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From strawberry picking to an intl footprint: LM4 Group’s journey to success

It was picking strawberries more than two decades ago that led to Meta Tyrell’s foray into business and the drive to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others. And the success of LM4 Group today.

In her early years, Meta had a career in real estate, but the demanding nature of the industry took a toll on her. Seeking a change, she found herself working in horticulture, initially picking strawberries. It was this humble beginning that eventually led to the establishment of a thriving family business.

Meta’s strong work ethic and dedication soon garnered attention from others in her community, and she began assembling a team of pickers for various horticultural jobs. Over time, her picking crew grew from six to 37, primarily comprised of individuals from Pacific communities.

Recognising the need for more than just transportation, Meta provided invaluable support to her crew. She emphasized quality control in fruit picking, punctuality, and reliability. By instilling these values in her team, she helped them develop essential soft skills that made them valuable employees. Meta also ensured that her crew earned at least minimum wage, a commitment to fair compensation that reflects her strong sense of fairness and integrity.

The idea for a recruitment business emerged when Meta observed an older member of her picking crew struggling due to age, Meta decided to explore opportunities for full-time employment beyond seasonal picking work. This marked the beginning of her foray into recruitment, focusing on helping Māori and Pacific people secure full-time roles by equipping them with essential skills and confidence. Meta’s entrepreneurial journey was marked by door-knocking and perseverance. She approached businesses, building relationships based on reliability and trust, eventually helping 34 out of her 37 crew members find full-time jobs. While her journey had its ups and downs, Meta’s unwavering commitment to her vision kept her moving forward.

Meta’s journey wasn’t without its challenges. She was working from her garage back then and, with people visiting her at home at all hours, she knew she needed to find an office. She did that and she began to go out and get more businesses on board. Not familiar with emails or computers, Meta taught herself everything she needed to know to run a business.

But she didn’t have the business acumen she has now. Early missteps in pricing led to financial difficulties. Eventually Meta went into voluntary bankruptcy. She sought out her husband Lesa’s assistance to establish Alignz Recruitment. Which proved to be a wise move. Lesa’s finance and accounting background was a valuable contribution to the business and complemented Meta’s business development skills.

Together, Lesa and Meta navigated a challenging financial period, learning vital lessons about charge-out rates and profitability. They emerged with a renewed commitment to their mission of finding pathways to employment for others.

“There were huge lessons learnt along the way. But ultimately, we wanted to carry on finding pathways into work for people. So, when I talked to my clients all of them came over to Alignz; they valued the relationship we had with them and believed in me.”

“We went the extra mile not just for our clients but the people who trusted them to find them work. If someone came to Alignz looking for work and we didn’t have a suitable role for them but I could see in the person a willingness to work and skills to utilise, I would go looking for a suitable role for the candidate.

“I’d go door knocking to find a job for them. Yes, there was an element of needing to put food on my family’s table, but when you have a good candidate, you want to find a role for them. It is those good, hard-working people who have helped me create this business.”

And it’s those people who, when they run into Meta in the supermarket, say hello and thank her for helping them into a job. Many are still working in the same places and have been promoted along the way.

The emphasis on family values runs deep in Meta’s business, which saw family members brought into the business to where they play key roles in the operations.

“Our shared values of faith, respect, love, and effective communication have been the foundation of our success,” Meta says.

Three years ago, child number three of eight – TJay Asiata – returned to New Zealand and took on the role of CEO. He set about restructuring Alignz and formed LM4 Group overseeing subsidiaries Alignz Recruitment, Puatala, which delivers industry skills training, and Oyonnx, which helps build capabilities of SMEs. Under TJay’s leadership, the businesses refined their offerings to ensure clarity in the market and focused on sustainability, future growth.

With TJay at the helm, he’s helped shape the businesses to ensure the market understands the individual offerings better and more clearly. And to ensure the businesses are sustainable, futureproofing them and creating a legacy.

Naturally curious, Tjay spent time learning about how and what other family models have achieved in their businesses. He also did his MBA and, through his networking with others in the MBA, soaked up valuable lessons that he could learn from.

LM4 Group’s remarkable growth is reflected in its expansion to multiple locations, including offices in Hamilton, Auckland, Tauranga, Christchurch, and plans for further expansion Wellington. The company has also set its sights on international presence and commercial investments, particularly in the Pacific region.

“It hasn’t been the easiest ride, but we’re so proud of the growth of LM4 Group. And we want other Pasifika and Māori businesses to know they’re capable of doing some innovative projects that are making a meaningful impact on the lives of the people we train, put into jobs, and help grow their businesses,” Tjay says.

Incredibly humble, Meta was reluctant to share her story at first. But she sees the value in sharing her challenges and successes with others considering starting out in business or still finding their feet in business.

Meta’s journey was recently recognised with the prestigious 2023 Legacy Award from the Waikato Pacific Business Network, underscoring her impact on the community.

“I really encourage Pasifika and Māori businesses to take the leap, to give it a go in business. I want to help other businesses and have them understand that while the journey can be rocky, that you can keep going and achieve great things. We can do so much when we work together,” Meta says.

“My legacy is for my children and whatever vision they may have for LM4 Group, but right now we’re a really robust, sustainable business, and I’m proud that we’re 100 per cent Samoan-owned and operated.”

LM4 Group is a far cry from the early days when Meta was using paper payslips and reliant on Instant Finance to manage the business’ cash flow. Today, LM4 Group is 95 per cent self-funded with a small revenue stream from a Government fund. They have more than 450 contractors on their books, almost 50 FTEs, and almost 100 clients for Oyonnx. Their staff numbers look set to double in the next 24 months.

“It’s incredible to think how far we’ve come,” Tjay says. “My Mum’s my hero. All the door knocking, the setbacks along the way. But she’s kept walking, and her legacy will be what continues to drive us forward with some incredibly exciting opportunities both here and overseas.”

The Group has just expanded its international presence with the opening of an office in Apia, Samoa. It’s the first step in increasing the Group’s global footprint and enhancing service capabilities in the Pacific. The team in Apia will be involved in a project looking at data around exports, agri, health, education, sports, and tourism. Agriculture in particular has the potential to be a game-changer for Samoa in terms of providing data that will shed light on exports, product knowledge, the farming network, livestock numbers, land use and more.

 

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