Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Leopino Foliaki set to retire reflects on his time as partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Avatar photo
Soana Aholelei | Reporter / Director

After 20 years as a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, considered to be one of the big four accounting firms and the second largest professional services networks in the world, Leopino Foliaki prepares to call time on his illustrious career, as he reminisces about the early days.

Looking out across the Hauraki Gulf from his PricewaterhouseCoopers boardroom, in downtown Auckland city, the view will be a hard one to miss for Leopino. 

“When I was made a partner in our part of the practice there were no female partners; there might have been one or two across the whole firm.  Even as a junior I would be the only Pacific professional in the whole firm.”

During Leopino’s time working in Budapest for PwC in the 1990s, he decided to move back home.

“I said to the partners at the time, show me my path to partnership, I’m coming home to make partner, I’m not coming home to make up the numbers, and that was a signal in a slight change in mindset on my part, but maybe also growing up a little bit.” 

He also attributes his progress up the ranks at PwC to hard work and timing 

“A lot of luck, I think there’s a word, ‘Serendipity’, which is a little bit about being in the right place at the right time, but also nothing worthwhile is achieved except through hard work and I think for whatever reason, I had that from a young age and I’ve constantly applied to work hard.”

Since making partner in 1999, Leopino’s been involved in some of the firm’s largest and complex client assignments across a range of industries, including airlines, building products and telecommunications.

He has led audits of some of New Zealand’s largest organisations.

Leopino’s governance experience includes board memberships of New Zealand Opera, The Cause Collective Trust and Co-Chairing TupuToa Trust.

For Leopino, being the only Pasifika voice at the table it came with challenges.

“In my day I was quite used to being the only brown person in the room and I was able to transition from one world to the next. Then going to Europe and understanding there are different minority groups that have different issues.  We’re just one of those groups, it opened my eyes, and also opened your eyes, that there are also minority groups that are highly successful, and that we have the chance to be highly successful despite being in a minority group as well.”

“The other thing was maybe a little naivety and ignorance on my part of not, trying hard not to see any barriers or any ceilings above me.”

A determination he learned when his family moved to Aotearoa from Tonga in the 1960s

“We came in 1969 for my father’s sabbatical, during that time my father and my uncle Clive [Edwards], decided that we would stay, and continue to stay in school here and apply for residency.  

But, not only did they decide that we the kids had to stay, that my Mum would stay and look after us and my father would return to Tonga.  It was a really great decision for us as kids, but the sacrifice and the cost were borne by mum.  She had some real tough times, you know, imagine being left alone in New Zealand with four kids.” Leopino says emotionally

Remembering the sacrifices made by his parents and peers to pay for his education has been part of what drives him to succeed in life.

“Certainly, part of the fuel that drives me to make the most of the opportunity that I had. A lot of people paid the price, it’s my job to make the most of it, so I had to give it everything.”

Leopino is looking forward to working more with the Pacific Island community and addressing their needs.

“I think the Pacific voice in Aotearoa is getting better, slightly heard. I think there’s a long way to go to get a better understanding of what it actually means and there’s a long way to go in terms of getting a better solution on the table for the issues and the barriers that our Pacific family and families face.”

No longer at the corporate table, it will mean Leopino will be home more at the dinner table. He says he is  thankful for his family support throughout his career.

“You can’t do what I did without the support and love that Nora has given me and the kids, because it comes with challenges and having to do that at work and do the family stuff, our immediate family and wider family.  All those circles that we mix in, it comes with lots of twists and turns and challenges, and to have navigated all that and still keep it all together, yeah it’s a lot of support.”

Upon reflection, Leopino is looking ahead to what the future holds.

“I sort of see in the next 10 years that I will expand my community work, pro-bono work, and some commercial work as well, and I need to leave some space for something different, something new.”

“It’s a hard one isn’t it, sometimes, do you work and live the moment or do you work and push hard for tomorrow? And I’ve spent a lot of my life time working hard for tomorrow, and it wasn’t till the back end that I started to think that I needed to spend a bit more time enjoying the moment and enjoying the day.” 


Stay Connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive daily updates direct to your inbox!

*we hate spam as much as you do