An inspirational Keystone journey shows that character trumps all

May 27, 2024

Jethro Giles made his first financial killing when just eight years old.

Rather than simply seeking a contribution from his parents for a school fundraising scheme and leaving it at that, he maximised the profits by signing up donors at the local supermarket. Kitted out in his school uniform, day after day, he garnered contributions by the thousands – and made himself some handsome pocket money on the side, thanks to an incentive scheme offered by his school.

“For me, the Keystone journey was pivotal in my development and my ability to feel like I could do the degree, and get it done. Without that, I think I would have dropped out of the degree – not because of bad grades but because of a lack of confidence in my ability.”

Those skills, however, did not initially translate into a good academic record. The self-described “nerdy, awkward and quiet” student did not record stellar results in class. So when he was encouraged to apply for a Keystone scholarship, he didn’t rate his chances. “I didn’t meet any academic requirements,” he says.

The story behind that is outlined in his upbringing. He was one of 11 children uplifted from the family home due to an abusive upbringing. “I went into foster care at the age of 10. Some homes were truly atrocious, and that probably attributed to my grades being poor,” says Jethro.

He was encouraged to turn to Keystone by one particular foster parent – a nurturing one – who recognised Jethro’s potential. The interview panel saw he met the “character” requirements –  and against all odds he was offered a scholarship. That’s when life took a new turn, but not with the outcome originally intended.

Armed with his scholarship, Jethro enrolled for a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Waikato. He had to engage a private tutor to bring him up to speed in some subjects. How did he fund it? Enter, once more, his entrepreneurial spirit – bolstered by what he identifies as his Number One strength: “persistence”.

Jethro got a Student Job Search gardening job that proved so popular, he was soon hiring his classmates as labourers. (On occasion he’d also pay them to cover for him in lectures while he worked.) “For two years of my degree I did that, and was building the business up. When I graduated I realised it was growing quite well. I already had a few guys working for me and I had some machinery so I thought: ‘ok, I’ll give it three years’.”

That was  in 2011. JG Landcare Services, of which Jethro is sole director, is now a highly regarded Hamilton landscape and garden design company with a handsome turnover and a staff of nine.

Jethro says he originally struggled with his decision not to become an engineer in his field. “It was 10 years before I thought: ‘right, I’m happy with this path’,” he says, but the hard-fought degree still has an application within the business he built from scratch.

This definitely would not have been possible without the layered support of Keystone. “For me, the Keystone journey was pivotal in my development and my ability to feel like I could do the degree, and get it done. Without that, I think I would have dropped out of the degree – not because of bad grades but because of a lack of confidence in my ability.”

The provision of leading national business identity David Kennedy as mentor was another bolster. “That was really cool. He was someone that I thought ‘wow, you’re running this massive company and you’re here helping me’.”

Now married and with a young child, Jethro is focused on further building his business, which covers everything from soft landscaping to subdivisions. He is eyeing a mentorship role himself. The boy who left the foster care system at 17 and who has also built up a property portfolio maintains connections with all his siblings, and has gatherings for them at the family home.

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