While Lialiai Semisi had the right attitude and commitment for a management degree, her bank account couldn’t quite stretch to cover all the bills she was accruing to study at university. She reluctantly quit being a student and got a job in retail, and wouldn’t you know it, she’s now managing a flagship New Zealand store with a management qualification under her belt thanks to on-the-job training. It just shows that some things are meant to be.
Lialiai was born in the UK where her father was completing his PhD in agriculture. Both her parents are Samoan and she completed all her schooling back home on the country’s main island of Upolu. When she left school, she came to New Zealand to study management at university in Dunedin.
Half way through her degree, the financial pressure was too much and she needed to earn some cash.
“At the time I was a poor student. Bills were starting to pile up and I just needed a job,” says Lialiai.
You might think that this was the end of her management aspirations but in fact when she got a role at Ziera shoe store in Dunedin, it was a step in the right direction.
She was lucky enough to work for inspirational manager Anna Bellamy, who Lialiai says is the main reason she’s got to where she is today – managing the Ziera store at St Lukes in Auckland.
Early on, she says she was surprised to realise that she enjoyed working in retail.
“Before I got into it, I saw it as a bump in the road and just something to get me by, but that all changed when I started working at Ziera.
“I enjoyed the environment and helping customers. Anna also encouraged me to complete the New Zealand Certificate in Retail (Level 2). Training on-the-job kept me interested and got me fired up.”
Several years later Lialiai decided to move Auckland to be a bit closer to family in Samoa.
She had made such a great impression with Ziera that over a year ago she was made store manager, leading a team of five staff. At the same time, the company’s national manager gave her the opportunity to advance her knowledge for the new role by completing a management qualification, the NZ Certificate in Business (Introduction to team leadership) – Level 3.
The on-the-job training programme taught her many things about the wider business but the problem-solving module really opened her eyes.
“I now know how to work things through in a methodical way to find the most appropriate solution for the situation. Figures and reports I can do, but people aren’t as predictable. This is one of the ways that management training on-the-job has been extremely helpful,” she says.
Everyday Lialiai’s responsibilities involve driving sales, motivating the team, taking care of customers and making sure the daily processes are running as smoothly as possible.
She has also found that her Samoan background is an advantage in her role.
“Some of our customers are Samoan so I speak with them in Samoan. They feel at ease straight away and before long they’re chatting with me as though they are my auntie.”
Samoan culture and values have given her other skills.
“Treating our elders with respect is essential back home and I apply that at work with our older customers. In Samoan villages everybody helps each other so I encourage that at work too. For me it’s important to put other people’s needs before your own.”
Not completing her management degree at university has turned out to be no disadvantage at all.
“It feels amazing to have completed ServiceIQ’s business management qualification on the job.”
“It’s realistic, relevant and useful. Instead of learning theory and case studies in a text book that you might not get to use, this programme and the skills you learn and apply in a real work situation are guaranteed to help you do your job well.”
“ServiceIQ have also been really helpful and are just a phone call away.”
With her new qualification, Lialia is keen to get her foot into other roles with the company and one day she plans to step up to become an area manager.
“I love a really good challenge and that role involves a lot travel, a lot more responsibility, and more staff to look after. It’s in my background and part of my nature to want to look after people.”