Senior Executive Leadership

Senior Executive Leadership Team

Chief Executive Officer – Arihia Bennett

Arihia Bennett (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi) has been the Chief Executive Officer of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu since 2012. Reporting directly to the board, Arihia works closely with the senior leadership team to protect and advance the interests of more than 70,000 iwi members and develop the strategy and purpose that guides the whole organisation according to its tribal whakataukī: Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us.

Arihia oversees the operations of the entire Te Rūnanga Group, using strong relationship management and stakeholder engagement skills across a broad range of internal and external stakeholders, including other iwi, central and local government, community agencies and corporate entities. She also oversees the delivery of a range of programmes and initiatives designed to create intergenerational wellbeing for all Ngāi Tahu whānau.

Arihia is a member of the Pūhara Mana Tangata Māori advisory panel to the Ombudsman’s Office and a member of the New Zealand-China Council. She has held several other advisory roles and directorships, including Commissioner of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission, and has worked collaboratively with other leaders in the Christchurch area to advise on the city’s redevelopment. Arihia also served as a director of Ngāi Tahu Development Corporation from 1999 to 2002, and then as chair until 2005.

Arihia is an alumna of graduate business school INSEAD Fontainebleau and Singapore and Te Hono Movement (a partnership helping to drive the success of the primary industry in Aotearoa). She is a member of Global Women and the Tuahiwi Māori Women’s Welfare League and was previously on the board of Barnardos NZ and the Christchurch Women’s Refuge. In 2008 Arihia was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and the community.

Arihia lives at Tuahiwi in North Canterbury in an intergenerational household and is an active participant in her Papatipu Rūnanga.

Chief Advisor to the CEO – Ana Su’a Hawkins

Ana Su’a Hawkins is Chief Advisor to the Chief Executive Officer Arihia Bennett, and has been with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu since November 2019. In this role, Ana works across the full spectrum of the organisation’s operations to provide strategic and political advice to the CEO.

Since June 2020, Ana has taken oversight of the organisation’s strategic operational pou including Ngāi Tahutanga, Oranga, Mātauranga and Te Ao Tūroa. These are critical pou central to whānau aspirations and wellbeing, and includes the management of taonga from our tribe’s history and within our natural spaces.

With over two decades of experience in the government sector, Ana is adept at navigating complex political spaces, having worked for the Ministry of Social Development, Child Youth and Family, and Ministry of Justice. Her most recent role before joining Te Rūnanga was as National Operations Manager at Oranga Tamariki, overseeing more than 330 staff. Ana’s other notable professional achievements include being a published writer and presenter on cultural supervision.

Throughout her career, Ana has been driven to help whānau and communities thrive and, as such, the Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu whakataukī – mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – resonates deeply within her. Instilled in her at a young age is the creed, “O le ala i le pule o le tautua” (the pathway to leadership is through service).

Group Head, Communications and Engagement – Sonja de Friez

Sonja de Friez is the Group Head of Communications and Engagement and joined Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu in November 2021. Sonja leads Te Koroī group to enable whānau rangatiratanga: they connect, engage, and empower Ngāi Tahu whānau.

The five Te Koroī teams amplify the voices of iwi, hapū & whānau; grow businesses; and strengthen the identity of Te Rūnanga Group.

Sonja has extensive expertise in public-sector leadership, working with large and complex organisations, helping them to engage and inform their communities by developing and implementing communications and stakeholder engagement strategies.

She specialises in building high-performing teams, with a values-led approach to excellence.

Sonja spent more than a decade shifting both performance and perceptions of government agencies, including the Parole Board, the Commission for Financial Literacy, the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry of Justice and the District Court Judiciary.

Recently, Sonja has been leading the community consultation around the reform of Adoption Laws, specifically with Māori, youth, and Samoan leaders. She has also delivered a comprehensive education programme for the Commerce Commission around credit, to a diverse range of lenders, the NGO sector, and vulnerable communities.

A current affairs broadcast journalist and documentary maker for more than a decade, Sonja has also taught broadcast journalism to post-graduate students at the University of Canterbury.

Outside of work, Sonja has worked with Community Comms Collective, supporting NGOs with engagement advice, and was a board member for Changing Minds, a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates self-determination for users of mental health and addiction services. In her spare time, she reviews books for Radio New Zealand.

Group Head Strategic Relationships – Rakihia Tau

Rakihia Tau joined Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as General Manager Strategy & Influence in 2015, before being seconded in 2019 to lead the strategy work for the Investment Policy Framework in support of Haea Te Awa, our tribal strategy. He was appointed to the role of Group Head Strategic Relationships in 2020. This newly created position is critical to the kotahitanga approach across Te Rūnanga Group, reporting directly to the CEO of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and indirectly to the CE of Ngāi Tahu Holdings. Rakihia leads stakeholder engagement, relationship development and the alignment of strategic workstreams, and manages our Strategy & Influence, Communications & Engagement and Governance Services teams.

As a young man Rakihia watched and learned as the Waitangi Tribunal hearings unfolded at Tuahiwi. In the ensuing years he became deeply involved in The Claim process working as a researcher, participating on various sub-committees and ultimately taking a leadership role as one of the six Ngāi Tahu Claim negotiators. From 1998-2003 Rakihia worked for Ngāi Tahu Holdings in investments and the various subsidiaries. He then moved full time into Ngāi Tahu Tourism as a General and Divisional Manager of Shotover Jet until 2006.

More recently, Rakihia was working as a partner in ARAHIA, a business consultancy. He has been involved in the Christchurch rebuild, helping establish Te Awheawhe Rū Whenua, then going on to work on a number of projects for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). During his time at CERA, Rakihia played an integral role in the establishment of the Matapopore Charitable Trust, designed to ensure the realisation of Ngāi Tūāhuriri / Ngāi Tahu values, narratives and aspirations within the rebuild of central Christchurch.

Group Head Chief Financial Officer – Darren Beatty

Darren Beatty (Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Porou, Te Roroa) joined Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu in May 2017 as the Group Head Finance & Planning, before stepping into the role of Group Head Chief Financial Officer in 2020. In this role he is responsible for the financial and performance management of the Office of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, as well as the monitoring function and legal team.

Prior to joining Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Darren worked in financial leadership for 12 years. His most recent role was at Māori Television where he was a member of the Executive team in his role as Head of Finance and Administration. Darren is a Chartered Accountant and has a law degree. His career has focused on strategic financial management, reporting, transaction processing and systems improvement, audit and risk management, facilities management and administration.

Darren is a fluent speaker of te reo Māori and is passionate about ensuring te reo Māori me ōna tikanga is part of the life of his whānau. He is committed to whānau development, to his iwi and his marae. He is currently a member of Te Taura Whiri (Māori Language Commission) Audit Committee and has served as a trustee of Tatau Tatau o Te Wairoa’s initial post-settlement governance entity board and as project manager for the rebuild of his mother’s marae in Kaihu, Northland.

Group Head Regional Investment – Wayne Vargis

Wayne Vargis has worked for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu since 2011, and has been the General Manager, Regional Investment Fund since November 2020. This newly created position is tasked with fostering the devolution aspirations of the iwi. In this role, Wayne works alongside the 18 Papatipu Rūnanga of Ngāi Tahu to invest in regional economic development opportunities that deliver localised/kainga-centric outcomes.

Wayne has worked within the wider Ngāi Tahu Group for over 10 years. His journey began as the General Manager, Operations for the health and social services arm of the iwi, He Oranga Pounamu. Wayne then left to establish Te Pūtahitanga – successfully winning the South Island’s largest social services contract in the process. He has also been the programme leader for tribal economies; creating, Puna Pākihi, the platform that works alongside Ngāi Tahu whānui to make their business ideas a reality. Most recently, he worked for Ngāi Tahu Property as their Commercial Partnerships Manager, where he was responsible for the firm’s deal-flow pipeline.

Wayne has a degree in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Engineering Management. He has also completed an executive management programme at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and earned a Masters of Business Administration – with Welch Scholar Distinction – from the Jack Welch Management Institute in Washington, DC.