Not your conventional leader - with Vina Quartermain

Vina Quartermain doesn’t lead a team of people. She’s new to the fancy leadership stuff, and she can’t recall even one ‘leadership’ book she’s read. But she’s a leader, nonetheless. An experienced senior landscape architect, Vina talks to us about her leadership style, drawing architectural ‘plans’ as a kid, and her infinite love of birds.

‘’Not far from where I live in Te Aro (Wellington), there’s some beautiful native bush where you can see Kaka flying overhead. I love the way they squawk and interact with the environment. And that this is becoming a common sight in our city due to success in conservation efforts,’’ says Vina who has been a member of Forest and Bird all her whole life.

A passion the world over, bird watching goes hand in hand with Vina’s love of nature having established a strong ‘’green thumb’’ from her dad who worked in agriculture, and her mum who is of Cook Island Samoan descent.

‘’My sister and I would spend our childhood between Papa New Guinea where Dad worked, and then back on the family farm with Mum who loved being in Aotearoa.

When I wasn’t outside, I’d be sketching floor plans of our house and garden. I remember being six years old on holiday and drawing the layouts of the various places we were staying at. I converted our basement into an operational mini theme park with a petting zoo at one point!’’

Landscape architecture was the natural fit for Vina’s professional career having switched from architecture halfway through her study in Wellington.

‘’I couldn’t shake the landscape. I loved and still love buildings, but I wanted to incorporate the environment into my work,’’ says Vina.

‘’I was searching for more connections into the context, into social and environmental processes on a wider scale, and landscape architecture offered me that’’.

‘’I also love that once a project is finished, it’s never really finished. Landscapes grow and develop over time. In five years’ time a project will look completely different, and in 50 years’ time it’ll look different still. It’s fascinating to me.’’

In her short 34 years, Vina has achieved so much and unintentionally leads people. She’s worked across two of our offices on projects spanning seven regions, from schools and subdivisions up north to mitigation planting and visual impact assessments down south. She most recently has played a key role in leading the landscape efforts within Te Aranga Alliance, enabling works by Te Rā Nui for the Eastern Porirua Development.  She’s spearheaded conversations on wāhine in engineering and has run training sessions on our role as Tangata Tiriti internally at HG. She is often called on for feedback because of her consideration toward others and her ability to speak her truth.

‘’I don’t feel like a leader, but I love to understand things from all perspectives. Everyone has a valid opinion and point of view and I think that makes for more robust outcomes.

Some people say I have a lot of enthusiasm, so maybe that’s it?’’

As someone who thrives on being part of a team and not ‘at the top of the mountain’, Vina’s community-first mentality helps when consulting with the end user.

‘’We live in such a diverse world with people from all walks of life and their needs from the landscape are different because of this. We must have a good level of understanding and compassion for people’s history to be able to design and build communities for generations to come’’.

What makes a good leader in Vina’s eyes?

‘’Good leaders are people who get good buy-in. Someone who brings people along for the whole journey and not just the end.

 People don’t always get what they want but it’s a lot easier to compromise when you know the ‘why’. I love understanding the ‘why’.

Connect with Vina