Steve Saunders named Te tohu Kairangi mō te Kaiārahi Pakihi Māori - Outstanding Māori Business Leader

27 October, 2022

Steve Saunders with his Te tohu Kairangi mō te Kaiārahi Pakihi Māori (Outstanding Māori Business Leader) award sponsored by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

Left to right: Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Deputy Kaiwhakahaere Matapura Ellison, Steve Saunders, Te Rūnanga o Waihao Representative Jo Mclean, Te Rūnanga o Koukourarata Representative Elizabeth Cunningham, University of Auckland Business School’s Rachel Maunganui Wolfgramm (PhD), and Marama Royal from manawhenua Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

Robotics Plus CEO and founder celebrated for exceptional business success and leadership

The Robotics Plus whānau congratulates Steve Saunders, who was named Te tohu Kairangi mō te Kaiārahi Pakihi Māori (Outstanding Māori Business Leader) at the 2022 Ngā Taumata Rau Aotearoa Māori Business Leaders Awards last night.

The awards run by the University of Auckland Business School recognise and celebrate outstanding Māori excellence and success in business. The Outstanding Māori Business leader award recognises a person who has achieved exceptional success in their career and demonstrated exceptional leadership whose influence extends beyond the confines of their role.

Steve (Ngāi Te Ahi, Ngāti Ranginui) has 36 years of experience in the horticultural sector, international ventures, applied technology, environmental research & development, innovation and science.  

Thinking big and looking to solve global, scalable problems has been integral to Steve’s success - a philosophy that is well expressed in his favourite whakataukī: He rangi tā matawhāiti, he rangi tā matawhānui – a person with a narrow vision sees little opportunity, a person with a wide vision sees plentiful opportunities.

As the CEO and founder of Robotics Plus, Steve’s leadership has seen the company gain global recognition as a specialist in the design and build of robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomous machines. Accolades include Forbes Asia 100 Company to Watch 2021, Thrive Top 50 Global AgTech Companies 2020, RBR Top 50 Company for Robotics Innovation 2020, NZ Hi-Tech Kamupene Māori o te Tau (Māori Company of the Year) 2019, and a Westpac Business Corporate Leadership Award in 2019, among others.

Just last week in the US, Robotics Plus launched its third commercial robotic innovation – an Unmanned Ground vehicle – already generating worldwide interest. The autonomous multi-use, modular vehicle platform for agriculture is designed to carry out a variety of orchard and vineyard machine tasks - to alleviate ongoing labour shortages and transform the industry.

Steve has supported and encouraged the Māori ecosystem for many years.

“Robotics Plus identifies as a Māori organisation, which is reflected in our values. We are pioneers - he aronga nui, collaborative – manaakitanga, and principled - tika me te pono. These values are warmly embraced and lived by the Robotics Plus whānau. They also resonate with our partners internationally, as together we work to create a better future for both people and place,” he says.

Steve is a founder director of WNT Ventures, a founding member of PlantTech Research Institute and a founding shareholder and director of innovative snack-sized apple company Rockit Global. 

Last night, Rockit took home the prize for Best Large Business and the coveted overall Supreme Award at the New Zealand International Business Awards 2022 – recognising Kiwi achievement in the competitive global marketplace.

In addition, Steve is a founding shareholder and director of Miro Limited, a collective of Māori berry producers. He is the co-founder of Newnham Park Innovation Centre in Tauranga, an active Angel investor, and a shareholder and director of many privately-owned companies and tech startups.

Steve has long-championed Māori investment in agriculture and innovation and Māori skills development.

“I feel very proud to have encouraged Māori investment in so many exciting ventures, which creates many other positive spin-offs such as skills and job creation. Miro is a great example; by engaging early with Māori, around 30 entities invested in the collective, now the largest substrate growers of blueberries in New Zealand. Rockit - sold in 30 countries worldwide and growing rapidly - is another fantastic success story backed largely by Māori investors.”

Steve is a former Board member of the Māori Economic Development Advisory Board, Agrigate, and Landcare Research. He is also a former director and shareholder of Mpac, which packs and coolstores more than 20 million trays of kiwifruit annually.

In 2016 Steve was named Tauranga Boys’ College Old Boy of the Year. Other winners include a who’s who of notable New Zealanders, including Olympic gold medallists Mahe Drysdale and Peter Burling; actor, director, scriptwriter, author and producer Ian Mune; and cricketing great and Black Caps captain Kane Williamson.

Seven other winners were also announced at last night’s Aotearoa Māori Business Leaders Awards – including the 16-year-old CEO behind the largest poi manufacturer in the world and an organisation that empowers and supports waste reduction.

Dr Rachel Wolfgramm, Associate Dean, Māori at the Business School, says: “We are proud to host these awards and celebrate the tremendous contributions our winners make to their whānau, iwi and communities. The awards not only raise awareness of Māori business success, they also help inspire our own tauira to take their place in a growing economy grounded in Māori worldviews.”