Breaking the mould of the traditional CFO - Meet Kirsty Holdaway | Hill Laboratories - NZ


Breaking the mould of the traditional CFO - Meet Kirsty Holdaway

Date: 16 May 2023

If you think accounting is just numbers, listening to Kirsty Holdaway talk about her role as CFO here at Hill Laboratories may make you think again. With overall responsibility for the finance, health and safety and quality teams, Kirsty’s portfolio is extensive, but she says it’s a reflection of the dynamic way Hill Labs is approaching business.

That mix of priorities means no two days are the same, leaving Kirsty the space to be agile with her focus depending on what’s coming down the pipeline.

“Some days could be spent on a health and safety project, other days could be thinking about our financial results , looking at contracts or considering privacy policies – it’s quite a broad mix,” she says.

It may seem unusual for a CFO to have such a broad remit, but Kirsty says at Hill Labs it’s more about seeing where capabilities fit within their own culture and setting, rather than fitting a prescribed business model.

“Quite often health and safety would report into an operations manager, whereas here I work more around risk, so it’s been a good fit to have these functions report into me,” says Kirsty.

Kirsty also looks after contracts and some legal work, environmental reporting, and other general tasks that help fulfil Hill Labs’ desire for continuous improvement across all levels of work.

Accounting across multiple industries

Kirsty’s ability to be flexible and prioritise tasks quickly has her in good stead for her role at Hill Labs, and are skills she’s developed over an extensive career in accounting roles across several industries.

After graduating from Victoria University in Wellington in 2001 with a Bachelor of Commerce and Administration, majoring in Accounting and Commercial Law, Kirsty started at Deloitte in Wellington as a graduate, working her way up the corporate ladder for four years, doing a broad range of tax and financial statements - “all the joys of being an accountant,” she says.

Travel then beckoned, and soon enough Kirsty was in Melbourne where she initially worked in accounting for a crane hire business, then in a role with a large consulting and technology company looking after their acquisitions.

“Then I decided I really wanted to go to the UK, so I left and went to Scotland for five years. I landed in Edinburgh in 2008 right as the GFC started, which was terrible timing!”

There, she worked as the Group Financial Controller of a listed newspaper company that owned more than 200 different titles across the UK and Ireland. “It was an interesting time to be involved, they were getting hit by all the changes happening in digital advertising, and the economic downturn, and needed to significantly reduce debt at the same time. It was five years of challenging times, but a rewarding environment to work in too.”

Homesickness saw her back on New Zealand soil in 2013, this time in a role with Higgins Contractors in Palmerston North, which was later sold to Fletcher Building – a process she was involved in. Eager for another change, in 2017 Kirsty landed the CFO role for Pinnacle Midlands Health  Network, a not-for-profit primary health organisation in Hamilton.

“After a couple of years in that role I decided I really wanted to be back in a for-profit business again, and the Hill Labs CFO role came up and I jumped at it,” says Kirsty.

“I really liked the idea of working at another family-owned company, working closely with shareholders. I find you get more of an understanding of the business when you’re working for people you know and respect.”

Making a difference

For Kirsty, part of the attraction for working at Hills is the company’s commitment to sustainable growth and continually evolving its offerings.

To that end, Kirsty has several projects beginning soon designed to streamline processes and keep on top of updates in technology, all part of the quest for continuous improvement.

“One of these projects is looking at our finance systems, making the most of the technology that’s available to make things more efficient, reduce manual data entry and things like that.

“I’m keen to keep growing this approach of continuous improvement because I genuinely believe, in all aspects of our work, we can always do something a little bit better. 

Constant improvement

Working in a company that values ongoing improvement has been a boon for Kirsty. Over the past three years she has worked towards completing her MBA (Master of Business Administration) which she says has helped affirm the knowledge she already had, while opening up pathways for future thinking.

“I think that for us when we’re looking at new policies or projects or just continuous improvement we want to implement company-wide, it’s really important that we take a balanced view from start to finish – things like, what are the risks of doing this? What are the risks if we don’t do it? And all the implications of that.

“Being the size we are, there’s lots of people to consider and to engage with, so that can have its challenges but when done right, can be an amazing thing as well.”