LOUISE SMYTH STAFF PROFILE
Louise Smyth is the Operations Manager at Hill Laboratories. In this senior role, she oversees 240 people and coordinates the strategic activities across all departments within the Duke Street lab.
It’s a far cry from 2011, when Louise first came to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup.
Louise Smyth was born-and-bred in Ireland and finished her Bachelor’s degree with Honours in forensic and environmental science in Dublin in 2009.
With Ireland stuck in recession and New Zealand hosting the Rugby World Cup, Louise felt the time was right to travel and saw Aotearoa as the obvious place to start.
“With the World Cup in full swing, 2011 was an exciting time to be in New Zealand. When I arrived, I discovered that Hamilton was a science and tech hub, which aligned nicely with my degree. Within months I had landed a job with Hill Laboratories, and I’ve never left.”
From small beginnings
Louise began as a technician in the organics department, and made steady progress in leadership, transitioning from Team Leader to Section Manager, and finally to her current position as Operations Manager. Louise explains her responsibilities.
“Among other things, I coordinate the strategic activities of the Duke Street Laboratory, which includes turnaround times for customers, health and safety, quality, financial and the learning and development opportunities for our staff.
“It takes teamwork to get consistency across all our departments. That’s why we break the leadership into smaller units. Each lab is overseen by a Team Leader, and Team Leaders report to Section Managers, who in turn report to me. That line of communication keeps us on the same page in helping our people and operations perform.
“While I rarely carry out any testing activities in the lab myself now, I do still really enjoy understanding the details. If there is a pain point in any area, I work with the leaders to understand what’s happening, identify the root cause and figure out how we can improve it. It’s important to me that I am present, and we have an open-door policy.”
Leaders in sustainability
Like all laboratories, Hills generates an amount of plastic waste in the course of transporting and testing samples. To mitigate harmful effects as best we can, Louise helps lead the drive to recycle. One key recycling initiative is Hill Labs’ partnership with the Future Post project.
Future Post is a New Zealand company that takes domestic and commercial plastic waste and turns it into premium fence posts and fencing products. Not only does Future Post keep waste out of the environment, it also supplies better performing products to farmers, vineyards and orchards, the residential sector, and councils. Louise and many others at the laboratory are excited by the collaboration.
“When we started supplying Future Post, it was small-scale: 5 tonnes of plastic a year. I could see the potential, so I’ve worked closely with staff to encourage them to recycle a greater percentage of our plastic waste. We’ve extended this opportunity out to staff and allow them to recycle their domestic soft plastics through work, which has been a big success. On average, we now supply Future Post with approximately 20 tonnes of plastic waste a year.
“We’re thrilled that our plastics have become posts and planters, among other useful items.”
The challenge of Covid
When Covid struck, many businesses lost ground and some never recovered. As challenging as it was for Hill Laboratories, the disruptions led to improvements across many aspects of operations. Having come out the other side, Louise believes they are, in fact, stronger.
“The last two years were difficult, but clients relied on us to deliver results. To maintain our performance, we had to find new efficiencies at every level, and having done that, our systems are more robust than ever.
“Even though the Covid disruption has diminished, we’re still working hard to improve turnaround times and control costs. Both will help our customers, especially under the threat of inflation.”
Within the industry, Hill Laboratories has an enviable reputation for people development. Their approach to creating career pathways has produced multi-skilled, adaptable people, which has given Hills a level of agility and responsiveness.
“When we see increases in certain sectors, we're able to respond very quickly because of the competencies and cross-training of our staff. I really enjoy training new leaders within the business, supporting their development and watching their progress. I have been lucky enough to facilitate some of our in-house learning and development workshops on subjects that I value, including change management and team goal setting. We have an excellent training and development programme at Hills that staff can benefit from, something I really value and that attracts talent to the business.
A great place to work
Though large, Hill Laboratories runs with a family culture. People can sense it when they first arrive, and it’s one reason they’re reluctant to leave. Louise knows how important community is at Hills.
“People talk about the after-work drinks and the events we do here. They love it, as do I. I’m part of the Social Club and we’re very intentional about organising fun activities throughout the year. Anything from celebrating Diwali, Matariki, regular after work BBQ’s, Nacho night and the annual Christmas party that we’ve been mixing up over the last few years. If you can provide an environment where people can develop as well as feel connected, it becomes an attractive place to work and where staff want to stay.
“I think we have that here at Hills.”