A 35-year career in infrastructure has seen Kathryn Lindsay traverse Aotearoa to the point where there aren’t many places she needs a map.
A pioneer for women in an area of the industry that was once a male-only preserve, Meridian’s well-travelled Head of Maintenance Services has now settled in a happy place, leading the trades teams across the company’s portfolio of hydro stations and wind farms.
Her journey is quite something. And really inspirational.
Growing up in the Manawatu town of Marton, the Rangitikei College sixth former’s life was relatively uncomplicated – until it wasn’t.
“I didn’t finish sixth form,” says Kathryn. “I had to leave pregnant and had the most delightful baby boy when I was nearly 18.”
It would be easy to skip the teen mum detail and jump straight into how she forged a successful career, but the easy option wouldn’t do Kathryn’s story justice.
And the easy option is not something she has typically pursued, anyway.
“What you thought you might do with your life – that was never going to be the same as reality, at least not for me.”
For Kathryn, juggling motherhood and work was the norm right from the start of a career that began with a job at ECNZ, working at the Bunnythorpe depot.
After five years of learning all there was to learn in the finance department, she realised the numbers side of the operation wasn’t really for her.
“The boys taught me how to read drawings and I learned how to do outage requests (for switching off equipment that needed to be worked on). That was really interesting and I liked to learn.”
With no formal qualifications, she adopted an approach of working hard and giving things a go. And, crucially, being inquisitive.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t pretend,” is her top piece of advice. “Don’t pretend you know something when you don’t, because it is going to get you into trouble.”
Her first opportunity in a leadership role was a move south to Christchurch to sort out a predecessor to Transfield Services’ South Island admin teams.
“They didn’t really have a title for me, so they called it commercial manager,” she says.
She was quickly promoted into a role managing the company’s electrical work across the upper South Island. It was her first proper management role, and it was a tough transition.
“I’m not going to pretend some of it wasn’t horrendous,” she says.
“I had a team of about 30 guys, upwards of 50 once you added contractors.”
And they were exactly that – guys.
“Most of my career, probably until the last 20 years, there weren’t other females in what I’d call lead roles. And there also weren’t many females within trade teams.”
That has changed, but at the time it created a challenging environment for a female leader.
“I felt I had stepped into their world. There were definitely some things I wouldn’t accept but, because I’d stepped into their world, I had to have a higher level of acceptance of some behaviours.
“My view was that they shouldn’t have to change their whole world because I chose to do their job.”
Kathryn spent 32 years with Transfield, earning a reputation as the company’s problem solver.
“I was the person that, when stuff was going wrong, it was ‘get Kathryn, she’ll go fix it’.”
Her next move with Transfield was into project management, working on infrastructure projects such as the installation of blast walls on transformers in Tauranga, the refurbishment of the condensers at Haywards Substation, extensions of the substations in Ashburton and Culverden and the Lyttleton tunnel deluge upgrade.
“I’ve spent most of my life on the road and done projects from Auckland down to Tiwai.”
During her final contracting role, overseeing the installation of streetlight upgrades in Dunedin, the time away from home and arduous hours took their toll.
Needing a change, Kathryn landed a role at Meridian as site manager for the Benmore, Waitaki and Aviemore power stations in July 2020.
“I bloody loved it,” she says of that role.
When it was disestablished, she was hesitant to apply for her current role leading maintenance services.
Her hesitance, she says, was down to her lack of formal qualifications.
“Most people who get jobs like this have got a degree behind them and qualifications and I haven’t done any of that.
“I have spent so many years trying to get into better roles and being told that I am not ready – but not being given the opportunity how to figure out how you get ready.
“So to go from that to applying for this job and actually getting it – I was blown away. It was so cool.”
The importance Meridian places on supporting its staff and living up to its values is what makes it a great company to work for, says Kathryn.
“The support I have to do my job is immense. Working for other companies a lot of that was lip service. At Meridian we have policies and procedures around work-life balance. But we don’t just have it on paper. We actually talk it and walk it and that makes a huge difference.”
Meridian’s maintenance team of around 80 enable the smooth running of the company’s hydro stations and wind farms.
Kathryn’s focus is on “looking after all of the people, the succession planning and enabling us to grow.”
“It’s about being able to reach outside the square and think ‘what if we did it this way’?”