To kick off a new series of stories profiling people of influence from around Beca, we asked New Zealand Managing Director Darryl-Lee Wendelborn to tell us about her career journey, life outside of work, and why she has been with Beca for 26 years.

If you’d said to me 20 years ago that I would be the New Zealand Managing Director of Beca, I would have thought that was ridiculous.

I chose to study engineering because I was good at maths and science, but when I left university, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to be an engineer! I did lots of different jobs for a couple of years, and then I got an offer of a civil engineering job at Beca. It was the 90s and Beca was building the Sky Tower in Auckland, so to me it was the epitome of real engineering. If you wanted to work on exciting projects, Beca was the place to be.

I told myself I would stay for at least two years... and I’m still here! What Beca has given me is a career in engineering without having to be a 'typical' engineer. I’ve had seven different roles here: civil engineering; transport project management; an internal IT project; airport planning; I managed the architecture business; I was the operations manager for the environments business line; and then this role.

Those different roles gave me the chance to hone the areas that I enjoy, and combine them. For example, in transport planning, I found that I could understand the engineers’ process and fit that into the planners’ process.

The MD role is about connecting teams together to get the right results for that geography. I would never have thought that I had people skills – I am very honest, which can be a good and bad thing. What I’ve learned is that your characteristics are both your strength and your weakness. So I’ve learned how to use the skills I have in a different way, to work with people.

I still have a very analytical brain – that’s what engineering school gave me. But I’ve learned how to move that from technical matters to project leadership, to business management and people leadership.

I’ve never been someone who had a career plan, and over my career I have learned that it’s ok to be opportunistic. The world changes so fast that you don’t know what opportunities will come up in five years’ time.

Did you entertain any other career options?

At about 16 I thought about being a pilot and looked into the Airforce. My mother said, "Hmm, the military...  you’d have to do what other people told you to do."

Ha! I couldn’t understand why she would say that to me! (I do now).

How did you feel about becoming the first female Managing Director of Beca in New Zealand?

I was asked about that in the interview process. I said, it doesn’t intimidate me. I just want to do the job like any other-gendered person would do the job, and role model it rather than spend lots of time talking about it. I’ve never wanted to specifically be a poster child for women in leadership, but I do value the oportunity to be a role model as I am really passionate about diversity of perspective and how important equal opportunities are to our business environment. It’s really important to me that the playing field is fair.

I think about how many women have not had the opportunities I’ve had. My husband is self-employed and works from home as a garden designer, so the parenting of our two kids was very much a shared arrangement. He probably did more of the day-to-day stuff than I did. If both of us were in corporate jobs, I think I would have found it just too hard.

Does living with a garden designer mean you have to do a lot of garden maintenance?

Nope, I don’t need to touch the garden. Our garden looks amazing but for some reason is constantly changing – it’s a great distraction for Damian when he gets a bit stuck on a design project to go and potter and mull on a few ideas. It works perfectly for both of us!

Are you a dog person or a cat person?

Definitely a dog person. I’d love to have a dog, but garden designers don’t really like fences! So I make do with borrowing other people’s dogs.

What do you do in your holidays to relax?

I read novels. Just escapism kind of stuff – nothing that’s hard work or too cerebral.

I like a good day-walk, at the beach or in the bush. I have to admit I’m not really interested in multi-day walks where you need to carry a lot of gear and stay in a hut.  

Holidays are also a time when I can get totally absorbed in a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a real skill and I tackle it with absolute diligence and strategy, but most importantly I love the fact that there is no purpose to the outcome – it’s a definite statement of "nothing important to do" when you’re putting together a picture that you are later going to tear apart and put back in the box (only to do it all again another day!)