People of the Year: Papalii Grant Percival – a Passion for Development and a Heart for Samoa

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As Christmas was celebrated this year, an icon of Samoa’s business, economic, agricultural and social development, was laid to rest in Auckland. 

When family, friends and business colleagues in Samoa and around the globe paused to honour the life of Papalii Grant Percival, it was most fitting that he be remembered as a visionary entrepreneur.

“A visionary thinks about and plans the future with imagination and wisdom. An entrepreneur makes money by starting their own business, especially when this involves seeing new opportunities and taking risks”. 

That is a brilliantly accurate description of Papalii who was never afraid to advocate for opportunities that would advance Samoa’s manufacturing and exports, improve aviation access, increase visitors and create employment. 

For over 10 years Papalii talked about an airline that would bring high-end visitors from China to Samoa. Papalii envisioned an export sector with value-added products that would support agricultural development and put money in the hands of all farmers and growers. Papalii knew so much about return on yields per acre for all of Samoa’s farmed produce and potential crops.

Fifteen years ago on 2009, as the private sector prepared its Budget Submission to Government, he wrote a feasibility study on how Samoa could legalize marijuana NOT for local consumption but FOR EXPORT ONLY he had said. “Straight from the plantations to overseas markets of countries where it is legal.”

Fast forward to 2024 and countries that have legalized recreational use of cannabis are Canada, Georgia, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay, plus 24 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia in the United States, and the Australian Capital Territory in Australia.

Your favorite Café in town are on a break, and will be back on Wednesday 3rd January 2024.

One of the many tributes published for Papalii this past week was on point when ADB Senior County Officer Tuala Maria Melei described Papalii as having a fountain of knowledge, a passion for development and a heart for the people of Samoa.

Papalii had vision. His imagination could see a future for Samoa with ideas that were often way ahead of time.

Papalii could see opportunities in so many areas of development that few understood, but when given the chance, Papalii could articulate his ideas in a way that always make perfect sense!

Often you would find yourself saying; “What? Wait. Why is Samoa not doing that already?”

“Many of his ideas were groundbreaking, placing his brilliance in the vanguard of pioneering thinkers who not only have a far sighted vision but also the wherewithal to transform that vision into reality,” read Papalii’s tribute. 

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The Premier Lock

Papalii was educated at Leifiifi Intermediate in Samoa before he attended boarding school at New Plymouth Boy’s High School in Taranaki, where he played in the 1st XV for a number of years.

Tribute by Ories Rugby Club, Wellington, NZ for the late Papalii Grant Percival.

He had played club rugby in Wellington for the University Club (Victoria) but then found a home with Oriental Rongotai Rugby Club (Ories).

Ories pays tribute to remember Grant as a skilled premier lock.

“Grant was an integral part of the rebirth of Ories in the 80s with his lineout ability, and he possessed great rugby skills well before his time.”

He was known for wearing multiple hats and holding many roles, but you may not have known that Papalii Grant had also been a Selector for the Manu Samoa.

In Samoa, he played for Vaiala and, while CEO of the Airport Authority, coached the A’ana team!

His family write in his tribute, “Papalii followed all sports  with a passion and, despite his failing health, was keenly interested in Samoa’s performance in the 2023 Pacific  Games. He followed all sports and watched live games through the night..”

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Supportive Loving Husband

After graduating from High School, Papalii studied to be a pilot at Ardmore College. Of course, Papalii completed the two-year course in only one year.

Papalii came home to fly for Polynesian  Airlines from 1974 – 1980. 

Papalii Grant and Taulapapa Vaina visiting the Great Wall of China, 2009. Photo: Tapusalaia Terry Toomata, Samoa’s Ambassador to China, 2009.

Papalii met the strikingly beautiful Vaina Ramona Slade during his time with Polynesian Arlines. He married the love of his life at the Bahá’í Centre in Lelata in 1978. They were blessed with four children; Lloyd, Damien, Janina and Grant Jnr.

An integral part of Papaliitele’s role as a husband was his unwavering support for his wife’s duties and obligations in the family, church and village. Today, Taulapapa Masoe Vaina Percival serves her family through two matai titles and is a deacon of the EFKS church at Vaivase-Tai to continue her late parents’ matafale. Papalii Grant was always a rock behind Taulapapa Vaina. The quiet though avid supporter of all things faalavelave Taulapapa Vaina had attended over the years.

Called to Serve Samoa

Papalii had worked for the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority between 1981-1986 as a Pilot License Examiner and Airport Standards Officer.

However, in 1986, he was called back to Samoa to become the first Chief Executive Officer of Samoa’s newly established Airport Authority, a position he held from 1987 – 1990.

In 1987 His Highness the late Malietoa Tanumafili II conferred the Papalii title on Grant, affirming the value of his contribution to the development of Samoa.  

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After a three year term to establish the Airport Authority, Papalii Grant was called to become the first Director General of Civil Aviation under Samoa’s then Ministry of Transport. He served this role until he was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Polynesian Arlines.

As CEO of Polynesian Airlines, Papalii had introduced significant reforms and forged new routes to the United States of America and Hawaii, and additional routes to New Zealand and Australia. Papalii also introduced the Poly Pass to allow for direct routes between Samoa and other Pacific Islands including Rarotonga and Tonga.

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Papalii was passionate about opening up Samoa’s skies to remove its isolation as a “sea locked” trader. He had called for open skies agreements to allow airlines to freely fly international routes and compete openly with each-other for passengers, breaking down regulatory barriers and eliminating government involvement in airline decision making.

He had wanted to establish a privately owned airline but he hit a brick wall each time he tried.

“I’ve got a plane ready to go,” he would say.

The Successful Entrepreneur 

In 1995, Papalii moved the family to New Zealand where they established Video Ezy in Miramar, Wellington.

When his father Papaliitele Steve Percival fell ill in Samoa in 2001, Grant returned to Samoa and cared for him during the final year of his life.

It was then that Papalii took over the management of the family businesses. A role that demanded his full and unwavering attention.

Papalii Grant built on his father’s legacy, determined to do more than just carry on with business as usual, he applied his brilliant business acumen to take the Percival family business to new heights. 

As the General Manager of  Natural Foods International Limted for the past twenty years, his approach to value adding was unmatched and his capacity to manage fresh produce exports placed him at the forefront of the food industry and as an exporter.

The Walking Encyclopaedia 

Grant was an avid reader with a lifelong passion for knowledge and learning. He was such an active member of the Nelson Memorial Library in Apia that they gave him a lifetime membership which he used to full advantage.

Papalii held a high level of self-taught knowledge on a vast number of areas which was complemented by decades of experience to develop a broad, encyclopaedic knowledge.

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Papalii could site you the Act of Parliament, the Policy and its corresponding Regulations, and a narrative as to why and how the policy was developed.

And if a new Law, policy or regulation was not conducive of an enabling business environment, you can be sure to get Papalii’s full run down as to why and how it was a flawed ridiculous policy. 

Papalii was a Walking Encyclopaedia and talking to him was such a great educational experience. And yes, once Papalii got started, it meant you were in for a looong conversation. 

SAME President and Chamber Executive Council

As President of SAME (Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters) Papalii led the drive to establish strong regulatory and compliance ethos and sound approach to health and safety.

He was a courageous advocate for sound practical policies to support business growth. As an example, twenty years ago when the Planning and Urban Management Bill was due to be first tabled during a December Parliamentary sitting, Papalii tried to hand out copies of the Bill to members of Chamber during that year’s Christmas party at Coconuts Beach Resort.

Needless to say, nobody was interested, nor wanted to hear of it. Until later when we understood what PUMA was and how the legislation could impact business. “Oops. We should have listened to Grant.”

Papalii’s knowledge made him an ideal member on government Boards. For many years, he served on several government boards and steering committes. He shared his knowledge and experience in the areas of business and economic development, climate change, trade, agro-business, energy, and aviation, to name a few.

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Papalii enjoyed a strong working relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and was deeply appreciative of the support he received from this ministry.  

Papalli was an Executive Council member of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and  Exporters (SAME). His contributions, including as President and Vice-President for many years, will now be sorely missed by his friends, family and colleagues in the business fraternity. 

Papalii, your passing in 2023 will leave a massive leadership vacuum in the Samoa business community and in discussions and consultations for Samoa’s socio-economic development.

To Grant Junior who attended Chamber and SAME meetings with his father and sounds just like Papalii, “Ia paū se Toa ae Tulai se Toa.”

Papalii, you will be sorely missed by Samoa. May your legacy live on through those who will have the courage to continue to advocate for innovation, and not be afraid to voice advanced ahead-of-time ideas for Samoa’s development.

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