Tegan Smith: Sharing knowledge and passion

Tegan Smith holds an honours degree in environmental management majoring in sustainable development and a Masters degree in urban and regional planning. She has more than 14 years’ experience in the quarrying industry, starting full-time with Groundwork Plus in 2003 before becoming a partner in the business in 2008. Tegan is well known for her passion for the extractive industry and post-extraction land use development and has particular interests in town planning, environmental legislation and advocacy.

The WIQ’s South East Queensland co-ordinator Anita Waihi threw the following questions Tegan’s way:

Can you give an overview of your career? Where did it all start?

{{image2-a:r-w:300}}It started in 2001 with an advertisement for a typist on the university noticeboard to provide some typing support to a geologist at Groundwork (then named Groundwork Environmental Management Services) who had broken an arm. Geologist David Kershaw ran Groundwork at the time.

This role evolved to a part-time administration role while finishing my degree at uni and I started working at Groundwork as an environmental consultant full-time following completion of the environmental management portion of the degree in 2003.

This was a pivotal time in the development industry as planning and environmental legislation was becoming more rigid and more prescriptive. The location of developments such as quarries and the associated approval process was starting to be driven by the location of constraints and increased public opinion as opposed to other defining aspects such as the quality and quantity of a resource and its proximity to market.

At the time, I was also finishing the second part of my dual degree, which was in law. I recall David asking if I was interested in town planning when doing my undergraduate degree. I was quick to answer “No”, thinking that it solely related to designing transport corridors and the layout of towns and cities. However, after 12 months of working with David full-time, I began to understand the importance of town planning in the identification, management and utilisation of natural resources. I didn’t intend to practise law long-term. Natural resources, policy and process were of true interest to me.

Following completion of my undergraduate degree, I deferred my last year of law and returned to uni to do a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning while working full-time.

For the next five years or so David became less of an employer to me, he was a mentor. He built a business based on passion, knowledge and relationships. He was incredibly dedicated in his work and remains an advocate for the industry. David’s passion was infectious and I caught every bit of it!

In 2008 David started his progression to retirement and Rod Huntley and I started taking the reins. Rod headed up the resources aspect of the business while I largely looked after the planning and environment matters. While I never considered being a business owner, I think it was largely a natural progression driven by little more than wanting Groundwork to carry on. To build on the solid foundations that David had created, to make sure the futures of the Groundwork team were assured and very importantly, that our clients would be looked after. In 2011, we also welcomed the third owner of Groundwork to the business, Clayton Hill.

Groundwork has evolved into a dynamic and exciting company and I feel extremely fortunate to work with such an intelligent and highly motivated group of individuals for an industry that I love and for clients with whom we have enjoyed profound and enduring relationships.

The environmental and planning chapters of the business have significantly expanded and now have capabilities extending from extractive industry projects to post-extraction land use design and development, master planning, residential, industrial and commercial development. The business has also built expertise in the fields of engineering (civil, environmental and traffic), survey, UAV, petrography and quarry operations.

I believe that in order to successfully take a business forward, you must not forget where you came from. We remain passionate to the core, focused on outcomes and excellence and remain highly conscious of our client’s continued support, which is the cornerstone of our very existence.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career to date?

That’s a tough one. I think growing a business at a relatively young age was a challenge.

In the early days after David’s retirement, finding people as passionate as the few of us were while managing workloads and keeping it all together was tough. Learning to make decisions quickly and trusting instinct was something I learnt over time.

Taking more than weekends off a year! I think some would say that achieving a “work life balance” for me has probably been a challenge. I am not sure I am one to separate work and life too much. I love the industry, I love my job, I love the people I work with and I also have a home life! Why separate it? What I do at work has become part of who I am. Although I must learn to book leave in advance, I admire people who have that downpat.

In your experience so far, what opportunities have you had in this industry that you wouldn’t have otherwise had?

So many. The opportunity to be part of the growth of such a niche business is definitely one. Continuous learning across a broad range of matters is another. Planning and environmental processes within the extractive industry are highly complex in contrast to many developments and subject to ongoing and continuous change. The opportunity to cross multiple pieces of legislation and navigate complexity on a daily basis means that no day is the same and I have gained knowledge in areas that I certainly wouldn’t have in other industries or professions. This knowledge has allowed me to work with both the public and private sector on the drafting of legislation and policy and promote the importance of our industry. For me advocacy is no longer something I am just passionate about. I feel that it is a responsibility to continually support the betterment of legislative outcomes wherever possible and ensure that our industry is appropriately considered when land use planning decisions are made.

The mateship and comradery across this industry is also unique in my view. The connections and friendships I have made in my time so far are a true reflection of what makes this industry so great.

Tell us about WIQ …

The WIQ initiative promotes networking amongst women in the industry and encourages and creates opportunities for personal and professional development. It is essentially a platform for women to meet and fully integrate into the IQA more broadly.

The purpose of the WIQ is to:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate women’s contributions to the extractive industry.
  • Create a platform to further encourage women’s involvement in and contribution to the extractive industry.
  • Provide the opportunity for anyone in the industry to connect, network and share experiences.

What do you do outside of work?

My refuge is my home, a small farm at Mount Nebo, west of Brisbane. With a menagerie of animals, there is always work to do! My escape is riding a V7 Moto Guzzi motorbike wherever and whenever I can. I have also taken on learning a language this year and can now order a beer in Mandarin with confidence!

Where do see yourself in five years?

Continuing to diversify and grow Groundwork Plus. Continuing to grow and diversify me!

Beyond that I hope to continue to share knowledge and passion. I hope that as I move through my career that I am able to share as much knowledge and instil as much passion in others as my mentor did in me.

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