Combating piracy on the high seas. The father he never met. Meeting Trump. Newly elected Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell opens up about his life in a wide-ranging interview with reporter Samantha Motion.
Tenby Powell isn't saying Hollywood stars Jason Statham and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley definitely made a baby in his house.
He's just saying the dates line up.
It's been four days since the 59-year-old businessman won the Tauranga mayoralty and we're wrapping up the interview with a little celebrity chat in the stark boardroom at NZME on Cameron Rd.
It's an odd spot for this sort of chat. Usually, I'd pick somewhere that would offer clues about Powell's life and personality - a home or office.
But the mayor's office still technically belongs to Greg Brownless and Powell doesn't want to meet at his Ōmanu rental home.
It is the line he has drawn between his new job - with its expectations of transparency and accessibility - and privacy in his home life with entrepreneur wife Sharon Hunter.
So I take style notes instead: sharp navy suit and a salmon pink shirt, open neck. On his wrist is a hulking silver watch and a couple of slim black leather bracelets with silver fastenings, one with an Indian Motorcycles tag.
Powell, a colonel in the New Zealand Army, has been riding with the Patriots Defence Force Motorcycle Club for years - he bought an Indian Springfield in 2017.
He's moving to leave — tactfully brushing off my point that Statham also made a pretty cheesy movie, The Meg, while borrowing Powell's house — when he notices the weather.
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"Hell, has it rained? I'm on the scooter [a Vespa], bugger."
Powell has been riding since he was a kid, tearing it up on trail bikes around Tauranga.
He moved to the city - a town, then - aged 3 from his birthplace of Wairoa.
"I never knew my father. I was adopted legally by my grandparents so I used to call them Mum and Dad. My mother ... we're very close, I call her Val, her name."
They all lived together in Ngatai Rd in an arrangement Powell likens to TV show Modern Family.
"It was a modern family in a time where there was no such thing."
His grandmother, Alice, died when Powell was 10. He grew up close to his grandfather, George, a mechanic and "a very practical man".
Powell was a foundation pupil of Matua Primary School.
"In fact, I was the very first student. We were so early that my grandmother went home and baked scones for the staff and my grandfather helped unpack the chairs and put the tables out."
Otumoetai Intermediate followed, then Otumoetai College.
Powell says he was a spirited kid with long hair and a zest for adventure - "a bit wild".
An only child growing up in "paradise", he was always with friends.
They would strap extra fuel tanks to the bikes and go up Thompson's Track, or go riding through the sand dunes at Pāpāmoa.
"You'd spend a night in jail if you did that now."
High performance teams
He left school with plans to head for Marrakesh, inspired by James A Michener's The Drifters.
His grandfather intervened with an engineering apprenticeship that left him eager for university.
He went to Waikato in 1983 and studied psychology and business. It was the start of a lifelong interest in organisational psychology and high-performing teams.
Powell can turn almost any topic towards the subject of high-performing teams. Always on message.
Transforming Tauranga City Council's culture is his top goal, to be achieved through "small incremental changes".
Powell says he was thrilled to learn council chief executive Marty Grenfell was putting his smaller, refreshed senior leadership team through an Institute of Strategic Leadership programme. Powell rates the institute highly, having previously attended.
"The next thing, in my view, is to do the same thing with the elected members. Some may not want to, I don't know, but I think the closer the senior leadership team is to the elected members, the better. We have to work synergistically.
"That doesn't prevent the natural course of democratic debate, which is a really important part of the elected members' role, but ... there's got to be a way of moving forward."
He also wants to up the level of respect in chambers - including the dress code which is "unacceptable" in his view, as are instances of speakers being kept waiting for hours during meetings.
"We will not be doing that any more."
Proud of 3/6 Battalion, #RNZIR, Commanded by LTCOL @OllyTeUa, for their support to the #Fieldsof #FieldsofRemembrance in helping install 18,277 crosses @aucklandmuseum to honour the fallen. #Primeminister @jacindaardern recognised #auckland’s fallen in her heartfelt speech. pic.twitter.com/R66toALmQG— Tenby Powell (@tenbypowell) October 19, 2018
Powell joined the army at university, in a spontaneous decision to join a friend off to see a recruiter on campus.
In military service spanning 30 years - regular and reserves - Powell did two tours of duty in the Middle East and spent time in Papua New Guinea in 2017.
Above all else, it taught him teamwork.
He later combined his military and business experience during two years as chairman of a maritime private security start-up he founded with two ex-military mates.
Envoy 360 protected ships from piracy in high-risk zones such as the Gulf of Aden and along Somalia's coast.
"You know the movie Captain Phillips?" he asks. Based on a true story, Tom Hanks plays a ship captain taken hostage by pirates.
"That would not have happened if our guys have been on that ship, I guarantee it."
The company was not mercenary, he says, avoiding recruiting anyone with a mercenary feel or philosophy.
He says his concept for the company was to provide safe passage for ships and cargo without anyone getting hurt - including pirates.
"A pirate on Thursday was most likely a fisherman on Wednesday."
Powell says he met Hunter at a dinner party thrown by businesswoman Annette Presley around 1991 or 1992.
"We sort of clicked but not immediately. She was really busy with PC Direct. I may as well tell you she was hard to get hold of."
Hunter founded the hugely successful PC Direct with Maurice Bryham in 1989 when she was 22. They sold it in 1997 for an estimated $30 million .
Powell and Hunter married in 1995 and bought their first house in Ponsonby. Later, the rich listers built the Westmere home that would host functions attended by dignitaries from around the world.
Son George came along in 1998, they started Hunter Powell Investments in 1999, and daughter Charlotte arrived in 2000.
When the children were just babies, Hunter took them to live in northern Israel, where Powell was deputy chief of a United Nations unit of soldiers from 23 nations peacekeeping at the border with Lebanon.
Escalating violence in the area meant his family, along with all other dependants (military families) had to be evacuated after a few months.
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Powell said he never tried to find his father, but Hunter once did.
"She learned that he died when I was 8. I don't know if this is accurate information.
"I would have liked to have met him - I mean, who wouldn't - but that's not an option.
"I've got nothing to complain about in that regard. I've had a lot of love from my grandparents and my mother and I have a loving family now and a wider extended family.
Not knowing his father contributed to his engaged parenting approach, Powell says.
"I loved being the father of young children. I was a very engaged dad and I was fit - I think that makes a big difference as we were able to do things."
He burned through buggy tyres running. When the kids were older he and Hunter took them on "adventure" holidays - skiing, going bush - and supported their high school sports endeavours.
George, 21, is the drummer for rising Kiwi pop band Openside, which proud dad Powell says has recently been signed to Warner Worldwide. Their latest single is called FCK U.
Charlotte, 19, is studying business in Wellington. Powell says she has a knack for business and politics, as well as a big heart. He sees her in a media career but says she's not so sure.
"Lately I've struggled with not really knowing what my job is, as a dad ... they're very self-sufficient so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do any more.
"We are just learning to be adults together and that's a transition.
"But I miss my babies."
Captain of industry
Powell's business reputation is built on Hunter Powell Investments' acquisition of Hirepool in 2003, not long after he returned from his second tour of duty.
The company bought Hirepool for $46m and sold it three years later for $172m. Powell was chief executive until 2009, growing the business from 14 franchises to 86 business units.
He puts the success down to a strategy based around forming high-performing teams, establishing new sites in areas such as Tauranga, whether on greenfield sites or by buying the top independent hire companies in each town or city.
Curiously, it was through Hirepool that Powell ended up renting his home to Statham during the New Zealand-based production of The Meg.
"One of our key sectors was the film industry. Jason Statham was looking for somewhere and it was really convenient for us.
"Jason and Rosie had a baby not long after they left. I'm not suggesting it was made in our home but it was made in New Zealand."
That Westmere property is on the market, and Powell has said he hopes it will fetch around $20m. The family also have a holiday home at Lake Rotoiti.
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Powell founded the New Zealand Small Medium Enterprise Business Network in 2011, which led to a government appointment as chairman of the Small Business Development Group.
Prime Minister John Key made him a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council.
"I have met or shaken hands with the majority of the 21 APEC nations' leaders. To my knowledge, [Philippines President Rodrigo] Duterte is one of the few I haven't. I've met [United States President Donald] Trump ("he was tired"), I've met [president of the People's Republic of China] Xi Jinping ... and I've had a long chat with the prime minister of Canada [Justin Trudeau].
Last year Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appointed Powell as chairman of the Small Business Council.
"I've been captured by the ability to make a strategic difference to New Zealand and serve New Zealand.
"I know it's starting to sound like campaign stuff but I am hard-wired to serve.
"I have got the rhythm of central government and, I suspect, the rhythm of local government isn't dissimilar."
Powell denies ever considering a run at the Auckland mayoralty, although he did seek a ward seat in 2010.
He says he first considered running for mayor of Tauranga in 2016, partly inspired by involvement with planning for the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus, for which the council provided land.
At the time he was chairing Waikato Link, the university's commercialisation arm.
"I learned that the university wasn't as welcomed as everybody says they were. It was a hard fight to get that site on Durham St and I could never understand why that was."
He felt too tied up in 2016 but put everything aside to run in 2019. His win was hard-fought but he says the ugly bits were only 5 per cent of the campaign.
He hoped for a break between the campaign and taking up the mayoral chains on October 24, but the time is rapidly filling with meetings - locals of all stripes seeking an audience with the man with the momentum and mandate for change.
He says he's never considered the mayoralty, to which he has pledged a maximum of six years, a stepping stone to central government. He says he has no party affiliation.
"Last time I looked, you have to be in your 30s. Jacinda is 38. I'm not 30 any more.
"I have really enjoyed the board roles I have had and will hope that they continue in some time."
Until then: "There's a really big job to do here."