As part of a series of stories profiling people of influence from around Beca, we asked Chief Strategy Officer Don Lyon to tell us about his career journey and life outside of work.

I’ve always been into the outdoors – all sorts of environmental and geographic type of things. I grew up on a lifestyle block in the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland. We were in an area where gumdiggers lived, and I used to go around the farm and dig up old gumdigger stuff. 

I guess I always had a passion for history, geography, travel and cities. But I didn’t know what that meant in terms of subjects or careers, until I stumbled across a geography teacher, Mr Newton, who took me under his wing. After that, I did really well in geography, and he told me about town planning, and I realised this could be my thing.

How did you end up working for Beca?

It nearly didn’t happen. I’d been working as a town planner in local government for a few years, and then applied to a couple of firms: Murray North and Beca. At the time, Murray North was the place for environmental planning, but I never made it to that interview. They had these big glass doors and for some reason – I must have been in a panic – I walked straight into them and the whole door shattered! I walked into reception, said ‘Sorry about that’, and walked out. I never went back for the interview.

I went back to the council office that day with a hole in my suit and a cut on my knee. My colleagues thought I’d been bitten by a dog!

A week later I had the interview at Beca, and got the job.

Did you ever imagine yourself in a senior management role?

Early on, I didn’t. I didn’t plan my career, put it that way. When I first joined, I was like a fish out of water. I was the fourth planner at Beca. They were doing motorway work, which I hadn’t done, and I wondered why they’d hired me. One of the planners, Norma Bush, was pretty inspirational. She could see that I liked the city shaping stuff, and so we bid on the Hastings Urban Growth Strategy and won it. And that led to the next job and the next, and suddenly I was a policy and strategic planner. Over the years I took on more team leadership roles and then management.

I like to see people flourish – that’s the most rewarding part of the job, to see people go from strength to strength. In my various leadership roles at Beca over 32 years I have seen many of our people emerge to take our business forward so strongly.

What are your interests outside of work?

All of those environmental and outdoor things that appealed to me as a young person are still my hobbies today. My friends would say I’ve got a fair amount of energy. We have a lot of fun, and I tend to be the one who comes up with schemes to go tramping or go to an island. I’m definitely an organiser.

I’m on the board of the Predator Free Hauraki Coromandel Community Trust, which has the goal of making the area predator-free by 2050 and I find that really interesting and rewarding to be part of.

I love gardening: I grow a bit of everything. I will soon have an even bigger garden to tackle as we move house.

If you hadn’t gone down this career path, what do you think you’d be doing?

Archaeology or geology, possibly. I love rocks. I would have done something that involved field work – there’s nothing I like more than digging around and finding stuff. Maybe a Department of Conservation ranger or something like that.

What have you learned about yourself along the way?

I guess I didn’t identify the people strengths that I have – so that’s something I’ve learned.

I’ve also learned that I can be impatient, and that I have to set the scene and then empower others to move things forward, rather than leaping to the conclusion myself. We employ a lot of smart people and it’s important to let them bring their own creative genius.

What’s the best holiday you’ve ever had?

That’s tough – I’ve had some epic holidays. When I was at university, I cycled around the South Island for 2.5 months on a 10-speed. We just camped on the roadside or in school grounds, which is good if the school has a pool! You just had to get up early and be gone before anyone found you there. That trip started as a group of 10 and there were about two or three of us at the end.

I still enjoy cycling. My wife and I bought e-bikes during the lockdowns, and I’ve been using that to get to work. I’m lucky to live near a cycle path. I love it!

Tell us about what you’re planning to do later this year?

From August, I am moving to a part-time role at Beca, three days per week, which will give me more time to focus on other interests. I’ll continue to be part of the Strategic Executor Team at Beca, oversee our Clients & Markets activity and chair our international business. I will become chair of Predator Free Hauraki Coromandel Community Trust in June. But I am also taking a punt outside of Beca exercising my hobbies and looking to establish a small business, combining my interest in antiques, books, maps and other paraphernalia with telling stories about the wonderful history of Aotearoa New Zealand. So, to everyone out there harbouring eclectic collections of stuff you never knew what to do with, please get in touch!

About the Author
Don Lyon

Chief Strategy Officer

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