Leader helped Ngati Whatua build its $600m-plus commercial arm.

Ngarimu Alan Huiroa Blair of Ngati Whatua appears to have been predestined to be a leader.

His late mother, Margaret Reweti, was a descendant of Te Reweti, who played a key role in Ngati Whatua's 1840 trip to Governor William Hobson in the Bay of Islands, when they invited him to Tamaki Makaurau, thus establishing Auckland's colonial settlement.

Blair's father, Greg, was a Pakeha schoolteacher, who raised the family in Helensville after the parents separated when Blair was only 12.

The deputy chairman of Ngati Whatua Orakei Trust tells of his parents' influence on his life.

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"Mum and Dad dragged us to the marae in the South Kaipara and Orakei, so from an early age, we were politically aware. Te reo was part of our life but our grandparents had lost that," he says.

Blair's first name is also a sort of leadership code, a bit of a giveaway in Maoridom: Gisborne-born soldier Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu VC was a member of the 28 Maori Battalion, and a posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

"He's famous throughout the Maori world, and New Zealand," says Blair. "When you have a name like that in terms of the East Coast and Maori society, it carries a lot with it so I was very mindful that I carry, in part, that responsibility.

"But it didn't help me with my East Coast rugby career. I got dropped after two games!"

One of his middle names, Huiroa, given by a Kaipara elder, connects with another aspect of leadership, suggesting someone who will attend many meetings. "It can also literally mean 'Long Meetings' - I rue the name sometimes."

Blair only turned 40 this winter, but has already been instrumental in establishing Ngati Whatua Whai Rawa, the tribe's highly successful commercial arm, now boasting assets worth $600 million-plus.

In the next few days it is expected to release a 2015 annual report declaring that figure has risen to more than $700 million.

Blair credits fellow trust board member Marama Royal with helping him recruit some of the city's best for Whai Rawa's board: accountant Michael Stiassny, who is its chairman, environmentalist and businessman Rob Fenwick, Ngati Whatua descendants Precious Clark and Rangimarie Hunia, and property expert Ross Blackmore.

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Much to the displeasure of many apartment owners, Whai Rawa now reaps $18.5 million a year in leasehold fees from Quay Park, the sweeping 20ha near the Auckland waterfront which it bought in the 1990s.

A seven-yearly review in 2018 could see that skyrocket past $30 million, thanks to the city's rapidly rising property values.

Blair was the driving force behind the project to build the first 30 new medium density whare, now nearing completion at Kainga Tuatahi, the papakainga around Kupe St near Bastion Point.

Iwi members had to pre-qualify to purchase the homes. Most will sell for less than $550,000 and Blair says that eventually housing for 3000 people could be built.

Just a few weeks ago, Blair also led the fight against the Government's move to dispose of surplus Crown land without iwi redress, overturned when Ngati Whatua threatened legal action to make sure iwi had the right of first refusal.

Ngarimu Blaire established what Ngati Whatua says is
Ngarimu Blaire established what Ngati Whatua says is "the largest ecological restoration project on the Auckland Isthmus at Bastion Point". Photo / Greg Bowker

Blair describes that battle as "a lonely one", but one that potentially offers access to up to 500ha of Auckland land.

He is the recipient of many awards, including the University of Auckland Business School's Emerging Maori Business Leader of the Year in May, and also established what Ngati Whatua says is "the largest ecological restoration project on the Auckland Isthmus at Bastion Point".

The project, Ko Te Pukaki community planting, is around the Orakei marae and aims to restore whenua rangatira, an area adjacent to Okahu Bay, with the slogan "rongoa (medicine) for the people and kai for kereru".

Blair also established Tamaki Hikoi, a guided walk around central Auckland. He recently led 20 Australian Aboriginal law students on this path from Maungawhau (Mt Eden) to the waterfront.

Recently he founded Pale Blue Dot Community Communications - a different kind of strategy, advertising, design and digital agency, which aims to create "insightful communications for a better world. We work to activate communications both within and across cultural divides in ways that bring communities together".

"The name is inspired by the fact that no matter who we are, or where we're from, ultimately and collectively, our true colour really is this pale blue dot that we all call home, floating in the vastness of space."

As for leadership, Blair acknowledges its importance, having been influenced by the late Sir Hugh Kawharu, ex-Labour MP Joe Hawke and Maori Party president Naida Glavish.

"I've been preparing for a long time for leadership roles, which I'm getting more and more comfortable with, so I think I'm lucky to have been born in this time - having seen what my grandparents and great-grandparents suffered in terms of being pushed to the margins of society and living in poverty - and we have this amazing opportunity to build our mana, asset base and positively impact every single tribal member. It's our generation's unique opportunity."

Blair immediately cites his mother as his greatest mentor. "I was 22 when she died. Growing up in a small town, you got the idea you were different in a negative way. It's not that way for my kids. New Zealand is maturing.

Even in my short 40 years, there's been a marked improvement in recognition of Maori culture.

But there were times when we were still ridiculed and laughed at. Most Kiwis are seeking a deeper connection to New Zealand Aotearoa, not only through nature, but also to Maori people."

Profile:

• 40 years old

• University of Auckland Maori and geography graduate

• Deputy chairman, Ngati Whatua Orakei Trust

• Director, Ngati Whatua Whai Rawa Ltd (tribe's commercial arm)

• Chairman, Ngati Whatua Treaty Settlement Protection Team

• Founder/director, Pale Blue Dot Communications

• Lives: In Mt Eden and West Auckland, father of three daughters