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Oona Brown

Oona Brown is Senior Project Manager and Civil Operations Manager in our Auckland office. Here she talks about working at Riley, her professional development, and why her careers advisor should never have warned her off getting her hands dirty.

What do you enjoy about your role?

What I thrive on is being part of the project team and the relationships that are built. We all work really hard at delivering to our clients’ needs and keeping them happy with our service and outputs.


At the end of each project you get a good opportunity to reflect on how you went, the hurdles you came across and how the team pulled together. Looking back on these moments, I really feel proud of our team and what we do.


What challenges do you face?

It’s always a bit of a juggle to react and respond to what comes your way. This is probably the most challenging part of the role. I’m a very structured person and when you’re jumping from one thing to the other, you feel less in control.


I have my systems in place to help me keep on top of everything and make sure we’re heading in the right direction. I’m a bit old school and take great satisfaction in striking things off in my notebook!


What do you appreciate about working at Riley?

The people! They’re the key reason I’ve stayed. I love who I work for and with.


I’ve also been able to forge my career path at Riley and I feel fortunate to have the opportunities I’ve been given.


Where did your career start?

I ultimately decided to become an engineer because my school careers advisor in Indonesia told me it was something I shouldn’t consider as I would get my fingernails dirty – all it did was make me want it more. It also made sense as it aligned with my strongest subjects (math, design technology) and I decided it was the right direction to go in. 


I studied structural engineering at university in Edinburgh and was quite fortunate that my first consultancy role was as a civil and structural engineer. This gave me the chance to explore civil engineering and I found out I enjoyed it more. I worked a few years in both, then decided to move into a civil role.  

Oona on site.jpg

"I realised I had strong skills and a passion for managing projects, so I was keen on a role focused more on project management and delivery."

How did you come to Riley the first time?

After working in Edinburgh for a few years after I graduated, I was keen for a change of scene. I realised there was a real need for engineers in New Zealand and it looked like an exciting place to live and work. I was able to secure a job at Riley and moved to New Zealand in 2011. I ended up staying a bit longer than I expected and now consider myself lucky to call New Zealand my (second) home.


And the second time?

In 2017 my husband was offered a job in Hong Kong and although it was sad leaving Riley, it was an exciting experience to look forward to. However, we ended up moving back from Hong Kong earlier than expected (as I fell pregnant a year later). I was fortunate that Steve James, my manager at Riley, was happy to offer me a job to come back to.


I realised I had strong skills and a passion for managing projects, so I was keen on a role focused more on project management and delivery. Riley was looking for someone in that space and their offer really aligned with the direction I wanted for my career. The position sits slightly differently to my previous role as a civil engineer and we needed to work out how the new role would work for the company, clients, team and me. I’m sometimes still finding the right balance, but really enjoying it.


What other Riley roles have you held?

I was previously the Civil Team Coordinator, which gave me the opportunity to get involved in the functions of managing our team. When the Civil Operations Manager role was advertised, I felt it was a growth opportunity that really aligned with my skills and desired pathway, so I was really keen to explore it.


I’m keen to develop myself further in people management, as it’s something I’ve always wanted to get involved in. I thrive on my relationships with the rest of my team. I really value them and love being part of that and the opportunity to provide support in that space. With my project and resource management experience, this is a natural divergence for developing.


What other work have you done with us?

I’ve been involved in different business initiatives and love having the opportunity to do that. It’s very much a part of what we do and how we operate. I was able to get involved in a working group for our talent development framework, which was really exciting to do.


Throughout the years I’ve also been involved with QA and process improvements, which feeds into my interests. I like coming up with ideas in that space and pulling together tools that help us improve how we operate and create efficiencies in our delivery.


What has supported your career success?

From the outset I’ve had a great team and line manager. I’ve been very fortunate with Steve, who has given me loads of encouragement, direction and challenged me while providing support. He’s been very good at giving me room to explore and develop but has always been there as a safety net. I wouldn’t be who I am today without him.


There are also a lot of other people in the company who’ve been real trusted advisors and provided amazing professional support.


What are you known for at Riley?

Possibly laughing really loudly and being able to hear me from the other side of the office!

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