• News
  • 3 May, 2018

Making Connections

For the past 15 years Siuai and Serena Fiso have owned and operated Connect Global, a multi award-winning outsource contact centre from their home town of Porirua with branches in the towns of Ruatoria and Waverley. Supreme Winners at the 2016 National Pacific Business Trust Awards, the couple reflect on their business journey which includes more than their share of triumphs and tribulations.

Connect Global is unlike any other call centre business in New Zealand. Owned by Siuai and Serena Fiso, its employees are either predominantly Pacific or Maori with branches in small North Island towns, namely Ruatoria on the east coast of the North Island and Waverley on the west, near Patea, where Serena’s whanau are from.

For Serena (Nga Rauru, Ngati Ruanui, Ngati Tuwharetoa) and Siuai, whose parents who came to New Zealand from Samoa in the 1960s (his mother Vaovai is from the village of Falealili and father Vaito’omuli from Palauli) connecting to their culture is crucial to driving their business.

“This is the vehicle for us to create employment and develop our people in the communities we’re in,” Serena says.

“We’re also passionate about correcting some perceptions of our people. We do that by putting them in a supportive environment and showcasing their abilities in the corporate world. We’ve been able to do that a lot lately and it’s starting to turn heads.”

Entering awards immediately opens doors for the couple. At Connect Global’s entrance are plaques and certificates from various business awards ranging from 2005 – only two years after starting the business – to 2017.

Accolades include the National Pacific Business Trust Awards, Westpac Business Excellence Awards, Wellington Gold Awards, AUT Business School, NZ Business Magazine, Women of Influence, Porirua Business Awards and the TUANZ Awards.

He says the recognition alone is invaluable. Taking out the 2016 Supreme Winner of the National Pacific Business Trust Awards was an important catalyst for the business’ next phase.

“There is definitely prestige in winning a PBT Award,” he says.

“We sealed an important commercial deal because of it. Regardless of the category, the business community watches that space and readily acknowledges such success. We’ve had a great relationship with the Trust with a number of good advisors to talk to.”

Connect Global has had a long term relationship with the Pacific Business Trust.

As a new business the couple appeared on the cover of Business Pasifika, published by the Pacific Business Trust. They were named a finalist in the Enterprise category at the 2005 PBT awards.

David Wilson, PBT’s Business Growth Leader and Strategist, says taking out the 2016 Award required a high level of proven professionalism and commitment to success.

“We’ve supported Connect Global by contributing significant resources to enable even greater success,” he says.

“This is what we do with many Pacific owned businesses that show similar attributes. The cohort of Pacific Business Award entrants is always a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know and support more success in the Pacific business environment.

“In the last year PBT has worked in conjunction with other experts to analyse Siuai and Serena’s business, help prioritise areas of opportunity and, at the same time, identify and create solutions for organisational challenges.”

Siuai says the 18-month DNA programme Serena and himself have been undertaking with KPMG (co-funded by PBT) to help their business has been invaluable.

“They look at all areas of the business, including the right structure, marketing, service delivery, pricing areas we can improve, strategic models … they ask the hard questions,” he says.

“Those questions might make you feel a bit uncomfortable, but they ask them to make us think about how it affects the business in a more rounded, realistic way.”

Siuai’s upbringing was similar to many living in the relatively new suburb of Porirua.

His parents were religious, strict and expected him to study medicine. He did so for twelve months, then when his father passed away he realised it was more about what his father wanted than he did.

So he explored other options and found himself attracted to commerce. Siuai met Serena and soon after becoming a couple they had their first child. With it came responsibilities, which Siuai admits he was initially slow to wake up to.

“I was playing sports and having a good time, while Serena was at home looking after our young and growing family. I woke up to the fact I needed to get a decent job that paid well, so I could look after the mortgage.”

Siuai noted that many of the well-paid jobs advertised in local papers during the 1980s involved sales.

“I joined an insurance company. To this day, the sales training I was given 30-odd years ago still resonates with me as the best sales training I’ve ever received.”

The couple also realised they wanted to be in business together to create opportunities for their growing family, identifying the contact industry as a way to achieve them.

“You learn a lot of skills in the industry, which are transferable across so many roles, including sales, communications, marketing and telephone skills, which helps build confidence in general,” says Siuai.

In 2001 Serena and Siuai devised their business plan. It took them two years to complete. In 2003 Connect Global became registered. Their first client was delivered from their family home, then in Palmerston North.

They look back at those times with fondness.

“We operated 24/7 with an in-bound and out-bound centre on all sorts of weird and wonderful things,” Siuai recalls.

Their entrepreneurial spirit has passed on to their children. Son Luke Fiso owns and operates his own gym, Instinct Fitness, tagged the Premier CrossFit gym in Wellington near the main Railway Station. Luke has been in the industry since age 16. In 2016 he won Fittest Man in NZ and he competes on the international stage with a ranking within the world’s top 50.

From an after-school job as a sandwich hand at age 14, daughter Monique has gone on to work at Michelin-starred kitchens in New York. In 2016 she returned to New Zealand and began the pop up dining series Hiakai, using traditional Maori cooking techniques and ingredients in combination with her training.

Their children excel in their respective fields, which Serena attributes to their environment and expectations they themselves aspire to.

“When we picked up friends of our kids whose parents were either in business or well educated, it was clear their expectations for their own kids were higher,” says Serena.

“Generally speaking, success in education, and in life generally, was the norm for them.”

Serena is determined to change that. When she talks about family, she also means her staff.

“We don’t have a high turnover compared to our competitors. Our staff don’t leave on the dot at 5 because, ‘It’s not their business’. It is their business and they know we value them,” she says.

Many of Connect Global’s competitors are offshore, such as the Philippines and India, where the labour costs are a fraction of those in New Zealand.

“Overseas competitors come into this market making a lot of noise and thinking they’re going to take over,” says Serena.

“But if they don’t get the quick wins, they’re out of here, sometimes within six months of starting. That’s not what we’re about, because we’ve long been part of the community we serve. Having clients that have been with us for nine, 10, 11 or 12 years speaks volumes.”

Taking the time to enter awards and winning has given them confidence, encouragement and the boldness to go further in business.  In addition, it recognises the effort and commitment that their teams put into delivering an outstanding service to all of their clients.

“Our awards are won after being assessed by another party and benchmarked against other businesses, often from other industries,” she says.

“We’d get comments along the lines of, ‘the corporate world doesn’t care about the social impact you’re bringing to places like Ruatoria or Waverley’. There’s also the perception we, as Maori and Pacific, don’t present or deliver professionally,” she says.

“But they’re wrong. It’s reflected in our company’s stability and the loyalty we have from our clients as well as our staff who, regardless of perceptions, can and do deliver.”

“We’ll just continue doing what we’re doing, outperforming our competitors and watching them come and go. Our staff are loyal and are prepared to do what’s needed.”

For Siuai and Serena, the ability to survive and thrive in both worlds is as strong and accessible as it has ever been.

About Connect Global

Connect Global is a multi-award winning outsource contact centre providing inbound and outbound services via phone, web, email, SMS and chat channels. It has been providing industry leading outsourced contact centre services for over 15 years. With solid reputation for delivering and performing above its competitors, Connect Global has developed long and trusting relationships with some of New Zealand’s most well-known organisations and brands.

2017 AUT Excellence Business Support Awards – Finalist < $5m Turnover

2016 National Pacific Business Trust Awards – Supreme Winner

2016 National Pacific Business Trust Awards – Winner Enterprise Business of the Year

2016 Wellington Gold Awards – Winner Supporting Gold

2015 Westpac Porirua Business Awards – Supreme Winner

2015 Westpac Porirua Business Awards – Winner Young Employee

2015 Westpac Porirua Business Awards – Winner Innovation

2015 Westpac Porirua Business Awards – Winner Professional Services

2015 Westpac Porirua Business Awards – Winner Medium Business

2009 Porirua Business Awards – Finalist Information & Communication Technology

2008 Porirua Business Awards – Winner Outstanding Young Employee

2009 Porirua Business Awards – Finalist Information & Communication Technology

2008 Porirua Business Awards – Winner Outstanding Young Employee

2008 Porirua Business Awards – Finalist Discovery & Emerging Business

2007 & 2008 Finalists TUANZ Awards – Outsourced Contact Centre of the Year Award

2005 & 2007 Finalists Pacific Business Trust Awards – Enterprise of the Year Awar

Fiso Family Ties

Monique Fiso Founder of Hiakai, now in its third year, presented at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival working with top world chefs Michael Meredith, Ben Shewry and Morgan Clune, promoted under the Hiakai brand to put down a hangi for 150 guests from around the world at the Melbourne Museum. Haikai won the “2017 Innovation in Maori Development” award at the NZ Innovation Awards. Monique has secured a book deal with book publishers Penguin, due to be released later this year and has fast made a name for herself on the international stage.

Luke Fiso Ranked first in New Zealand (top RX Male Athlete) for Crossfit three years in a row. Luke describes competing as his hobby, while coaching is his passion. His reward is coaching athletes that qualify and complete at Olympic Weightlifting Nationals, National CrossFit competitions, achieving National CrossFit and Weightlifting titles, with athletes at his gym competing at the Pacific Regionals as individuals and as part of a team.

Estelle Fiso-Walters People and Performance HR Director for Connect Global, Estelle describes her role as “doing anything and everything in the business role”, putting all her qualifications earned from Victoria (BA Psychology and Commercial Law) and Massey Universities (Postgraduate diploma in Human Resource Management) to good use.