As part of a new series of stories profiling people of influence from around Beca, we asked John Blyth, who leads Te Ahi Tūtata, our Māori Business team, to tell us about his career journey and life outside of work.
I started my career as a mountaineering guide. I still climb a bit, and I’m also into hunting, mountain biking – all those sorts of things. My new passion is learning to sail.
My wife and I have always been a pretty adventurous couple, and now that we are almost empty-nesters we’re thinking about buying a yacht and learning to sail it together. (My wife is a sailor but I'm not, so it will take some time). The long-term goal is to do some coastal cruising and maybe even head out into the Pacific. It’s a long way off – we’re just at the start of that journey. I’ll still work for Beca too – I think I’ll be carried out of here in a coffin!
One of our ancestors is Tamatea-pōkaiwhenua. Tamatea of the well travelled lands. He was a bit of an explorer – so my friends say I’m just reverting to my roots.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Whanganui on our bit of whānau whenua (family land), of coastal Whanganui farmland. We then moved over to the East Coast of Wairarapa to near Castlepoint. So I was brought up in farming communities.
Dad used to do quite a bit of hunting. Mum was into the outdoors. Her Mum, my Grandmother was from Taranaki and passionate about mountaineering. She grew up climbing Taranaki maunga. Syme hut on Taranaki maunga is named after an ancestor of ours, and Blyth hut on the Southern slopes of Ruapehu too. So it’s in the blood.
From a very young age, say 10 years old onwards, I was roaming the hills on my own with a rifle. Our parents had a very hands-off parenting style. I went to boarding school from about age 10 too. So I think I learnt self-reliance. We’re very independent thinkers in our whānau. We grew up rurally, our neighbours were our friends but they were about 3km away up the road. I think that’s why I’m not afraid to just give things a go, in my career. I’ve always been keen on exploring different things.
How did you transition from farming and mountaineering to later working for local council?
When I left school I went and worked on a really progressive hill country farm. It was the guy that owned that farm that encouraged me to go to university. My goal at the time was to go to the East Coast and work on a big Māori-owned station.
The girl who became my wife was going to Massey University, so that was a big motivator to be honest - so I followed her. I was standing in the queue to enrol for Agricultural Economics and I started chatting to this guy in the next queue who was going to study Geology and Earth Sciences. I thought that sounded pretty choice, so I just swapped queues and changed my whole enrolment.
I got into mountaineering as a result of some unruly student behaviour that led to me spending some time sweeping the local gym, where there was a climbing wall. That was when I met people who were into mountaineering, and when I really got interested in climbing.
Through my university studies I got into geological mapping. There was heaps of fieldwork in the outdoors which was right up my alley. I loved wandering around the back blocks of Aotearoa.
My first job out of that was in the UK as a cartographer for a water infrastructure company. I started to do some GIS mapping and when I came back to New Zealand I got a job in GIS at Manukau City Council.
From there, I started to get involved more broadly in IT leadership and management, at the same time as they were forming their partnerships with Waikato Tainui in South Auckland. So I also had a bit of an interest in that from a Māori perspective. By then I was in my late 20s and I was starting to get interested in how we experience being Māori inside organisations.
I did some GIS work for Christchurch City Council too, and then joined Beca as a GIS Project Manager in 2011. I’ve had various Project Management and leadership roles at Beca, and became the lead of Te Ahi Tūtata in March 2020.
Tell us about your whānau
We have three girls. A 22-year-old who works as a comms advisor, helping scientists tell their stories from a layperson’s perspective – and sometimes from a Māori perspective. A 20 year-old who’s just finishing studying nursing. And we have an 18 year-old who’s in her last year at secondary school, who’s thinking of becoming a vet.
How long have you lived in Ōtautahi (Christchurch)?
We’ve been here 18 years. Our youngest was six months old when we moved here, ostensibly for a six-month contract. It feels like home now. We previously lived in Tāmaki (Auckland), mostly in West Auckland. Our whānau are all North Islanders and they say I’ve turned into a one-eyed Cantabrian because I just think it’s really awesome! We live in Sumner so we have access to the beach, the hills for mountain biking, running and skiing. I just feel we’re really lucky to live there – it kind of feels a little bit like I’m on holiday all the time.