Award caps remarkable career


Being prepared to take on challenges has seen Hamilton engineering geologist Emily Cleland forge a remarkable career, which was recognised at the annual We Are Waikato Property People Awards.

Taking out the Rider Levett Bucknall Young Achiever of the Year Award came five years almost to the month after she co-founded HD Geo and in the same week she was accepted onto a national leadership programme.

It follows five years of growth for the firm she founded as a 28-year-old with geotech engineer Andrew Holland in November 2014. Eighteen months ago they shifted from Te Rapa to premises on London Street, bringing them closer to other consulting firms in the CBD.

She says she is fortunate to have always had people who encouraged and challenged her to push harder

“I have always tried to be prepared for those opportunities when they have arisen.”

That certainly applies to the formation of HD Geo. At the time she and Holland both worked for Aecom.

“Andrew approached me one day and said, ‘What do you think about starting our own business?’ I was like, ‘let’s do it.’ It was probably a two minute conversation.”


Emily Cleland

About 18 months ago, Terre Nicholson joined the firm, with a focus on working with contaminated land. That sees them in a good position in the industry, one of very few of the smaller consultancies to offer the specialty service.

Major projects they have worked on include Rotokauri Rise and Visy. They work at building partner relationships with other firms and that has borne fruit most notably as part of a group of smaller firms that won the geotech consultants contract for Thames Coromandel District Council.

“We’ve deliberately chosen not to go into other fields because those partnerships with other consultants are really important to us.”

Their staffing sits at about 17, rising to 20 when they take on university students during the summer months. They established an Auckland office late last year when one of their consultants shifted there.

Cleland enjoys building the business, and that sees her preparing for succession as she takes on the advanced leadership programme with Leadership in Women NZ, a 12-month course.

Cleland said she has always had mentors who have pushed her, and she is now playing a similar role herself within the firm. She has a clear view of her own approach and that of the firm.

“I think I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am but it hasn’t been at the expense of other people, or the team or the culture. [It comes from] being really deliberate about the type of person I want to be and the people that we want on the team and the type of business that we want to come across as – and that’s being good people who work with good people.

“And I think because it’s an area that I’m passionate about, and because we have such great people here who do technically fantastic work, by trying to pull together all those elements it’s created a good service.”

The firm has a strong female presence, which Cleland welcomes as contributing to its diversity.

These days she gets out in the field less often as she concentrates on developing the business. “I love being out in the field. And so occasionally it will happen. But I also love the opportunity to just create this really great business.

“I see my future as trying to build up other people in the team to bring them in and replace me so that I can step away from the business and go help other businesses succeed and also to mentor other


About Author