There’s no one way to build a career but finding something you’re passionate about is a great foundation. For Nicola Kay, it’s brewing – a passion and an industry that has shaped her career and given her the opportunity to travel the world doing what she loves.
The early signs were there for Nicola, who studied food science at university before achieving her diploma in brewing. Before long she was hooked and this year marks 23 years in the brewing and beverage industry, 18 of those at Lion.
Having held 12 different roles during her time at Lion, Nicola recalls where it all began, back in her native New Zealand.
I started my career at Lion in the lab at the Khyber Pass Brewery running the taste panels and managing the Lion sensory program for NZ.
“From there, I moved into my first leadership role as Laboratory team leader before briefly leaving Lion to move across the ditch to Sydney. I was working at Tooheys a few weeks later!”
All experience counts
Nicola was advised early in her career to gain broad experience across multiple areas to set herself up for success. She cites this as some of the best career advice she’s ever been given.
Working across technical, NPD, packaging, brewing and project management in both technically focused and leadership roles has given Nicola a valuable range of skills and extensive knowledge of Lion across the business.
Nicola also overlaid her skills with a master’s degree in Business and Technology and she has worked in breweries across Australia, NZ and the UK. She has visited numerous breweries around the world, taking a keen interest in traditional brewing methods.
“The most memorable were the historic ones, where I could see where brewing has come from,” says Nicola.
I particularly remember being up in the rafters of a brewery in Bruge in Belgium looking at their coolship, a big flat bath where beer went after brewing to cool and be colonised with the natural flora and fauna, to start a spontaneous fermentation.
Looking to the future
Now back in NZ, Nicola’s recent move into the role of Operations Optimisations Manager has presented a fresh opportunity to gain new skills across different areas of the Lion supply chain. She’s enjoying her new role and working with her NZ based team, despite much of it happening from home during the pandemic and she is looking forward to having a balance between face to face and WFH again soon.
As someone who values communication and collaboration, Nicola’s inclusiveness has parlayed into her other passion project, encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She has run a Lean In group for women at The Pride over the last five years and this year stepped in as Chair for the Pink Boots Society NZ, a not-for-profit organisation that works to empower women to advance their careers in the fermented and alcoholic beverage industry through education.
Nicola is regularly involved in projects and speaks at activities promoting gender diversity. She not only lends her voice to other women in a traditionally male-dominated industry but also leads by example with the impressive career she has forged.
Nicola’s career has taken many interesting paths and who knows where the next may lead. One thing’s for sure; if she continues to follow her passion, it’s bound to be a great journey.
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