Sasho and Vanessa
Sasho Stosic and Vanessa Harmens, both 40, might just be the embodiment of the phrase mauri mahi, mauri ora
Sasho Stosic (Ngāti Rongomai, Ngai Tamahaua) and
Vanessa Harmens (Ngāti Ranginui), both 40, might just be
the embodiment of the phrase mauri mahi, mauri ora (do the mahi, get the treats; or, through work we prosper). They work
on their businesses Kowhai Interiors, S&N Coffee Distribution and Tātai Ora charitable trust, to create the life they want for their children: Luka (5), Lola (4) and Beau (2).
Sasho Vanessa and I first met at Rhythm & Vines, many years ago. We didn’t really hook up until
a couple of years later, once I’d returned from the UK. I was living in Auckland working for New Zealand Rugby League and I ended up spending every weekend heading down to Tauranga,
just to hang out with her. I then realised we were in far deeper than just boyfriend and girlfriend
— I was a bit keener than that — and we wanted similar things. We both really valued family and
I guess we were getting older…
Moving to Tauranga was an easy decision. Growing up in Taranaki, I’d always enjoyed the coast.
I didn’t like Auckland, not a fan of the concrete jungle. I was lucky to be able to transfer to a job that
I preferred; a more regional, community based role, which was where my heart was at. The circle of friends Ness had really aligned with the kind of people I liked to kick around with. She’s got a tight knit crew of girls, and all their boys like fishing and diving. I was doing that stuff all the time, before kids.
We’re three kids deep now. Ness is definitely the one that brings a bit of order to our household.
She’s really loving in the sense that she’s always trying to focus her time around the kids. We both prioritise whānau. I advocate for that within the community mahi I’m involved with. People like me, who get real personal satisfaction from helping others, often get consumed by it. And sometimes, even though you’re doing a positive thing for other people, you can forget about your own home.
But Ness keeps me honest in my work — I’m grateful for that. She always makes sure when I’m home, I’m present in the moment.
That girl has got some willpower. Even when she’s feeling crap, she’ll just get off her backside and
go do some physical activity. I’m like, how are you doing that? We’ve got all this stuff going on: kids, businesses, the house… At first I thought it was selfish. But then I think about what my father taught me when I was a youngster — you’ve got to look after yourself first, and if you can’t look after yourself, then you’re no good to anyone else.
After years dedicated to training as a semi-professional league player, I’m less focused on my physical appearance, and more on how I feel mentally and emotionally. I’d quite happily go spend time on the water fishing as a way to rejuvenate my wairua [spirit/soul]. Or go spend time on the marae, or in wānanga [traditional space of learning]. That’s where I’m really getting a kick. Or mowing the lawns — I’ve got two bung hips and a bad achilles from way back, so that, or digging
the garden, is about the extent of my physical labour these days.
Vanessa and I are both really driven to succeed. Cruising and resting on your laurels is not any way
to thrive as a whānau. If you really want to enjoy all the offerings that life has you’ve got to create choices. Ness and I are comfortable being ambitious and taking risks if it means we create more choices, or the freedom to have choices, for our whānau. Not just now, but long term. And I guess
we come from families that didn’t typically think that way, or have the skills to create those kind of opportunities for themselves. We’re fortunate in that regard.
Ness and I are really mindful of being good parents. Holding positive values and beliefs within
our small whānau is important to both of us. We’re doing our best to raise our kids as decent,
Moving to Tauranga was an easy decision. Growing up in Taranaki, I’d always enjoyed the coast. I didn’t like Auckland, not a fan of the concrete jungle. I was lucky to be able to transfer to a job that
I preferred; a more regional, community based role, which was where my heart was at.
Vanessa I saw a clairvoyant in Motueka and she told me I’d already met the guy, the one for me, but he’s going overseas. I was like, who? I didn’t connect that it was Sash. Then he moved back to New Zealand around the time of the 2011 Rugby World Cup and started flatting with my friend. I’d go to Auckland and see him. Eventually I asked him to be my date for the Tauranga Business Awards.
Our relationship was so rocky, right from day dot. We’re both so strong headed and independent.
I was especially independent, I think. He wanted to nurture me and I was like, I don’t need nurturing! So I really struggled with that part of the relationship. But I remember thinking one day… our values are so aligned, I’d never want to be with anyone else. And if he wasn’t in my life, I’d be really gutted,
so he must be pretty special.
We live in a century-old family home in Matapihi — it used to be my Nana’s. We’ve put a lot of effort into renovating it and Sash is very attached to it. He says that this is the land that I whakapapa
to and that’s very important. I don’t think we’ll ever move. We have a really strong foundation.
Whatever we do, it has to work for our family. It’s been that way since we first got pregnant. We’ve
got three businesses and three children. We work pretty bloody hard. And we can do it because we support each other.
Sash works a lot with the rugby league community (he’s the chairman of the Tauranga Whalers Rugby League Club). All of his time is voluntary, and he spends a lot of it with the kids and their families, because that’s his passion. Me, I love things that are a little bit different. That’s kind of
how Kowhai Interiors came about. I love styling and I’m quite house proud. And then there was
the opportunity to work with my sister Dana [co-owner of Kowhai Interiors], who’s my best friend. Although we very rarely work together because we’re in the shop on opposite days!
Our biggest challenge is balancing family life and business. There were times last year when we were like how the hell are we surviving this? But Sash is a calming influence. He likes to sit down and talk… and talk, and talk. He’s a great communicator. He’s always telling me not to sweat the small stuff, and that it’s okay to take a break and ask for help. We ended up hiring someone to work for us in one of the businesses knowing that we’d take a financial hit, but it was the right decision for the family.
I’m often the one saying we need to go somewhere, do something and create memories. I think it’s just me though, I need to get out of the house. But Sash is a homebody — he would love to just be in the yard doing stuff with the kids. Or on a league field coaching, with the whole whānau there with him. I think we parent very similarly, we put our children first and we share the load at home. He just doesn’t clean as well as I do.