My name is Mitchell Walker and I live in Wellington
Ko Ngāti Patumoana tōku hapū
Ko Waiaua tōku Marae
Born in Tauranga and raised in Kirikiriroa, I was privileged to have grown up within a bilingual whanau, with close ties to our Iwi and a strong understanding of Te Ao Māori. I didn’t think much of it during my younger years but in hindsight this environment heavily influenced my outlook on the world and provided me with a strong sense of identity.
When I was 15 I left New Zealand and moved to Melbourne with my mother and sister. At the same time, I decided to drop out of high school, I had little interest in school and just wanted to get out and work, so I thought I’d follow in my father’s footsteps and become a Chef. A few months later, once I had turned 16, I enrolled at the Sofitel Culinary Academy and began my apprenticeship.
For two years I was working 16 hour days in the kitchen five days a week, and studying at the academy one day a week. The hours were brutal, the work relentless and in the end I burnt out and had to re-evaluate what I wanted to do. Inevitably I decided to move on and try my hand at something else. At the time, a lot of my mates were studying Tourism, naively I thought ‘I may as well give this a go’… so I went off to complete my Certificate in Tourism and Business.
It was after finishing my studies that things really took off, after months of pounding the pavement to find a job I ended up gaining employment as a contractor with Air New Zealand, in their Melbourne Office. I spent three years proving my worth and networking with people across the business and eventually was offered a position within the commercial team, at the company’s regional head office in Sydney. After finding my way in the corporate world I decided I wanted to push the boundaries and really make something of the opportunities that the aviation industry presented. Eventually I secured a leadership position within the Star Alliance’s management office based in Frankfurt, and was relocated to Germany. From there I then moved on to join the team at the International Air Transport Association based in their Amsterdam Office in the Netherlands.
My work has taken me to 35 countries over the last ten years, to places I never thought I’d go like Latvia and Cuba. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on some interesting projects with some of the industry’s heavyweights, from rebuilding airport IT systems with the team at Turkish Airlines in Istanbul, through to managing the implementation of business products with the team at LATAM in Sao Paulo. The aviation industry has been an amazing environment to build my experience in commercial and product management, I would really recommend it to people looking at working in a global environment.
After six years in Europe it was time for the next adventure, so my partner and I decided we would head back to New Zealand to reconnect with my country and culture. My partner Nina is German, however since moving here she has made it a priority to learn about and connect with the Māori world. She is learning Te Reo Māori and actively participating in our pre-settlement hui, for her and I both it’s important for us to support the iwi in whatever way we can.
Being back at home has been a humbling experience, and it’s reminded me that there is a lot to be done in order to bring prosperity to our people. Over the next few years my aspirations are centred on supporting Whakatōhea to achieve success, improve the economic position of our people and to work with our Rangitahi to inspire growth and opportunity. If there are any takeaways from my journey so far, which I would pass on they would be… Bask in the unknown, not all of us know what we want to do or where we want to go but don’t let that hold you back, get excited that your journey is uncharted. Be bold, seize whatever opportunities come your way however big or small, you never know what path they will take you down. Always remember where you came from, like the saying goes “a man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it”!