Ann Davis-Maroulis: Whakawhanaungatanga weaves strands together

Toi Mai celebrates inspirational women for International Women’s Day.

When Māori businesswoman, Ann Davis-Maroulis (Ngā Rauru Kiitahi) grew up in the small Taranaki town of Waverley, there were two sides to her extended whānau. Her family was into sport – particularly tennis – and community involvement and another branch was immersed in te ao Māori. She now weaves together both strands, along with decades of experience as a hairdresser and business owner.

While, Ann’s parents did not speak te reo, her grandparents were fluent, she has studied a little and she was proud of her late father who became a fluent speaker in his 50s.

“When I was young my father said ‘Don’t learn Māori, because it’s useless – you can’t use it”. At that time, it was probably right, but as time has gone on, it’s not about that anymore. It’s about who you are – so my father at the age of 50, learnt te reo,” she says.


Support and giving back

In the 1980s, the then Department of Māori Affairs ran Māori Tū Tāngata to train young Māori school leavers for careers such as building and hair dressing. The teenage Ann was accepted to study hairdressing at Manukau Institute of Technology.

“It was all organised – accommodation, transport to get to Tech and back again – all done under Māori Affairs. I felt well supported – we had all walks of life. I was brought up out in the country, so I felt like the new kid on the block – I didn’t know about city life, but living all together, you learnt a lot.

“My advice for young women/wāhine Māori for any dream is: if it’s a passion of yours, put a good support system around you – whether that’s Mum and Dad, or someone you can talk to. I know having my parents there to keep me safe as a young girl pushed me.”

After several years working as a hairdresser in Auckland, Ann returned to Waverly and with the help of her parents bought her first salon.

“What drove me was that the Māori Tū Tāngata course was all about being Māori, going off to train under whatever industry you wanted to learn and then you would go home, and you would show your people ‘this is what you can do too’, which is exactly what I did.

“It was a natural progression because if you understood the whakarau (energy) around what the Māori Tū Tāngata was about, that was what they hoped you would achieve – to go into your own business.”

Ann doesn’t believe there is a similar support system today for young Māori wanting to enter hairdressing and would love to offer apprenticeships or employment to Māori wāhine or tāne.

Ann’s parents passed down the concept of Whakawhanaungatanga and she says she brings it to everything she does – whether it’s in her business or at home. “When we open the doors, we bring people into our whare.”


Love of business

Ann admits that while she knew how to cut hair, she didn’t have a clue about business when she opened her first salon, but she learned along the way. Along with her husband, John Maroulis, Ann has also owned an insurance company and owns several rental properties.

It was when she was acting CEO for Wellington Tennis in the late 2000s that she was inspired to study for first a diploma, then a business degree.

“I was an acting CEO for Wellington Tennis and I absolutely loved that role: helping and supporting, being organised and getting things done, dealing with issues, people from all walks of life – that’s who I am now. I like earning money and that’s another part of it. I thought if I want to go into that industry, I have to have the piece of paper.”

Seven years ago, she bought her Wellingon business, Salon Villair and had plans to expand to six salons. But last year she sold a second suburban salon.

“Our industry is suffering because of Covid, and you can’t get enough people to work in this industry, or they don’t stay long enough.”


Tennis and whakapapa

Involvement with the Aotearoa Māori Tennis Association brings together Ann’s interest in sport and her Māori whakapapa.

Growing up, every weekend, Ann’s family played tennis together and she continues to enjoy the game. But when a Wellington kaumatua asked her and a friend to be involved in the association, she didn’t know anything about this organisation which has been offering support and opportunities to some of the top Māori tennis players of Aotearoa for close to 80 years.

“Every year they have a tournament, I started going to that, I started mingling more with people like Sir Tamati Reedy (KNZM), the Kaumatua of the association. Next minute, I’m on the committee.  I love it – I have built strong relationships, plus I play tennis,” she says.

The Māori King, Te Arikinui Tūheitia Paki is the patron of the association and the annual tournaments, which raise funds for young players, are usually held at Tainui in Waikato.

“The kaupapa is to encourage young Māori into tennis. If you look at tennis in general, a lot of young Māori play the sport and many of these young kids that come through are top players in New Zealand.

“The Association supports these players financially when they can because they have to travel overseas to improve their rankings and it’s really expensive. I don’t think we have the finance to get these kids to the top, which is really sad,” she says.

“For me, anything Māori feels like a coming home.  If I have a Māori client come in, I change – I treat them professionally, but I’m more relaxed. It really warms my heart to see my own people come in to support us.

“I’m still very very connected to my rohe. When I travel home – as soon as I see our maunga – I breathe – I’m home.”