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Current as of 19/12/14 07:40PM NZST

Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

English first - then the top job

Ken Lotu-Iiga says Fletcher Residential has another three or four years of building work at Stonefields in Mt Wellington. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Ken Lotu-Iiga says Fletcher Residential has another three or four years of building work at Stonefields in Mt Wellington. Photo / Sarah Ivey

When Ken Lotu-Iiga landed in South Auckland as a child from Samoa, he could speak not a word of English.

"I was 5 when I got here. I was at school with my cousin [Tony Aiuta] and brother [Maungakiekie MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga]," says the new Fletcher Residential general manager.

"When you're 5, you're pretty resilient and you learn pretty fast."

Father Lotu Iiga and mother Usuga Iiga left Apia to give daughters Lolita and Brigitta and sons Ken and Sam the best education, sending them to Mangere Central School, Sir Douglas Bader Intermediate then the boys to Auckland Grammar School.

His father worked at a freezing works first, then days at Polynesian Airlines and nights as a taxi driver, and his mother worked as a librarian.

"My parents were keen for us to get into Auckland Grammar so they bought a unit in Parnell to get into the zone. We were told we wouldn't make it at Auckland Grammar."

But Ken became the school's head boy and first XV captain.

"That was a huge experience for me, the first Polynesian head boy.

"There was a lot of emphasis on performing well. People have seen qualities in me and looking at my life, I always had leadership roles but a lot of it is about humbleness, humility."

He went on to get University of Auckland commerce and law degrees and it was as a student that he joined Fletcher where he has worked for 20 years.

"I took a summer job in marketing for Duroid, the building paper business, doing pricing analysis because they were trying to redo their pricing."

In 1992, he was appointed Fletcher Aluminium's business manager, then was divisional manager of Fletcher Residential's Dempsey Morton for eight years, before being appointed Fletcher Residential's strategic development manager where he stayed for two years.

When David Halsey retired this year, Lotu-Iiga got the top Fletcher Residential job, in charge of one of the country's biggest house builders which is in a joint venture with Todd Properties to develop the 2600-residence Stonefields.

"We've probably got about three to four years [work] left of housing, we're nearly cracking 1000 homes there," he said. "We'll end up half terrace and housing, and half apartments."

Residents are about to move into Saltus, Stonefields' first apartment block, and work has begun on Altero, a 45-unit block of apartments from $600,000 to $900,000.

Then, a 65-unit block is planned behind Saltus. One to two-bedroom units could be in the more affordable range in that third block.

Fletcher Residential has big opportunities at the Manukau Golf Course off Great South Rd near the Southern Motorway at Manurewa, where it paid about $40 million for a site for 500 to 800 houses.

A 220-lot Beachlands block on Jack Lachlan Drive by the Formosa Country Club will soon be developed.

The company is developing about 80 houses at three Flat Bush locations and a further 300 at Karaka.

The Fletcher Construction division builds about 350 houses and apartments annually but Lotu-Iiga says that will increase.

"There's a lot of expectation about growing the business because we do need to, with the housing shortage. We're looking at other land opportunities in Auckland and looking to enter Christchurch. We purposely stayed out of there because they had enough capacity but the time is right for us to enter that market and we hope to start building there in the New Year."

Brother Sam says his older brother is wiser.

"We were given opportunities in Mangere. Education unlocks opportunities you would not otherwise have. Auckland Grammar was a very white school then and Ken being head boy was a significant achievement and quite a shock to many," Sam said.

Like the transition in Auckland from the 1970s to now, Ken Lotu-Iiga's life from the young Samoan child in a virtually all-white school system has changed dramatically.

"When we were growing up, our parents made us speak Samoan at home. I can only speak it conversationally now - they'd speak Samoan to us and we'd speak English back."

Ken Lotu-Iiga

Age: 44

Position: General manager, Fletcher Residential, 810 Great South Rd, Penrose.

Family: wife Julie, sons Bronson, 15, Theo, 12, Konrad, 11.

Home: Remuera

Positions: Auckland Grammar School board member.

Education: Mangere Central School, Sir Douglas Bader Intermediate, Auckland Grammar School, Auckland University.

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