Funefeai Oliver Vaai - The face of Yazaki

The biggest private employer in Samoa, Yazaki Eds Samoa (YES), is set to close its doors for the last time this year. From employing thousands of Samoans to the 700 on its payroll today, it’s undeniable that Yazaki has become an integral part of Samoa for the past 25 years.

In the beginning when the company arrived, they were looking for Samoans to work in its management team and one person they had their eyes on was Funefeai Oliver Vaai. 

At the time, Funefeai was the Airport Manager for Polynesian Airline in 1993.

He was approached by the then Y.E.S. Managing Director, Peter Ray and he said yes. The rest as they say is history. 

 “I think he (Peter Ray) saw me so many times at the airport and asked me what time I get off work,” said Funefeai. 

“At that time when he asked me about Yazaki, Polynesian Airlines was getting into (financial) trouble then I decided to leave because my wife was already there and one of us had to get out.”

As of today, Funefeai has been with Yazaki for 23 years. During that time, he has become the face of the company.

From being an Airport Manager to managing the night shift at Yazaki, Funefeai said it was hard at the beginning.

“It was a big shock for me when we started working there,” he recalled. 

“It was a totally different ball game. Coming from something that I knew to somewhere I had no knowledge about, I needed training and Ray trained me. I went to Japan in 1996 for one year.”

At one point, Yazaki employed up to 4,000 people. And with that many employees, the challenges were enormous.

 “When the company was just opened we had about over 2000 people working dayshift and more than 1000 in night shift,” he said. 

“It was a real eye opener with the many faces you see but I suppose those are the moments you take with you. The challenges are always the different excuses from our people about the normal Samoan traditional fa’alavelave." 

“But we gotten through that. Our management team were used to it its part of operation in Samoa.”

One of the things about Yazaki is that it is very disciplined operation “where you take each step from one, two going up to six. 

 “But with Samoans, our people want to do one, two and jump to five and six. I suppose it’s our environment that we live in that we can go from house to house to visit which makes it very difficult to have a disciplined workforce." 

“We have come a long way. People had to accept that you live different lives at home and when it’s time to work, it’s different.”

According to Funefeai the drastic drop in the number of employment throughout the years had something to do with skills from the workers. 

He explained that the number of work done by 700 people today is equivalent to double the number of people having to do the same work back in the days. 

“The skills have really escalated and we are doing very good job for our customer,” he said. 

“I think Yazaki is the only company that makes it a procedure for new employment to go through trainings and monitor them." 

“If they fail we don’t turn a blind eye and bring in someone else we stick with them and observe them and follow procedure to train people and put them through tests."

“We do on the job training and do evaluation again and monitor for another month before they can get accepted and issued license to work.”

Having worked for the company for more than 20 years, Funefeai said it still hasn’t sunk in to him that it is closing next year. 

“It still hasn’t hit me that I wont be going to the same place that I have routinely gone to,” he said. 

“I suppose it’s a sad thing but it still hasn’t sunk in the fact that I cannot go there anymore …it’s a job where I have met so many people and the lessons learnt there is invaluable.”

Although it is a sad reality Yazaki is closing, Funefeai said he is happy it is not closing down because of the management. He said the decision is the result of a chain of things, which has nothing to do with how they have handled the work in Samoa.

Asked what he plans to do after the company closes, Funefeai said he is ready to take a break and enjoy life with his family. 

From the villages of Vaisala, Sataua Savai’i and Solosolo, Funefeai is sure of one thing.

“The memories I have from Yazaki are lifetime memories,” he said. “I will take those with me wherever I go.”

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