What Patea now describes as “young love” had made her a mother at just 18. Then based in Hawke’s Bay, she took on a part-time role at the local Kmart outlet to support her family – daughter Paris Tahau, now aged 10, and son Kaise Tahau, six.
Patea enjoyed her work there, but it was the birth of Kaise which prompted her to reassess her career. Patea says that as she matured, she realised she wanted to be a role model for her children: “As I started to grow as a woman and find myself, I wanted my children to perceive me in a positive light and be proud of me.”
Not only did Patea set ambitious goals, she shared them with Kmart’s HR department. She was already receiving strong support from her mentors, but the next step was to place herself closer to the action.
“Obviously, Hawke’s Bay is a little country town, and I told HR that Auckland is where I wanted to be. It’s about building a network, stepping out,” Patea says. “I decided what I wanted and I went bold.”
The move did come at a price, however. A decision was made to leave her children in Hawke’s Bay with their father’s family so that Patea could chase her dreams. The family were happy to support Patea this way, she says, and offered her children a secure, stable home environment.
“If it wasn’t for them all urging me to grab that opportunity, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
She continues to have a good relationship with her former partner, who has now welcomed Paris and Kaise into the family he has started with a new partner.
“I did it for myself, but they were my drive,” Patea says.
Now store manager at Kmart Botany, Patea has a chance to give back that support through mentoring others. She favours a management style which emphasises communication and respect, and says the work she puts into connecting with her staff means her youth is no barrier when it comes to managing others.
“Valuing them as people means I get along great with the older generation.”
Kmart’s corporate structure means that each store’s policies and procedures are set by head office, but store managers determine the culture in their outlets. Patea speaks of emphasising a culture which prizes openness, honesty, respect, reward and recognition.
Asked if there’s anything in the retail world she would like to see changing, Patea says gender equality at senior level is a big deal. In the early days of her casual employment at Kmart, she says, there were only two female store managers in the whole of the company’s New Zealand network. Initiatives like the ‘women in leadership’ programme Patea attended through Kmart have helped to change this situation.
“Today, there’s a good mix, and there’s a great pool of up-and-coming female stars,” says Patea. “It’s about women feeling empowered to step forward.”
Rapid career progression in retail is about setting goals and making them known, Patea says. Self-promotion goes against the grain of many New Zealanders, Patea says, but “putting yourself on show” is part of her recipe for success.
“It’s about getting aggressive, doing the hard work and backing yourself.”
Patea’s next goal is deceptively simple: she wants to see the staff she’s trained reach their professional potential, and for her Botany store to deliver a perfect day. Some say perfection is an impossible goal in retail, but then again, they probably haven’t met Patea.