Rick Herd cut his teeth in the construction industry as a cadet engineering officer from 1973 with the then Ministry of Works and Development. In 1983, he joined Mainzeal Construction in Wellington, and moved to Christchurch 10 years later as the firm’s South Island construction manager. In 2000, he became general manager of laminated veneer lumber company Nelson Pine Industries, and his five years there cemented a love of both engineering and of Nelson as his new home town. He moved on to a role as chief executive at Brightwater Engineering in 2005, and seven years later was appointed the South Island regional manager of Hawkins Infrastructure. He took up his current role in 2013. 

Sometimes you just need to listen. I’ve always been very focused on the task at hand and wanted to get things done, sometimes at the expense of people’s feelings. I’ve learned that as a leader, you need to listen; it’s not about doing things yourself, rather more about giving people the tools to get it done themselves.

Loyalty is a two-way street. Tony Watts (Wellington project director with Mainzeal) taught me that before sending out that email or letter, cool down, and keep my own counsel. He also taught me about work/life balance – work hard, but also go for a run and get some exercise. 

I’ve periodically lost sight of that, but I’m now swimming and riding and that’s really helped. Sometimes it’s also good to get some outside perspective, and you need to understand that people don’t always see you the way you see yourself. 

Don’t take on projects when you don’t have the core people to deliver the job. I learned that lesson probably best from the Riccarton Mall project in Christchurch in the mid-90s, when I was with Mainzeal. The right team has to be in place to make sure the job gets done right. 

The industry is facing some interesting challenges, but also tailwinds. It’s the longest consistent boom in the industry I’ve experienced. I hope that is sustained long enough for the private sector to return – particularly into the hotel and retail sector.

Rick Herd on-site at Wellington's Ngauranga Gorge Interchange project in 1981


House prices are unsustainable. I think we owe the future market a correction. Accepting that government needs to stimulate the market, we also need to address the differential between house prices and real salaries. 

I collect books, particularly early first editions. My favourites are on New Zealand history, Asian history and US politics. I recently shouted myself three first editions on the New Zealand land wars. I keep a few dollars aside and keep my eye on eBay and Trade Me, for when the right ones come up. I also have a fairly rich piece of road bike. 

I regret selling my first-edition vinyl LP collection – including The Who and Rolling Stones to a second-hand dealer after the 1987 crash.

It’s great to come home. Nelson is truly my home, but I look forward to going to Golden Bay the most. I mean, New Zealand has some great places, but Golden Bay is pretty special. Once you get there, you’re literally at the end of the road.  

I have some big concerns around the global environment and weather patterns for future generations. Both my kids are getting married soon, and I worry about what’s in store for them.

As told to Brent Melville
This interview had been edited for clarity.