When Ina Nukutai first came to New Zealand in 1980 he was a schoolboy aiming to finish his education at Napier Boys High.
Born and raised in Rarotonga, Ina soon found that his ability on the rugby field, where he played at number eight, was a good way to make friends and fit in.
“I was selected for the First XV and we toured Wales in 1981/82, winning all five of our games. I found respect as a player, which helped me to establish myself in New Zealand, and motivated me to take rugby more seriously,” he says.
After finishing school he moved to Wellington, sticking with rugby at the same time as taking up a building apprenticeship. Following a return to Hawke’s Bay, while waiting for the right construction job to come up in 1987, he decided to fill in time by working as a casual in the wool store at what was then Wrightsons. Fast forward 33 years and Ina is still there, now as PGG Wrightson Wool National Logistics Manager, a job he has held since 2011.
“I found that I really enjoyed Wrightsons’ history, culture, and the people. That spirit has endured through several mergers down the years, and I’ve stayed ever since,” he says.
With responsibility for the company’s wool stores in Invercargill, Mosgiel and Christchurch, as well as home base in Napier, Ina oversees approximately 40 staff, and at any one time will have upwards of 200,000 bales of wool in his charge, co-ordinating its movement into, out of and between the stores.
“Over the last few weeks, with Covid going on, storage has been a big challenge. If the wool isn’t sold out of our stores while more wool is still coming in from shearing, we can quickly run into problems and need to find new options and extra storage space. We need overseas markets to re-open,” he says.
Ina has a hands-on style with work and prefers to actively make the most of his experience of the operation, rather than spending his days in front of a screen.
“I make sure I help the rest of the team whenever necessary, especially when numbers are short, whether that is doing data entry, covering for people on holiday, or loading out incoming wool,” he says.
His rugby career on the paddock, which included representing Wellington at colts and Hawke’s Bay at colts and senior levels, was cut short by injury. However, Ina has continued his involvement in the game, and is a stalwart of Taradale RFC, where he has played and coached the Maroons, winning three premierships, one as a player and two as coach. In addition, he has coached colts sides, served as club captain and president and is now a life member of the club.
Family also plays a big part in his life. Ina’s daughter Amy recently started working for PGG Wrightson in the Porirua retail store. Ina and wife Fiona spend time regularly back in Rarotonga, where they have built a holiday home, while his two nephews Karika and Roimata both live with Ina, having followed the same path as their uncle from Rarotonga to Napier to finish their education.
Although crossbred wool is going through tough times, Ina reckons it will come through.
“When you look at how Merino is going, we can take a lesson out of that. People need to understand that our wool is the best in the world. If we can access the end users, making sure they realise the quality of wool, and its natural characteristics, the future of our fibre is good,” he says.