 64 now, but we are certainly not void of shortcomings and anomalies in the parenting department. There’s no such thing as the perfect parent. I’ve never met them. I’d like to if they do exist. So yes all those things are important.

That gives them that solidity. And of course you chuck in everyday things like three square meals a day, roof over their heads, clothes on the backs, words of encouragement, a good consistent quality parenting, consistent boundaries, all those things method and you can’t legislate those things they can’t be quantified in a KPI our output.

Ryan: So outside of their family home then what’s part does having a job to be able to provide those things play and the question on from that, is what responsibilities do businesses and business owners have ensure healthy communities?

Henare: I have the good fortune to be blessed and surrounded by friends of mine who are renowned business people and they are a great believer in building social capital and they have no mandate or no shall we say, they’re not obligated to walk beside Pam and I and do what we do. They don’t know owe us anything. We have no status as such where they won’t see we’re going to get this guy in our lives sort of thing. But they do have a deeply embedded social conscience and I could rattle off a few names right now. So I think it’s vitally important. I think it’s a responsibility of the community and indeed the entire country. You know that adage , it takes a village to raise a child so all of those clichés come back I don’t know I answered your question but that certainly comes to mind.

Ryan: It does in that I think there’s a growing awareness around social enterprises where there’s a part of a business that will survive making profit but bringing all of that profit back into helping a community or helping whatever the goal was that. So rather than the distributing to shareholders, it’s still a for profit it’s not charity. but it’s redistributed in alignment with the values of the business.

Henare: Yeah I’d totally go along with that. When I think of corporates that are making billions of dollars in profit and paying very little tax, greed in other words, greed has somehow taken a monopoly on their hearts and where they have a have mandate to make as much as possible in as shorter as time as possible, but if they would only realise, in my opinion anyway the more you give back the more you receive. That’s certainly been the case with Pam and are I concerned but give without expectation or want of reward. So that’s been our adage. But I think it’s about changing the habits of a lifetime. It would take a change of evangelical proportions in order to turn the hearts and minds towards what we deem to be the right thing to do.

Ryan: And you mentioned that you know you’ve got supporters in the business community who already are aligned to that way of doing business. What makes them different from business owners that are just for profit that don’t have that social enterprise element?

Henare: That’s a very good question. I guess you would need to ask them that. But my perception would be is somehow shape or form, this lowly and inconspicuous couple in the guise of Pam and I, it seems that we’re filling a void in their lives, a gap that which all the riches and fame hasn’t quenched their thirst within them. Somehow I believe and we’ve been told we’ve given them a sense of value and importance and vice versa.

But that doesn’t make them any different from anybody else. Some are yet to discover that. I work along the areas that everybody wants to be loved. Everybody wants to feel valued and important. I don’t care whatever your race, your creed, you colour, your status in life. Everyone wants to feel valued important and loved. And I don’t see them as being different from from anybody else. There’s a time and season I guess, a time and season for everything.

Ryan: I think that’s an interesting insight because a lot of CEOs are in a position where yes there’s a lot of power and control but also a lot of responsibility and it can be quite a lonely place and profitability is one thing but purpose is a bigger area and profitability certainly has to be the #1 when you’re trying to get something off the ground.

Henare: You’ve got to pay the bills.

Ryan: Right you want to be around for year one, year two and onwards.

Henare: Absolutely.

Ryan: So I guess that comes back to your point of there’s a right time and place when a business can give back and there can be selfish reasons because they want to feel that purpose.

Henare: The giving back is not only fiscally, you know you can do it kind through time. We’ve had businesses, banks even, giving up a couple of days and working in the community garden, so it’s not all about the fiscal giving back, although that will be nice, but it’s also about giving back in terms of your time, your friendship, your love if I may chuck that in there.

Ryan: So that segues nicely. What does the community need right now. Where is it at?

Henare: You talking about Flaxmere specifically?

Ryan: Yes, it can be Flaxmere or Hastings or in general

Henare: You know that’s a very very good question. Again you could you could direct that question at the 10000 people that live in close proximity to us and probably come up with 10000 different answers you know.

Ryan: And you do that quite regularly you do go and do a hikoi and ask them, you know, how are we going to solve this.

Henare: We marinate in our community on a regular, daily basis whether it’s through the marae, whether it’s through the garden, whether it’s with our mobile barbecue which we regularly take out into the streets, whether it’s producing… I’ve just finished compiling the 2017 Flaxmere Heroes Calendar which we launch with great fanfare every year. So we’ll do that again.

Those are all touchstones, and you know we shop here. If we can’t get anything from Flaxmere, we’ll go outside Flaxmere, but if our needs are met here, and that’s important to walk through the supermarket, stand on the dairy corner, go to the fish shop, turn up at the rugby games, help out at the rugby club, chair the Marae Committee, all those are touchstones. In getting back to your original question, I’m of the opinion that the first thing if you liken Flaxmere to a dysfunctional child, well I would suggest empathy and sympathy would be a good place to start and then once the person or village or community realises they have empathy and sympathy from someone outside, and then they begin to drop the guard, they’re not so defensive and then they begin to open up, then you can begin to plant the real seed so that’s a good place as any to start.

That’s followed by understanding and patience and tolerance, but I’ve always seen that what I like most about the people of Flaxmere, they are many things, is that they stab you from the front. They don’t care where it is and I also see that is actually more difficult to get out of their hearts than it is to get in, but it’s a very very powerful place to be.

So all of those things, but it’s no different from you and I we want sympathy. We want to understand, we want resources, we want help, but more or less it’s not only about Flaxmere going around with his hand out, this is a suburb that walking around with its hand up and Flaxmere has given back to many a community one. I can remember one evening we raised $25000, when they had the tornado destruction. Flaxmere raised that in one night. So we’re very good at giving back where we’re not just running around with a begging bowl. We do that a lot on behalf of others.

Ryan: And you’ve been doing this for some time, so you would have not only been part of the change but you’ve seen the perception change from you know where we’re Flaxmere originally came from which was quite a upper middle class suburb that was its origination and I think last year was its 50th anniversary of being a suburbs you know where are we at now in reality terms, and where what perception do you think in your marketing parlance, what perceptions and how do they need shift in the wider Hawke’s Bay community about Flaxmere?

Henare: Yeah that’s a very very good question. It’s an ongoing process, it’s an ongoing scenario. I can tell you now that the Flaxmere of the past is no comparison to the Flaxmere of the present. No longer is it in grievance mode. I mean the mantra here is Flaxmere is heal they self because they come to the realisation to take ownership and responsibility and the wider district is realising that. They’ve taken that responsibility. And they’re saying look we know we had problems but guess what we also have the solutions and so the chances of succeeding are far greater if it’s Flaxmere helping Flaxmere.

And that’s not to say you shun offers of help from the outside because that’s now pouring in by the truckloads. So the Flaxmere of today I think I would suggest you know we’ve been referred to as canopy city, we’ve been referred to as Unit Nine, when you consider there are eight units out at the prison and so we are quite used to all of that and quite immune to that and so we’re in a place now where we can, without hesitation, say Flaxmere is a good place to work and live and that’s not an exaggeration.

If you take a look at some of the newly developed areas people are moving in the from outside the area and so that’s an indication that we are heading in the right direction. We’re certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but then who is but I’ll just repeat what I’ve just said. The Flaxmere of the past is dead and gone. On occasions it kind of pops its head up on occasions but the good stuff that’s happening, that’s unfolding has the inclination to suppress that or heal it or restore it whatever the word may be.

Ryan: And that’s interesting because as a marketer I’m always looking for data to back up what’s actually happening and looking into the deprivation index report that happens throughout the country, and looking at the areas around Hawke’s Bay there’s just as many deprivation index areas and suburbs in Napier as there is in around Hastings, so it’s not just here. Given that and given that a lot of those problems are in the past, if you had the ability to to re-brand Flaxmere a different name would you? Or do you think that’s from the inside the power that the name has to the community is power enough?

Henare: That’s a very good question. You know re-branding, call it what you like. You could say the same thing about New Zealand. Change its name to Aotearoa. When you think of the origins of the name Flaxmere you do have the inclination to re-brand. I quite like Parahakeke . The flax, which symbolises family, grandparents. mokopuna, grandchildren, parents so I quite like that. I do.

I’d certainly warm to that idea, I really would, I know it’s on the surface stuff but it does matter. I’d even look at changing our street names. You know if you go back to the history of the street it certainly doesn’t reflect. We’re made up of Samoans, Niueans, 54.7% Maori so I’d like to think that our suburb would reflect that, of course that’s a tangible thing to say to the people you matter. Your identity matters. It really matters. That would be as good a place as any to start.

Ryan: Yeah that’s interesting because I know that some of the areas, some suburbs around the world that we now see is very up and coming such as Notting Hill in London or Ponsonby in Auckland, you know those used to be the highly deprived areas and what any developer would tell you is that when you have a deprived area prices are depressed, making it quite lucrative or cheap at least, to live for artists, creative types, and as you were saying just before you’ve got some great businesses that have moved around here like Bostock’s, Village Press, so do you think Flaxmere or at least parts of it could be in that mode any time soon?

Henare: Like in terms of…

Ryan: Of of swapping around from being, coming out of that deprivation into at a place where creatives might live or want some extra you know an affordable place to live, that becomes a popular place and then gentrifies.

Henare: You know absolutely. I totally agree with that. I’d like to see that evolve and unfold over time because that’s a genre that it’s a universal genre and it’s a genre that unites. You know if you’re talking about the arts and certainly I’d love to see Flaxmere go down that track and look we are ready to receive in whatever shape or form that comes and we are ready to receive, but more importantly we’re mature enough to receive. We are and I’m proud of that.

Normally a reception has been greeted you know a intervention has been greeted with skepticism and how long is this going to last and so we know now not to look to governments for answers. We know that, we have to look within.

Ryan: I think the great thing about looking within, is that any results that you do have are more likely to be long lasting because they come from the people that want to see the change.

Henare: That’s true. That’s true. When I organised the hikoi back in 2008, my catch cry was we are gonna take our community back and someone posed a question to me, all that’s right great and I applaud you, but what are you gonna do when you get back? I pondered that a moment, more than a moment, so the answer that I came back with eventually was we are going to grow it, that’s what we are gonna do.

We are gonna grow it and that’s what we are about.

Ryan: Excellent. You’ve had some amazing achievements, particularly over the last few years with being awarded the Lloyd Morgan Lions Club Charitable Trust Honoured Membership, The Queen’s Service Medal in 2011, The New Zealand Community Hero of the Year in 2012. The Fellow Award from Paul Harris in 2013 from Rotary. From what I’ve just heard, it sounds like those things are not that important to you, they’re more the milestones and indicators for how much you’ve given back to the community.

Henare: That’s that’s a very good question. I used to think that, you don’t pursue those. They come as a natural phenomenon. You don’t pursue them but they are important in terms of a couple of things. It highlights what you are attempting to do in a community. It brings light to bear and as a result of that, resources do come, support does come, PR, but more importantly it says to the people of Flaxmere, hey you’re on the right track here. So it’s important in that respect but if you’re doing it to pursue those things, I’m afraid you’re not going to last. This is a marathon not a sprint race. You’re going to get chewed up and spat out big time. As I said, capture the hearts and minds and the bricks and mortar etc will follow. It’s been our recipe for years now. It’s never failed.

Ryan: And that’s a inspirational message and I think it’s a fantastic one that anyone in business or not in business could take on board. One final question Henare would be if someone’s on that cusp of wanting more meaning in their life more purpose, they’ve got to where they have wanted to get to in business or maybe searching for filling that gap in their souls. Where should they start? What what’s the first step they should be taking?

Henare: That’s a damn good question. Believe it or not that’s an ongoing process. It happens at many levels as it has. I’m only using my my point of reference as myself so it never stops. That’s ongoing, there’s always some sort of a void at some level in your life so it’s like continuous improvement really.

In my case for example in recent times I’ve had a hip operation. I’ve been given a brand new hip so I’ve had to facilitate more way through the health system and eventually I had surgery three weeks ago. But in the time I took leave from council, and in that time I was put flat on my back and I had no choice but to look up.

Sometimes God does that he has to put you on your back so you look up. And when I look back at it now because I can remember walking to my home one day and I walk through this door here and I threw my bag down and my mom was sitting there and she looks at me and I say ‘hey Mum’ and she goes ‘you’re a busy fool!” , ‘you’re a busy fool!’. And so I was becoming a busy fool. But what this did is it just brought me to a standstill because I wouldn’t have done it willingly. I had no choice. I couldn’t move.

It literally stripped me to the bone literally and no pun intended the surgeon got in there and he dislocated the hip and he hammer and chiselled and threw the other one out and put that one and sewed me up. But it literally reduced me to where modesty went out the window. You just have to have this gown on. You have no undies and a nurse caters to your daily needs but you just don’t care, you don’t care, you know you are there naked so to speak, emotionally, spiritually, physically but you don’t care. You just want to be to be looked after, put out of your misery.

But what it did for me is showed me what was most important in my life. I woke up from my drug induced slumber still in noodle land, as you are, quite enjoy enjoying the morphine and I had a button if I was in any pain and bang you get another shot. But I woke up and my room was full with my wife, my children, my grandchildren and apparently the morphine sometimes it cuts your, you don’t breathe too well.

And they were panicking ‘he stopped breathing’ ‘he stopped breathing’. So I woke up and the grandchildren they were crying. My wife was weeping over me you know, tears were cascading her cheeks and I can remember wiping her face. And I said to her, jees I realise now how much I love you and how precious you are. And same with my family. So I’ve come out of this with a renewed and animated in terms of a local councillor, I’ve come out with a more mature political persona and I can’t wait to put that into action.

But I’ve come away with a renewed love for my family. I just can’t get enough of my children. I sat my 47 year old daughter on my knee the other day. She’s a nurse, she’s got five sons and I said come her my baby and I cuddled her like a three year old, ‘come here give daddy a kiss’ you know she is blushing. So if that did that for me after 40 years of helping others and thinking you’re doing a great thing and I was reduced to that. I wish everybody in New Zealand would get a hip operation for that reason, you know sometimes I think the whole country needs to come to a standstill and just take a real good hard look at itself and get rid of the proverbial, get rid of the clutter out of your lives. Put it this way, if you’re lying on your death bed, what are you going to say. You’re not going to say can I see my bank manager just once more. I wanna touch my Lexus.

You’re going to be asking for your wife, your children, your friends, your family and that’s what matters most. Honestly just get it right people, get it right, get back to the basics and all that other stuff will come in, the fame, the fortune whatever it is. Those doors will open anyway but deal with yourself first.

Ryan: That’s a powerful message. So reflect before you have the health issue. Reflect on what’s important and then let that drive you with purpose in whichever direction you want to go.

Henare: Absolutely. You know I’m been born again, I’ve been resuscitated, restored or whatever and I can’t wait to get cracking. Really. I mean that.

Ryan: Well I can’t wait to see where you take it in the future. Good luck in the future. I wish you well and I wish Flaxmere and hawke’s Bay and the region well.

Henare: Look I’ve been interviewed a zillion times. You know the questions you’ve asked, they were questions of substance. They were wise. They were considered but more importantly, it gave me the opportunity to give back and there’s a bit of skill required in that.

Ryan: You’re welcome. I’m still learning, I’m doing a hundred of these interviews. It’s a personal journey for me as well and evolving, not only the skills but getting to meet some fantastically talented, skilled and passionate individuals who live in our community and to create a bridge between those people to empower a whole region.

Henare: Absolutely. I can’t wait to hear it.

Ryan: Thank you for your time.

Henare: Bless you. Bless you mate, that was fantastic.