"HAVE you signed our guest book?" Brent McConnell politely inquiries.
When I respond with a "no", he grabs an orange-handled drop point knife, expertly flicks it open and hands it to me.
He then motions to his wooden boardroom table – surrounded by camouflage upholstered chairs – that features a top carved out with names, gesturing to me to add my own imprint.
Knives aren't normally my thing but under McConnell's encouragement, I feel like I'm in good hands.
It's then I note that he's not your average chief executive, to which he laughs: "I've got a mullet!"
The 46-year-old is a deer-stalking, fish-catching, beekeeping, helicopter pilot and philanthropist who owns Tauranga-based clothing brand Stoney Creek.
In his own words, he's a country boy taking on the corporate world.
The short story is that he left school at 15 to work on a farm, became a farm owner, sold out on a high before buying Stoney Creek with banker wife Juanita in 2012.
In seven years, they've grown the brand globally with McConnell taking a hands-on approach with design.
Being a man of the land, he could spot practical additions missing from the Stoney Creek apparel, which was established in 1994 and had two previous owners.
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McConnell, who is a private person and kept under the radar until now, lives rurally in the lower Kaimai Range, with enough room for a clutch of beehives and space to land a chopper (he's had his commercial licence for 10 years).
He's a deep-voiced, hearty Kiwi bloke and a regular guest on television show The Red Stag Timber Hunters Club.
His staff parties feature surfcasting or wake surfing and staff trophy awards are fashioned from stag antlers.
He's got a german wirehaired pointer called Sika and a horse, gifted to him, called Aunty.
He documents his bushman lifestyle on the internet, posting hunting and fishing videos on his social media pages.
One photo shows him with basketballer Steven Adams and members of the Oklahoma City Thunder target shooting in 2016.
But true to his roots, he's unpretentious and laconic.
Stoney Creek services more than 400 stores in New Zealand with 60 employees and, since the McConnells took over have built a strong presence in Australia and the United Kingdom.
They're close to launching in the United States and Canada and continue to ship gear as far away as Afghanistan.
They've grown the brand from one-and-a-bit categories to six, including women's wear, lifestyle, corporate and high-visibility, as well as new camo gear inspired by the ancient tuatara.
"We purpose-build everything," he says, giving the example of an anti-wrinkle business shirt.
In his own wardrobe, meanwhile, green dominates.
"I've got some jeans that aren't Stoney Creek but we'll sort that out soon," he grins.
In the 1990s, he and his late mother-in-law - a keen sewer - sat down and made some microfleece tops, which McConnell used to start his own small label Hooked Bullet.
Fast-forward the sale of two Waikato farms, mixed in with a desire to do something that wasn't farming, and he and Juanita had been talking to a few different brands when Stoney Creek piqued their interest.
They found themselves sitting in an office asking themselves: "Mate, is this a good decision or not?'"
Father to three (Ella, 16, Paris, 13, Zarah, 11), it was "daunting" to move away from the only industry he knew.
"I've got a lot of respect for people who will do something like that but what we took with us was the awesome relationship between Juanita and I, plus all this industry knowledge that we didn't actually appreciate," he says.
"I'm just a country boy trying to make it in the corporate world.
"We've come into Stoney Creek with a really good background of what our consumer looks like because I am it.
"I live and breathe everything that we sell - it's in the blood."
The boy from the bush
THIS clever Kiwi bushman grew up on a farm in Taupiri - one side of his family hunters, the other side farmers.
He followed his dad into the dairy industry when he left school at 15, completing a Diploma in Agriculture while on the family farm.
He then moved on to a farm in Cambridge, moving through the milking ranks – first as a lower-order sharemilker, then as a 50:50 herd owner on two dairy trusts, before he and Juanita bought their own dairy farm in Gordonton, borrowing 100 per cent of the money from the bank.
"I was all about some form of entrepreneurialism," he says. "Trying to develop things is what lights my fire. The knocks and bangs you get within farming are tough, so you learn how to be resilient."
Such was the case when two droughts hit in successive years in the late 1990s.
"We ended up going through some pretty good learning curves on how to make things work," he reflects.
Tough times aren't unfamiliar to McConnell and it's what drives him.
In order to get ahead and balance debt, they sold off their main farmhouse and any farmland that wasn't producing well, using the proceeds to buy a drystock farm which they converted to dairy.
They also successfully developed land for residential housing.
When the dairy industry was at a high and McConnell was recovering from a broken back, it seemed the right time to sell their assets.
"If I sit back and think 'would I do some of that stuff again?', the edges have worn off a bit. It was risk-taking … but calculated."
Such was the case when buying Stoney Creek.
He'd never worked in an office but could see potential in buying the brand, because he saw clearly what was missing.
"I sat down at the start with all these intelligent people and said 'I don't want my radio to fall out of my chest pocket and fall into a trough. How do we stop that?'
"Or 'how do we cut the sleeves off something so we don't get wet arms when we're fixing the trough on the farm?'. All these things that had never been addressed in the industry."
From there, things started to happen and a hardcore following began.
"I think people started realising that there was a different taste … they saw a brand that's got some real things about it."
McConnell's lifestyle means he and Juanita are passionate about how they raise their girls.
The family went on a five-day hunting trip earlier this year where everyone was allowed one backpack each and they lived off dehydrated food while travelling through the rugged South Island.
He's "super passionate" about high country expeditions and only taking what you need.
Bumps in the road
WHILE McConnell feels fortunate to be doing and promoting what he loves, it hasn't always been a smooth path.
Three years ago today, he was in Australia for work when he was invited by a store owner to go hunting with him and Stoney Creek's then-Australian sales manager.
They were driving home at night when a truck-and-trailer unit in front of them hit a cow and launched the animal off the truck's bullbar and straight into their path.
"We went over the top of it and then went screaming down through gum trees, ending up in a swamp with the ute buried up to its axles."
Everyone was okay at that point but McConnell, who'd been a passenger, said "we've gotta get that cow off the road before someone hits it and gets hurt".
The sales manager offered to help and, with head-torches, they climbed up on to the road.
"We got about 30m away from it and (he) goes: 'Oh, there it is' and we had the lights on it. A car was coming the other way and, as it got closer, it all of a sudden swerves and went straight through us.
McConnell jumped forward, hit the bonnet and went over the car's windscreen, suffering a collapsed lung and a few broken bones.
He managed to get down to his employee and friend, who wasn't in good shape and died in his arms.
"It was pretty rough," he says, falling silent.
"You always think something will never happen to you … what it's done to me is wake me up. How can we make a bigger impact? How can we be better people?"
The accident is the big reason behind him increasing his social voice and presence.
Stoney Creek campaigns for environmental sustainability, lending their support to Fiordland Wapiti Foundation and Sika Foundation.
He and Juanita have also founded the charitable trust Our Backyard, which supports conservation, child poverty and mental health in rural communities.
They've partnered with Mount Maunganui's Curate Church (the McConnells are members) to provide 5000 packs of fleece clothing to kids in need across the Western Bay and have a goal to do 30,000 packs across the country.
On top of that, they recently donated $9000 to a school on Matakana Island.
Renowned street artist Graham Hoete - otherwise known as Mr G - has family connections to Matakana Island, with its population of 280. The McConnells supported him with a $5000 bid on his carved "$1 million" gumboot, which aimed to raise money for Mike King's I AM HOPE charity earlier this year.
Hoete says McConnell is the "real deal".
"I have 100 per cent respect for him and his wife and their hearts. He's a genuine legend. If I was to think of one word to describe him, it would be kindness. He does so much community stuff and is the kind of guy that won't tell anyone about it."
Des Samuels, the school caretaker at Te Kura o Te Moutere o Matakana, first met McConnell at a Bethlehem College school camp. Samuels also runs a business, Matakana Island Experience.
The two formed a friendship and McConnell later returned with his staff for an end-of-year break-up, which included a hangi and outdoor activities run by Samuels.
"Brent being Brent, he's got all the gears so he brought over a kontiki, he brought over his own clay target thrower. I think he brought his own guns in the end, which was real cool.
"He's very energetic and has so many ideas and his ideas are all around giving."
The money McConnell donated to the school meant "more than words can say", Samuels says, explaining there are only so many raffles you can sell when your school roll is 30.
The school, whose uniform is Stoney Creek, used a portion of the money towards a school trip to Northland, kapa haka uniforms and their new yachting programme. Samuels has dreams of Matakana kids becoming Commonwealth or Olympic medalists.
McConnell says: "If we can inspire one of those kids to go and search their dreams and be something … I mean, I'm from Taupiri. Taupiri's got a fish-and-chip shop, a pub, an awesome rugby club and that's it. Juanita's from Putaruru."
The McConnells have strived to be the same as other big businesses but different.
"We looked at other outdoor brands and thought: 'Why can't we go toe-to-toe with brands like that in the world?'
"Back then, people laughed at us and said: 'That'll never happen' so that's been one of the big drivers.
"We want to be disciplined around who we are and it's super important to me that myself and Stoney Creek are non-egotistical - that's really important.
"There's part of me that's always had this dangerous space of thinking that you're something.
"I don't believe we should ever rest on our laurels or think that we're something that we're not, and therefore we should keep our heels on the ground."