As part of a series of stories profiling people of influence from around Beca, we asked Managing Director – New Zealand, Andrea Rickard, to tell us about her career journey and life outside of work.  

How did you choose what to study at university?

I’m an outgoing person, I enjoy being around others, and I enjoy change. I’ve always taken opportunities, and I’ve always been influenced by the ability to make a difference, rather than diligently planning each next step. So I chose to study human geography and Māori studies, going down that anthropology route. I was interested in people, society, culture and communities.

I was very lucky to study under Dr Ranginui Walker, who was influentional in terms of what I got out of it and how I felt about what I was studying. I didn’t know what it would lead to, but my mother was a planner, so I knew what that was. She found planning as a second career, through being an archaeologist. I guess I had a level of exposure to what the history of New Zealand was, to Māori and pre-colonial history, through that lens.

My father is a chemistry lecturer, so very scientific and analytical. And there are a few medical people in my family. So I would say I was influenced by several career-focused people, particularly women, which was perhaps not so traditional at the time.

How did your career progress?

I started in the public sector, in local government, which is a great introduction to what the political system is, how it works, and why things can sometimes take a while, particularly when your purpose is to invest public money wisely. I spent time on a council front desk answering public enquiries, and I was lucky to spend time in some iconic parts of New Zealand, including a stint on Waiheke and Great Barrier Island.

I’ve been fortunate at Beca to have real diversity of opportunity. I think you have to grab those opportunities with both hands – even if they don’t initially seem appealing. I have been delighted and surprised by the opportunities that I’ve had in interesting corners of the country. You never know who you’re going to meet, what you’re going to learn, or how you’re going to have an impact.

What were you like as a child?

I was outgoing, creative and outdoorsy. I played tennis, cricket, went tramping, and later picked up golf. I was in the choir, and went to Girl Guides – I did all sorts. I was definitely that kid that should have studied a bit harder. I got bored easily, and was easily distracted, which probably explains why I dabbled in a range of things.

I grew up in Auckland so the islands of the Hauraki Gulf are a really special part of my upbringing. I spent a lot of time sailing and swimming - just mucking around at the beach, and camping.

I had a very tight group of friends who I’m still friends with today. They are the people who, when you see them, you can just pick up where you left off and you can be really un-serious with them.

What are your interests outside of work?

I still enjoy sailing – I like how it makes me feel. It’s that complete sense of calm, and being away from the world. You can take your watch off and be free of technology – it doesn’t matter what time of day it is.

I also like going to see live music and you will often find me up front at a gig. My taste is all over the place – I am always looking at what’s new. I like pop, classic rock, rap, R&B, dance music, and also still listen to the 80s and 90s classics I grew up with.

I’m an avid reader, I just enjoy reading new things. I like to read novels and also more serious things. I love a pub quiz – I’m pretty good on popular culture.

I am a foodie and I cook to relax. I love the creativity of it, and the social side of food. An ideal weekend would probably involve having friends over or going out somewhere, and chatting for hours, having a good laugh and telling stories, and almost certainly a semi-serious game of cards.

I am fascinated by languages. I am always learning a waiata or karakia. I can say a few sentences in te reo Māori, but I’d love to have time to learn properly. I think it’s part of being Tangata Tiriti, to have that appreciation. A realisation for me was the intrinsic link between language, culture and knowledge. You can’t learn a language without learning a lot about culture too.

What career advice do you give to younger people?

Whenever I have the chance to talk to students, I say to them – no matter which career you choose, communication skills will always be of high value.

I tell them, just get any job (I rolled icecreams, sold shoes, and worked in bars and restaurants) so that you learn those people skills, early on. Later, you’ll need to be able to read people, to understand people. That’s a lot harder if you finish university without that grassroots work experience.

What advice do you give to people who are stepping up into leadership?

Leadership is about operating with integrity and being true to your values, being professional and respectful with others – it’s not necessarily about a job title.

The most important thing we do at Beca is deliver outstanding projects that make a difference to the clients and communities we serve – your job title is not the most important thing. Your values will get tested when you’re under pressure. If you are true to yourself and your values, that will serve you well.

About the Author
Andrea Rickard

Managing Director – New Zealand

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