17 Jan 2024

Gang member to business owner - the power of second chances

From Summer Times, 10:10 am on 17 January 2024
Taurus Taurima

Taurus Taurima Photo: Paul Taylor

A decade ago ex-Mongrel Mob member Taurus Taurima set out on a path to turn his life around, resulting in his own construction company Topline Constructions in Hastings. 

Topline started in 2016 with two staff, which has since grown to a force of 50, made up of people from all walks of life - many from difficult pasts, like Taurima, who have been offered a second chance. 

Taurima is providing jobs, a training academy, teaching life skills, being drug-free, teaching staff to respect themselves and respect others. Everyone who graduates is guaranteed a job.

"I really changed it for my children," he told RNZ's Summer Times on Wednesday.

"I've got nothing really bad to say about the gang - I think everything they do is individually based - but I had to change my lifestyle for my children, before I spent any more time in prison and no one would actually get to spend any time or know their father personally.

"So I found a job in construction and worked my way through the ropes at a company here in Hawke's Bay and then decided to start Topline seven years ago."

Taurima said walking away from the gang and finding full-time legitimate work was "probably one of the more difficult things that I've done".

"I probably went to maybe 100 or 200 places, and I mean proper workplaces… I didn't try and find a picking job or seasonal packhouse work. I went to try and find like, a proper trade, and that was really difficult.

"But I ended up finding some concrete boys on the concrete on the footpath on the corner near the house that I lived in and gave them some free labour until I could get my way in the door. And I think it's been pretty good from there.

"It's been very difficult… and it's still difficult today."

In 2016 he decided to go it alone and start his own business, Topline Contracting. It was not long before he decided to help others struggling to find work and a purpose in life. 

"I opened up the Topline [Contracting] Academy, and linked up with the local councils and other businesses in Hawke's Bay too, do my part to take as many - I based it for Māori people, but as many people I could - off the benefit that were young, fit and healthy, but I guess were just lazy and didn't have no direction, and put them on a training academy that guarantees them 100 percent employment if they graduate."

Taurima's team works closely with not just the applicant, but their whānau, even to the point of picking them up each day for training.

"The tutors that pick them up are not allowed to leave the house unless they get in the van. [There are] only two ways to get off the academy - either you're dead or someone you know has died…

"We're privileged to be able to go into these people's houses and they trust us enough to walk in and pull their kids out of bed."

The first intake he had, almost all were on drugs when they started, Taurima said. 

"I just took them out to the country for 28 days so they could come clean, and I think that's a lot, what a lot of employers are looking for. These kids are on the benefit and they got absolutely nothing to do with their time, so they all get stoned… they've got nothing to do with their time."

The first four weeks were often spent "trying to detox them", Taurima said, and concentrating on health and wellbeing, "making sure that they can get up and handle a 10-hour shift".

Then it's work experience with Topline, then onto an employer - guaranteed. 

"They just have to do three things - be healthy, drug-free and hard-working and [have a] positive attitude, and if they finish it and no one in Hawke's Bay employs them, then they land at Topline, at our contracting business."

Jobs, he said, that they would not ever have got if someone had not helped them out - particularly if they grew up in benefit-dependent or gang families, like he did.

"It's just heavy in Hawke's Bay. It's just the way it's always been here. But I just wanted to do my own thing and I don't like to talk bad about many people, many situations, but… I couldn't tell my kids or my little brother to walk this pathway in life and have an opportunity if I didn't do it. So I left to be the example.

"The children ain't in the game and you really got to look at, at who you're impacting. You might even be employing someone that got born and it doesn't know any other way. It's been a part of their life and they've got a two-year-old daughter that they're trying to impact and that's the impact that it has on people."