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Executive Interview: Isikeli Taureka

‘This job is balanced between trying to run various companies through guidance and direction and monitoring, and then mapping the politics around that as well.’
07 Jun 2021 16:03
Executive Interview: Isikeli Taureka
Isikeli Taureka, Managing Director of Kumul Consolidated Holdings and Chairman of Kina Securities Limited.

Isikeli Taureka is the managing director of Kumul Consolidated Holdings (KCH) in Papua New Guinea.

He is also the Kina Securities Limited (KSL) Board Chairman. He is an embodiment of a successful Pacific Islander who has succeeded around the world in different sectors through sheer hardwork.

Mr Taureka was an Executive Director at InterOil Corporation and previously held a number of roles with Chevron Corporation.

His experience also includes managing the PNG-owned Post and Telecommunication Corporation, senior management roles at Bank South Pacific Limited, and Deputy Managing Director at Resources Investment Finance Limited.

He is a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

If you asked Mr Taureka: Have you always had a heart to give back to PNG?, His answer would be, yes, it’s in the blood.

Isikeli or Keli, is the son of prominent Papua New Guinean politician, Sir Reuben Taureka and a Fijian mother Akanisi Vunitiko Vuetivavalagi.

His father studied at Queen Victoria School in Tailevu, then later furthered his studies and graduated from the then Fiji School of Medicine to become a doctor.

Sir Reuben later met his wife in Fiji and they got married and lived in PNG. Mrs Taureka is originally from Levuka Vakaviti, Levuka in the Lomaiviti Group with maternal links to Mokani in Tailevu.

Meanwhile, Kina Securities by September 30 will receive a verdict on whether the regulatory approval will be given to Kina Bank to acquire the Fiji Westpac businesses. The acquisition is subject to approval by the regulatory authorities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji.

“I graduated from the University of PNG with a Bachelor of Economics degree then I went straight into banking. I worked at National Bank of Australia, which eventually became the Bank South Pacific.”

He worked in the banking sector for 15 years, including five as deputy managing director of the joint venture Resource Investment Finance Ltds.

“After I left the bank, Government pulled me to run Post and Telecommunication Corporation for three years. “I started the process to corporatise the Post and Telecommunication, so they’re now two different companies today still owned by the PNG government.”

Later Chevron, which owned extensive oil fields and prospects in PNG’s Highlands, headhunted him for a top job.

“They made me the deputy Country Manager in Papua New Guinea. Later they took me to California and I ran all the global planning for upstream.

“So for all the upstream operations at Chevron and did that for two years, then they sent me back here to be PNG Country Manager, running the crude oil and gas fields.”

In 2002, he became a Bangkok-based managing director, looking after operations in Thailand, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

“After five years, and because we had a small operation in China, I was tasked to look after it.”

As Chevron’s country manager for China, he won a tender to develop a 2,000 sq km gas field in Sichuan province in China. This project was a US$2 billion joint venture with its local partner PetroChina.

“After five years, my employers said Keli you have to go and oversee Indonesia. We had the biggest geothermal operations in the world, pulling steam out of volcanoes and turning it into power there and running our steam injection facilities. So all in all, about 20 years in oil and gas. I lived overseas for 20 years and came back in 2013 to PNG.”

Mr Taureka became chairman of Kina Securities in 2015, shortly after Kina took over Malaysian-owned Maybank (PNG).

Below is a excerpt of an interview with Mr Taureka:

Tell us a bit about your role at Kumul Consolidated Holdings?

I am the managing director of Kumul Consolidated Holdings. It’s my full time job where I report to the board. And, this job is 24/7, because you’re dealing with a lot of dimensions. It is the holding company for nine State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) operating in agriculture, aviation, banking and financial services, insurance, maritime infrastructure, power, post and logistics, telecommunications, and water and sanitation.

This institution also acts as the manager of infrastructure projects throughout PNG such as hydroelectric power facilities, metropolitan sewerage systems property and port developments.

Included in these SOEs are Air Niugini, Kumul Telikom Holdings Limited (KTHL) and PNG Ports Corporation Ltd. This job is balanced between trying to run various companies through guidance and direction and monitoring, and then mapping the politics around that as well. I manage 10,000 employees.

We are undergoing major transformation in Kumul as well. Okay so hopefully we’ll get it to a point where it could potentially become the proxy sovereign wealth fund for Papua New Guinea, so that’s the direction where I’m trying to take it.

Have you ever considered entering into politics in PNG in the future? 

Not this round, maybe the next one. So, the next elections are in 2022.

It’s mainly because, I’m doing a programme to reform all the state-owned entities.

It’s a three-year programme supported by an Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan for US$500 million. I’ve got to fix up the governance to strengthen the balance sheet, and improve liquidity of all the SOEs.

All of them (SOEs) are not really performing that well.

I’m on a three year contract and after that ends, I may consider the next election after 2022 election.

There’s a lot of things that can happen, life changes, so many uncertainties out there, golf.

How does taking up senior positions mentioned earlier moulded you to become a leader? 

15 years in banking.

I think the most formative part of my career was with Chevron at a very, senior executive management position, and with those big companies, you know they’ve got all the tools and processes in place.

It’s really about trust, respect, integrity, respecting diversity, gender equality and we get programmed like that.

After working in a global institution, when I came back, I mean that really set me up.

It made it much easier for the government to say hey, we think we can put you in this particular job. Go and make it work because of your training and your background.

Can you give us an update on the acquisition of Fiji and the PNG Westpac banks?

In PNG we are buying a going concern bank. In Fiji we are buying a branch.

But in both jurisdictions we have to get regulatory approval from the central banks, and PNG’s Independent Consumer and Competition Commission (ICCC) and Fijian Competition & Consumer Commission (FCCC) in Fiji, we’re just waiting for that. Our target is to close the transaction subject to regulatory approval on September 30.

These transactions really give scale, because without scale, you can’t invest in a lot of systems to modernise and upgrade, particularly when we want to go to a digital bank.

For instance, for Kina itself the acquisition will take us from 17 branches to 48 branches, it’ll essentially quadruple our customer base, loan book and deposit book.

So that’s a really exciting prospect for us. Now we’ve got scale, we can invest in the right thing.

And then make sure that we’re moving our customers and each of the countries towards contemporary banking.

How is competition in the telecommunication market in PNG? 

This is the reverse move, we’re going over to Fiji for banking and Amalgamated Telecom Holdings (ATH) via Vodafone PNG brand is developing its presence in PNG. The more competition, the better, and we welcome it. Because I think at the end of the day it’s all about customer voice, about reliability.

I pick up the phone, I don’t want to be dropping out. I want the right price floor. So the customers all they want is service.

Right now in PNG, we still need to push out our network coverage, we have a population of 8 million, we are reaching out to more than 2 million so we need to get that up. So the more players in the telecommunication market, the better.

So we are kind of really encouraged by that.

WITH AIR NIUGINI, HOW IS BUSINESS FAIRING? 

  • Plans for Air Niugini

Air Niugini seem to be affected like the whole airline industry. Revenues are down, they’ve got to adjust their costs. 

Air Niugini’s got to cut out some of the unprofitable internationals routes, domestically, it’s a very profitable airline, you know. Because there’s no roads, or train lines between most of our major centres, everybody has to fly. So as I say, in PNG the first wheels PNG people saw, where the wheels hanging from a plane, not from a car. 

We’re in the process of restructuring Air Niugini and refleeting it. 

By the end of next year we’ll be looking at, newer types of aircraft, regional jets, and then jets that are more efficient, both from a fuel perspective and from a revenue generation perspective so we’ve got a lot of aircraft here. And so we got direct flights to Singapore, Manila, Brisbane, Sydney for special charters at one stage direct to Narita, Japan. 

We’ve got flights to Hong Kong. PNG is in a very fortunate position because we’re on the edge of the Pacific, and also the edge of Southeast Asia so we were in a very good sweet spot to take advantage of the economies in both those areas. Air Niugini, needs a bit more work to do, but it’s still fine. We haven’t grounded it, we’re still managing it. 

nIn terms of the MAX8, I think the previous board ordered it and there’s a deposit put on it. We’re not going to look at it further. I think we’re looking for something a bit more appropriate for us and the routes that we’re flying. Ours is more regional where’s Fiji is in the middle of the Pacific so Fiji Airways has long haul flights to service. 

Feedback: maraia.vula@fijisun.com.fj



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