From chips to riches

Saturday 8 May 2021 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Local, National

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From chips to riches
The Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Masters and Mike Pero discuss how Pasifika Air could re-ignite the Cook Islands’ pawpaw industry – 21050734

Hard work and determination have taken Mike Pero from relatively humble beginnings, working in his father’s fish and chip shop, to becoming one of New Zealand’s most successful businessman.

Well-groomed and put together, Mike Pero resides ‘on holiday’ in his Matavera home with his wife, Rachel.

Pero gives me a tour around in what he modestly calls “just a bach”. The most impressive part is a 20-metre long infinity pool. It’s only a couple of metres wide and stretches the length of his deck, offering uninterrupted sea views.

At 61-years-old, he says I now “know what to look forward to” when I reach his age.

It’s the fruits of a life lived as a successful businessman. But his life had relatively humble beginnings working in his father’s fish and chip shop.

His Cook Islands father is who Pero credits his hard work ethos too. He was a self-sufficient man, Pero says: “If something went wrong, it didn’t matter, he would fix it.”

Recounting his father’s journey to New Zealand, Pero says he didn’t even make it out of the harbour before the ship sprang a leak, “they were bailing water all the way to Auckland”.

Pero’s mother was born in south England and is to whom he credits his entrepreneurial nature.

They complemented each other and Pero says between them they never gave up.

In his early professional career Pero moved from mechanic, to motorcycle racer, to selling life insurance.


Mike Pero was six times National Motorcycle Road Racing Champion and set the New Zealand land speed record for a 350cc motorcycle in 1979. The record of 238 km/h still stands today. WeAreCanterbury/21050738

Eventually leading to Mike Pero Mortgages in 1991, which he says he started with no money.

In 1996 he sold half the business to South Canterbury Finance. Pero says at the time the business was not for sale. But the business broker insisted that he at least buy Pero a coffee.

“So, he came down and I said ‘Yeah ok have a seat Tim, but it’s not for sale’. He said ‘Mike, here’s the coffee, that’s the figure’. I said ‘Great, when do we meet’.”

“Later that day we scribbled out some notes and sold the business… everything has a price.”

After the sale, Pero bought into the airline Origin Pacific – he jokes that all his businesses have Pacific in their name – and lost lots of money. “What do they say about small fortunes?” he half-jokes, “You start with a big one.”

A few smaller businesses later, Mike Pero Real Estate started. The timing couldn’t have been worse; it was 2011, a week before the Christchurch earthquake. Terrible news for the Christchurch business.

“If I could have pulled out, I would have, but I was committed to continuing.

“So we expanded across the country, set up 60 offices, franchised the system and we became the fastest growing real estate company in New Zealand real estate history, by office numbers.”

Two and half years ago he sold it for a large sum of money. He’s still the face of the brand, but has no stake in the ownership.

Pero was meant to be retiring but is now on his latest business venture, Pasifika Air. The aim is to create a new tourism market for the Cook Islands by flying people out of Wellington and Christchurch to Rarotonga, something no airline is doing. It’s his way of trying to help the country.

Pero says his relationship with the Cook Islands and its people mean more to him now than in his younger days.

“I was just brought up like any other Kiwi and growing up it didn’t actually mean a lot to me; as you get older, you start thinking about your roots.”

Around eight years ago when his father passed away, Pero thought more about his relationship with the country and how much he enjoyed reconnecting with his Cook Islands family.

“I just love the culture,” he says.

The airline aims to be taking off in the country’s fourth quarter.

“My idea is to create new customers who would otherwise go to Europe, America and Asia.”

But flying out of Christchurch and Wellington is challenging. The plane he wants is a Boeing 737 and it needs the capacity to hold fuel for Tahiti in case unfavourable weather makes a Rarotonga landing impossible.

Finding an aircraft capable of doing the distance, “is not easy to find”.

“I don’t think there’s anything harder than an airline, when you come to business – there are just so many components.


PHOTO: SUPPLIED.

“The process is long and drawn out and I must admit, I’ve had my moments of ‘What am I doing?’.”

As well as opening the Cook Islands to a new market, Pero is attempting to assist with a new pawpaw export market to New Zealand. He says Pasifika Air will charge freight at around $3 a kilogram, $6 cheaper than other airlines, making it a commercially viable business for growers.

While all this is happening, Pero is playing on New Zealand’s television screens, starring as the Apprentice CEO.

The franchise made famous through Donald Trump wasn’t something Pero was interested in due to how the previous US president ran the show. But after being told he could do it his own way, he agreed.

“At the end of the day though I still had to fire someone. I always had to say the name of the person and ‘you’re fired’, and I had to point my finger.”

He says it is the hard part about the show.