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HB language business has clear global vision

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Kate de Lautour


An entrepreneurial vision and a passion for cross cultural communication has allowed Cultureflow’s Sarah Reo to grow her language business globally, while still being based with her family in Hawke’s Bay.

Lawyer turned businesswoman Sarah Reo initially launched Cultureflow thirteen years ago, as a way of spending more time with her young son.

Her interest in language had been piqued by meeting numerous New Zealanders who had never had a positive experience, or any experience, around Te Ao Māori – Māori world view.

“The learning system we developed was built on one question: If we were to learn Te Reo Māori again – what would that system look like,” Reo explains.

What started as a small business teaching basic Māori and Māori protocol has grown quickly. Within a year, Cultureflow tutors were working with national and local government organisations, the health and education sector, corporates and private individuals.

The Cultureflow system was transferred into English and in 2006 a version of the system was sold into Beijing as an English language learning tool.

This proved that the system could be transferable into other languages, and could be tailored for each market to meet the specific need.

With the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, Reo had to rethink strategy, which she says, wasn’t a pleasant experience.

“We were forced to ask ourselves how, if at all, could our products continue to serve Aotearoa?”

The answer included more one on one tailored learning for clients and online systems were redesigned to allow programmes to be facilitated from anywhere in the world.

Staying motivated in the business comes from experiencing failure - a lot, Reo says.

“Motivation comes from having a vision that most people think is impossible.  If you have a vision, it makes the craziness of the everyday happenings, which other people see as ‘too much hard work,’ worthwhile. 

“Motivation for me comes from knowing my learning contributes to my kids experiencing a different reality.  And hopefully one day I’m successful enough in business to extend those learnings to benefit other peoples’ children.  Motivation I believe is a lifestyle, not a perspective. “

A self- confessed micro-manager, Reo has recently joined the Icehouse Owner Operator programme, in a bid to take the anxiety out of “letting go”. 

“The challenge as an owner operator is learning how to discipline yourself to leverage your time to grow your business, whilst juggling the everyday management of it. 

“The Icehouse programme has amazing facilitators, and systems that articulate and shortcut those processes so well. 

What does the future hold for Cultureflow?  According to Reo, we’re likely to find that cross cultural communication is a standard of professionalism valued by most countries.   

“Refining the delivering of systems to enhance clients’ core business, is the key to sharing a valuable global service into the future.

“If I was to think of myself at 85, and ask what would I advise myself now at 38, I’d say; be bolder, care less about what others think, and share your vision for a better tomorrow with all and anyone, and take that business to a different level.

“Here’s hoping I can still do all that from Hawke’s Bay.”