IN July 1984 a young Waikato scientist by the name of Roger Hill left a small soil testing laboratory in Cambridge to launch his own in Hamilton.
Roger and his wife Anne’s initial business intention, he says, was simply to “have a go” on their own.
Yet three decades later the company, well-known nationally and internationally as Hill Laboratories, is the largest privately owned testing lab in the whole of New Zealand.
This month Hill Laboratories celebrates its 30 year milestone. And no one is more humbled by the businesses success than Roger and Anne Hill themselves.
“When Anne and I established Hill Laboratories, all we wanted was to create an equal income to what we had in my previous job. To our surprise, we achieved this in the first 12 months,” Roger said.
“Since then Hill Laboratories has gone from being a solely agriculture focused laboratory with two full time staff in Hamilton to an internationally recognised laboratory with three major testing divisions and about 330 staff nationwide.
“Never in our wildest dreams could we have predicted this success,” he said.
For the first two years following its inception, Hill Laboratories remained solely focused on agricultural testing.
In 1986 it branched into environmental testing, and in 2000 into food and bioanalytical testing.
Today, agriculture, environmental and food and bioanalytical remain Hill Laboratories’ three key testing areas.
And according to Roger it is the inclusion of these three markets that has diversified the company.
“Hill Laboratories is unique from most overseas laboratories in that we cover three different markets. Testing in all three areas, agriculture, environmental and food and bioanalytical, has contributed hugely to the success of the business,” he says.
To accommodate its three testing areas the company has grown to include four sites in Hamilton and two sites in the South Island; one in Christchurch and one in Blenheim.
It also has an office in Japan for overseas samples.
The company primarily engages in routine testing for both domestic and international markets, but every now and then emergency testing is also required.
“Now that Hill Laboratories has reached such a size, we are not only engaging in routine testing, we are also agile and able to respond to unforeseen emergencies,” he said.
“For instance, when the Psa crisis occurred in kiwifruit industry there was initially only one government lab involved in testing. We soon became the first commercial lab to come alongside the government and set up testing in that area.
“Since then there have been a handful of other emergencies, including testing for the Rena, where we have had our staff working seven days a week to get the results our clients need.”
Over the years the success of Hill Laboratories has attracted ownership interest from international parties.
But Roger intends to keep the business “home grown”.
“We enjoy being an independent privately owned business. We first involved employees in ownership in 1990, and to this day we are we are 100 per cent owned by people working here. We anticipate remaining this way,” he said.
And the family-oriented nature Roger describes is evident.
“The second person we ever employed, Ron Lindsay, has remained with us for the past 30 years and only resigned this month. This is a very poignant time for Anne and I, and we will miss having him around,” he said.
In 2010 Hill Laboratories attained the Enviro-Mark Diamond certification for their Clyde Street lab, the Deloitte Fast 50 award for fastest growing mature business in the Central North Island, and the Westpac Waikato Business of the Year Supreme Award.
Roger says that ultimately the company’s steady growth and success can be primarily attributed to three things.
“Firstly we are fortunate to have committed and enthusiastic staff; secondly we maintain a willingness to invest in the latest technology; and thirdly, we have been in the right place at the right time.”
“People seem to be increasingly interested in seeing what is in their food, wine and the environment. So I believe we will continue to enjoy growth because of that,” he said.
To celebrate the 30 year milestone, Roger and Anne will fly to each of the company’s national branches, bringing food and festivities with them.
“Looking back, we never imagine in our wildest dreams that Hill Laboratories would be as successful as it has been. Reaching 30 years makes Anne and me feel very proud, and we’re looking forward to celebrating with the people who have journeyed with us along the way,” he said.
Roger gained his PhD in chemistry from the University of Auckland. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Waikato in 2012.