As part of a new series of stories profiling people of influence from around Beca, we asked our new CEO Amelia Linzey to tell us about her career journey and life outside of work.
You were born in Australia and lived there until you were almost eight. What do you remember about that time?
I remember bits and pieces. I was born in Melbourne and went to school there for almost four years, and I do remember the school. When I go back, the architecture in Melbourne feels really familiar, as does the climate and landscapes. I remember going on holidays in places with eucalypts and penguins.
Dad was an engineer and took a job at one of the universities in Melbourne in the engineering department. My mother had trained as a teacher in New Zealand and worked in a science lab there. When they moved home eight years later, Dad became part of the architecture department at the University of Auckland.
Did you spend the rest of your childhood in Auckland?
Yes, although I ‘travelled ahead’ and lived with my grandparents in the Waikato for three or four months while my parents sold the house and packed up in Australia. My grandparents took me around and introduced me to all the people we knew in New Zealand, which was amazing after having lived in Australia where my parents were expats and we only knew our friends. When I came to New Zealand it felt like everywhere you went, you knew somebody – in fact you were related to somebody.
What were you like as a kid?
One of my parents' most entertaining tricks was to send me into the back garden and ask me to pick something and see how long it took. I was somebody who would see lots of other things and get distracted. I think that was because of an inherent curiosity, always. I would say I was a pretty shy kid. I don't know whether that was always the way, but certainly coming back to New Zealand... maybe it was to do with having a funny accent, I don't know. I really, really hated public speaking, I could not do a speech to save myself. One thing I've always been passionate about is what's right, what's not right, and standing up for change when it's needed. I would take a deep breath and get involved in circumstances where I felt something needed to be said. So, there was a conflict between not enjoying public speaking but feeling the importance of things that needed to be said – I still feel a bit like that, though now there are some times when talking to a group can actually be kind of fun!
What were you like as a teenager in secondary school?
I did a lot of stuff that my friends didn't do, so I was obviously quite stubborn about what interested me. I think my friends and I were probably known for that. You sort of create your own in-crowd. We were a bit of an oddball bunch at school. I wasn't the easiest student in the world. Probably because I had opinions and also I wasn't very good at ‘rules’. I remember at the end of 7th form, my Dean said to me: "You haven't been to class enough to be allowed to sit this subject. Do you promise me you will pass, in which case I will let you sit it?" I promised that I would, which meant I had to get one of my Dad's engineering students to help me with my maths. I did get 53%, so I delivered on my commitment!
Did you like school? Or were you bored?
It wasn't that I disliked the classes, it probably was a bit of boredom and ... I was just busy. I had lots of things I wanted to get done, and if it conflicted with school, I'd go and do the other thing instead. I did photography, played the violin, played waterpolo. I loved my independence and I don’t think this made me an easy kid to have at school.
Did you have a sense of what you wanted to do with your life?
When I got to university and did Geography for the first time, I definitely found the discipline that worked for me in terms of looking at complex systems, trying to understand all of the parts of the puzzle, how they work together and drawing themes together to solve problems. I thought I would end up working for the Department of Conservation or something. I looked at doing a PhD on tiger seals in Antarctica at one point. I've always been pretty committed to environmental protection. I actually feel a bit sorry for my parents ... because I left home when I was 17 and I worked 20-30 hours a week when I was at varsity so that I could be independent. Not because my parents wouldn't or couldn't support me. I just wanted to do it myself! So I went and flatted with friends and then with Cameron, who's now my husband. We’ve been together since then.
What's your home life like now?
We live on 20 acres (8ha) in Pukekohe. We have fruit trees - avocados, citrus, plums, chestnuts and walnuts. We raise cattle to sell (and to fill the freezer). It's our retirement scheme, rather than a money making enterprise at this point. It gets busy in summer - there’s always more to be done than there are hours in the day. But I'm definitely the part-time farmer.
Does time on the farm give you a break from work?
Yes, that and pottery. I used to do yoga, and I think there's some similarities: throwing pots and yoga both require concentration but also deliberately clearing your mind to make them work.
How would your friends describe you?
I think I would be characterised as an honest person. Pretty serious, probably. Trustworthy. I play cards with my friends a bit. Unsurprisingly there are quite a few who are in academia, and quite a few at Beca. We play non-gambling card games – mostly we play 500. It's more about drinking good wine and eating good cheese. I couldn't tell you, after we leave, who won and who didn't – that's not really the point.
If you weren't doing this, what other career might you have pursued?
I think I would have been quite interested in getting involved in Treaty settlement processes and what that means for us in New Zealand. Roles where there is investigation, and trying to get to the bottom of a problem and how you're going to address it. Something like Treaty settlements would have satisfied the desire for the environmental and people connectivity themes.
Did you have leadership goals? Would you have ever thought of being a CEO one day?
No, definitely not a career path I planned. However, I am always driven by wanting to make a positive impact and I’m proud to have been involved in different parts of change, through the projects I’ve worked on. So that's always been what's drawn me in.