Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Departing environment boss not your average chief executive

From her fashion sense to her bold leadership style, Ministry for the Environment Chief Executive, Vicky Robertson, was never a stereotypical chief executive.

Ms Robertson worked her last day with the Ministry on Tuesday after eight years of service.

The Ministry reflected on her tenure in this online article:

Vicky leans back, her feet kicked up on the chair in front of her.

She’s wearing jandals quirkily juxtaposed with her floral blazer because she’s joining a number of staff attempting to continue the summer holiday vibe.

From her fashion sense to her bold leadership style, Ministry for the Environment Chief Executive, Vicky Robertson, isn’t a stereotypical chief executive.

Thinking back to her time as Deputy Secretary at the Treasury in 2015, she says a values-exercise led her to apply for the top job at the Ministry for the Environment.

“It sounds funny and cliché, but the altruism of making a difference to something that was important to both New Zealand and to me was critical to have in my next role — it wasn’t really that I was climbing a ladder.”

At the time of her appointment the Ministry was much smaller, with around 320 people who all worked in Wellington.

“We essentially had one minister and one meeting a week with ministers – and at that point I remember thinking that was quite full on,” she says.

Consistent with Vicky’s brand of innovation and action, she had some creative ideas from the get-go.

“I didn’t know if any of my ideas would work –I didn’t come in thinking I had all the answers, but I wasn’t afraid to try things.”

A culture that people could thrive in was a priority for Vicky. Her experience as a single mum set her up to be a trailblazer for flexible working.

“It’s been incredible to see the impact that flexible working has had on our families and it’s nice knowing that our parents have had the opportunity to be available for their children. That’s kind of morphed now. We all have different things in our lives and want flexibility, but it started with supporting people with children.

“People still say what they love about the Ministry is how people care about each other. They still say that now, as they did when I started. It’s pretty incredible how we’ve gone from 320 people to 1200 and held onto our culture. I’m proud we’ve been able to do that,” she says.

Recently Vicky presented her final Annual Review to Select Committee, as Secretary for the Environment.

In her presentation she pointed to the programmes that will have a profound and lasting positive impact on our environment.

She spoke about how reforming the resource management system has been the Ministry’s key priority and remains our single biggest deliverable for a system that is future-focused, adaptable, and encourages decisions that are good for our long-term wellbeing.

She mentioned New Zealand’s first Emissions Reduction Plan which was the result of more than 300 policy actions involving 22 other agencies and input from iwi and hāpu, industry, and communities.

Allocating $30 million from Te Mana o te Wai Fund to support 34 projects across the motu as part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater package, the formation of the climate change Inter-departmental Executive Board, waste proposals and the Environment Aotearoa 2022 Report were key points as well.

Vicky also touched on the National Adaptation Plan released in August 2022 which sets out how communities can adapt to and minimise the harmful impacts of climate change — now more important than ever as people deal with the devastation in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.

After her departure from the Ministry Vicky will take a break and make time for things she loves like mountain biking events, reading, writing and dancing. She is looking to continue contributing to environmental issues in some way and is also interested in learning more about what makes a healthy person and how that is influenced by our connection to nature.

“I’m keen to explore what people are doing in an innovative way to prevent mental health issues.”

While she’s excited about what the future could hold, Vicky says it will be hard leaving the people at the Ministry.

“The people at the Ministry have been incredible and I have learnt a lot from them. It will be different not having them in my life in the same way. Even the roasting of me I will miss!

“It’s an adjustment but it’s time. I do believe chief executives shouldn’t stay for too long, and a different context requires different skills, so it is time. The rational part of my head says that, and my heart says I’ll miss it.”

Tūmatakōkiri Principal Advisor, Joyce-Anne Raihania says Vicky’s knowledge of te taiao is a taonga, and that Vicky has sailed the waka towards a flourishing environment.

“Her leadership has been recognised for taking the Ministry in a direction not only Aotearoa needs, but this planet needs – and her generosity of self has not gone unnoticed. She has given herself to this cause and we are grateful because we know that when she’s given 150 per cent, somewhere along the line her whānau have dropped off.

“Vicky has the mana to speak on behalf of te taiao. Where she goes next is not only important for her as an individual but for te taiao and its future.”

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