Rotorua security guard Rangi Hurihanganui had two paths - life as a gang member or one in a good career helping people. Today he holds the country's top award in the security industry. He speaks with journalist Kelly Makiha about how he hopes his story will help others.
When Rangi Hurihanganui turned 15, he dragged his feet on the long walk home from school knowing he had to face his father and tell him the bad news - he had let him down and was leaving school.
Mr Hurihanganui came from a big family - three sisters and seven brothers, all loved and well educated by wonderful parents. But he was different.
The self-confessed black sheep never really connected with the education system and the future looked a bit grim.
On his way home from school that day, he came across a bunch of young guys who asked him what he was up to.
He told them he had just dropped out of school and they tried to convince him to go with them to join the Black Power.
"Back in those days in the 60s, Rotorua was riddled with gangs. I was that close to turning my back and heading with them but a little voice in my head said 'you'd better get home and tell your old man you've left school'."
That same little voice told Mr Hurihanganui he needed to leave Rotorua, so he called his sister, now Rotorua Girls' High School principal Ally Gibbons, who was at the time living in Christchurch with her husband, Shane.
They gave him a place to stay and a contact of Mr Gibbons' got him his first job in the security industry.
"That was in 1979 and I've never looked back."
While you'd assume with Mr Hurihanganui's passion for seeing youngsters on the straight and narrow and catching bad guys might lend him towards a life in the police force, he never ventured down that track.
"I'm uneducated and I'd never pass the training. I'm thankful I never did that because security work suited me."
So much so, he has just won the top prize at the New Zealand Security Association Awards
held in Rotorua.
The operations manager at Bay of Plenty-based security firm Watchdog Security Group took out two awards, including the supervisor/operations manager category for his dedication to the industry, his development of high quality training practices, focus on outstanding service delivery and his commitment to reducing criminal offending among young Maori.
He was then selected from all category winners to be awarded the top prize which was the Ian Dick Memorial Trophy for Security Personality of the year. The award was presented by Rotorua police area commander Inspector Bruce Horne.
Helping young Maori
After more than 35 years in the industry, Mr Hurihanganui is now looking to put what he's learnt into a programme for young Maori that has the backing of his company.
He is forming a trust and is raising funds to launch the programme.
"Everyday in our work I see these young kids embarking on a path that will destroy their lives and damage our community, and unfortunately it is getting worse" he said.
"However I understand where some of these young kids are coming from. They will struggle with the school system as I did and wonder what their future holds.
"I came very close to choosing a path into the life of a gang member but I was fortunate the values of my parents and an opportunity to work in this industry won over."
It is hoped the trust would work with the Ministry of Justice to see juvenile offenders aged 13 to 17 referred to them for help.
"I don't want to see these juvies (juveniles) graduate from petty crime to be hardened criminals and join gangs by the time they're 17. If we can help them get a driver's licence, get a CV together then one day they could be like me and wear a uniform."
He said he could have ended up in jail and probably eventually dead but he learned what it was like to keep his nose clean and to be Maori.
"I used to curse my mum and dad for my long name that no one could spell or pronounce. It wasn't until I was in my mid 20s that I was taken to this place, a marae. I broke down and cried when I realised what my name meant."
Literally, his name means the turning of rocks and ash into the sky, and it comes from his great grandfather, who was born a week before the Mt Tarawera Eruption.
The people who survived the eruption placed his great grandfather into a kete and put him in a tree for safety before fleeing to Ngati Wahiao territory to escape the devastation.
About a week later when the ground had cooled, they returned and found the baby still alive in the kete.
Mr Hurihanganui said he cherished his Maori culture but regrets not being able to speak the language fluently.
"I grew up in a generation when my parents were forbidden to speak it. I struggled enough with English with my limited education, let along learning Maori too."
One of his earliest memories is of his first job earning money from tourists as a penny diver at Whakarewarewa.
"My dad caught me stealing his loose change out of his work pants. The thought of getting caught and hurting my father plagued me even though I was only 7 or 8. I knew if I wanted to buy things I had to earn my own money, so that's how I started."
There's one person Mr Hurihanganui credits with his success, and that's his boss and Watchdog chief executive officer Brett Wilson.
When he applied for the position seven-and-a-half years ago, it was down two men. The other was an ex-policeman and had all the qualifications.
But Mr Wilson's gut instinct was with Mr Hurihanganui.
"He recognised my work from day one.
"He is known to his fellow officers as Boss Man. He reminds me a lot of what Steve Hansen is to the All Blacks. He loves his rugby, knows his staff's strengths and weaknesses and how to get the best out of them and whether it is work or personal, he sincerely cares. We are all treated like family."
Mr Hurihanganui said when his name was called out as the supreme winner at the awards, he looked over at "Boss Man".
"I could see the tears rolling down the side of his face and I just took a moment. That's the satisfaction I got from the award right then knowing that my work was appreciated."
Mr Wilson said it was a well deserved award for someone who personified everything the security industry should be.
"He is driven by a desire to protect his clients and takes it personally if any clients suffer any loss. He delivers work to a very high standard , and is meticulous about detail and demands the same from his staff.
"Rangi has been my right-hand man for seven years and is one of the most dedicated and loyal people I have had the pleasure of working with, he is the consummate security professional."
Mr Hurihanganui also dedicated the award to his wife, Sally, who he said had been a tireless supporter for the last 30 years despite the countless night shifts and trips away on jobs.
"I couldn't have done the job without her support."
She was also the one responsible for him applying for the job at Watchdog. After 20 years working for Armour guard and then taking on a role as a security guard for P&O cruises, Mr Hurihanganui said his wife was tired of him being away all the time.
"She spotted the job at Watchdog and I packed my bags."
As Mr Hurihanganui looks back on his career, he wouldn't change a thing.
"I wear my uniform 24/7. The other day I had to come into work for a meeting on my day off and I still wore it. It protects me."