If someone says there’s a problem that “can’t be fixed”, Tony Sena is ready to prove them wrong.
The 39-year-old Albanian-Kiwi is an Asset Manager for HEB Construction as part of Marlborough Roads – a joint venture between HEB and Fulton Hogan. The partnership holds the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Network Outcomes Contract (NOC) for the region and is responsible for maintaining town roads and state highways.
“I love the challenge,” says Tony. “Especially when people say we cannot do that job. I take it on and get it done.
“It’s a very challenging job, which I love. You have to think outside the box every day.”
Tony works both in the office and outdoors, driving around 1,000 kilometres a week to manage his team inspecting, repairing and replacing sections of highway in Marlborough, as well as local roads.
The work of the Marlborough Roads team can involve anything from replacing road markers and repairing potholes through to epic flood recovery efforts like those required to re-open Queen Charlotte Drive and other routes beside the Marlborough Sounds after major flooding last year.
Tony uses software called RAMM to help stay on top of everything. Each HEB and Fulton Hogan vehicle is provided a tablet with RAMM installed, which allows workers to access information about all the region’s roads, jobs that need to be done, and mark up identified issues.
There’s never a dull day in road maintenance, says Tony, as there is always work to be done, and issues to be resolved.
Christmas was a particularly challenging period for Tony and the road maintenance crews. Due to the impacts of Covid-19 and the weather, they had very limited time to complete various annual road renewal jobs around Blenheim.
“It got a bit tough… but in the end we did it and we finished on time. This was the biggest year for road renewals in this town in a long time.”
Before working in road maintenance, Tony was a builder in Albania and then London.
He kickstarted his career in Aotearoa through a temp role in roading, which swiftly turned into a full-time position with HEB. The company put him through a Traffic Management Supervisor course.
“My boss left three years later, and I got told that’s your role now: traffic management.”
After seven years managing traffic and running crews of up to 50 people, Tony sought a new challenge.
He says he enjoys his current role more than his time working as builder in Albania, mainly because of the extra responsibilities and challenges. The stakes are higher.
“In building, if you do something wrong, you can just break it down and fix it again. But in roading you can’t afford to do something wrong because somebody may die.”
He moved from London to New Zealand in 2009, after meeting a Kiwi girl who became his wife. Now he has fallen in love with his new home and lifestyle in Marlborough.
“Marlborough is a small place, you know everyone. I know all the contractors, get along with them, and it’s easy to get jobs done.
“I’ve lived so long here that I know if something’s gone wrong with the roads before others in some cases,” he laughs.
This is because Tony knows the local roads like the back of his feet.
“I have walked every square inch of the road in Marlborough.”
Tony regularly works on sites surrounded by stunning scenery, and he loves to go hunting and fishing in his spare time.
He says he is grateful his career in road maintenance has led to such a lifestyle, and recommends this line of work to people looking for a satisfying new challenge – both mentally and physically – as well as wanting to make a difference to local communities.
“Where I come from, we have an old saying: send the kids to the army or air force to become a man. In Marlborough, you come work for HEB to become a man,” he jokes.
But although learning to take responsibility for your work is a rite of passage in the company, Tony says roading is not just for men – everyone is welcome. There are plenty of career opportunities for women in road maintenance and civil infrastructure in general, with around 30 women in the HEB team, including others such as Hannah Cocker who have used work in Marlborough as a springboard to work around the country.
Tony had his birthday on Sunday and went away for the weekend to celebrate, driving out of town over roads he knows are safe because of the work he and his team does. He was straight back into it this week, ready to fix problems that people say “can’t be fixed”.