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A Day in The Life: HERA's Troy Coyle

Troy Coyle is the CEO of Hera, an organisation that looks after all heavy engineering, metals and steel in New Zealand. She shares how she gets through the day, how she organises her time and how she handles the madness of business.

What time do you wake up?

It is quite variable. I am one of those people who wake at 3am when I am under work pressure. Thankfully my subconscious mind seems to work out things for me – solutions to problems I haven’t been able to resolve consciously or things I have forgotten to do but should have. When I wake up, they come to me. Though I do try to sleep until 6am.

What kind of work do you do?

I say I am an organisational voltmeter – finding the potential in everyone and everything in our workplace. I think that is the role of a CEO. I work at HERA, the Heavy Engineering Research Association. Our role is to stimulate innovation within the metals engineering sector, relating to manufacturing and building and construction.

What’s the ideal way to start your day?

Snuggling with my son. That is my idea of bliss.

Do you have any morning rituals?

I wish! It is usually a mad scramble to get everyone to work and school on time! I do dream of starting my day with yoga instead of checking my emails but that never happens. And it is something I know I have to get under control. I think my ritual starts in the car drive, once all of that is under control – that is my “me” time when I catch up on podcasts and sneakily snack on chocolate.

How soon do you begin doing work-related things each morning, such as checking phone or emails?

Sometimes as early as 3am, but I do not think this is good and it is something I am working on. I think there is way too much pressure to be available 24/7.

What’s your media consumption or interaction like – which podcasts, radio, videos, books, magazines, and new sites do you read or listen to?

I am addicted to podcasts. My favourites are Stirring the Pot (of course), Goop, Super Soul Sunday, and any True Crime podcasts (I loved Who the Hell is Hamish). I typically listen to Radio NZ for news. I am currently reading a lot of parenting books (e.g. Gabor Mate) and Brene Brown. TV news time typically clashes with family time so I am quite disconnected now. I am also addicted to political coverage. I love election time and I love catching up with Stephen Colbert’s coverage of Trump’s antics for the day. I also love The Conversation for daily research-related features.

What do you think is unique about the way you approach your work?

I am a non-conformist. This means I usually have a unique approach to most things. There is no guidebook for leadership; you have to navigate your own way through trial and error.  I really enjoy that process. I wouldn’t say that everything I have done has been successful, but I would say for sure that I have always learnt from my mistakes and modified my approach.

What responsibility do you have in a typical day? What takes up most of your time?

Every day is different, or at least I try to make sure it is. I think the most time-consuming activity, is creating alignment across people, functions and organisations.

Where do your best ideas come from?

People inspire me! I like to find great ideas in other industries or applications and think about how they could apply elsewhere.

What does inspiration look like for you?

People who live their values. And people who are active in protecting them. That is why my heroes tend to be activists, like Paul Watson (Sea Shepherd) and Hans Kriek (SAFE) or Pussy Riot. I would be more starstruck by David Attenborough than David Beckham or Richie McCaw.

What has been the most transformational business practice you’ve implemented at your work?

I think Lean Start-UP Customer Discovery processes has transformed a lot of the innovation work that I do. Currently, I am in the process of implementing the Brene Brown Dare to Lead approach, which looks at the value of vulnerability in the workplace.

What social or environmental issues inform the work you do, as well as what you’re aiming to do with your company’s overall vision?

Our industry has a key role to play in the journey to a low carbon future. For example, all the low-carbon energy technologies (wind, hydrogen, solar, geothermal) require metals to operate cost effectively. We are also a significant employer in New Zealand, and therefore have a key role to play in improving inclusiveness in the workplace. HERA is a thought leader for innovation in our industry and we look at both the technical and HR issues affecting innovation adoption. For example, we are currently focusing on women in Engineering and Maori in Engineering. Did you know only 16 percent of engineers in New Zealand are women? That is appalling. And worst still, I think the number of Maori wahine in Engineering would only be a decimal point. That is totally unacceptable.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?

Waking up for morning snuggles with my son. Or any time that he shows me something new - a new painting, a new word or a new expression.

What about the least enjoyable?

Unpacking the dishwasher – I really hate that chore and somehow I am always the one in the family doing it! I am turning 46 this year. If you think that I probably only have another 40 years left – put that in the context of only another 40 summers left, or 40 winters or 40 1st of Julys, it changes your perspective. Every moment should be cherished. Lately, I have even tried to think about that when I am stuck in the Auckland traffic!

Do you have any side hustles you’re juggling alongside being an entrepreneur?

I am an Angel in investor in Justly, an Uber-like model transforming the customer experience in legal services. I am also helping a friend to create Herstory (a Persian clothing line focused on reclaiming ‘herstory’ from history), and a not-for-profit educational charity Hector’s Protectors.

Do you procrastinate? Is it good or bad?

I have no time for procrastination and have never been a procrastinator. I usually get into flow really quickly. I don’t even understand procrastination!

What’s your best productivity hack?

Do all the things you don’t want to do first, then you will be more enthusiastic about the rest of your day. Also, I am surprised at how many people still haven’t discovered “Doodle” and still try to herd sheep for setting meeting times!

Do you measure your accomplishments or productivity? If so, how?

Definitely accomplishments. The old school management approach of focusing on hours as a key indicator of employee value should be outlawed. The evidence is overwhelming supporting the view that accomplishment is not a factor of time. I usually have key accomplishment targets for the day and for the year. These include work related, as well as personal accomplishments, including learning new things.

What’s your interaction with friends and family throughout the day? Can you be both a successful entrepreneur and a good mother/partner/friend?

Motherhood is actually the bigger competitor for being a good partner and friend. There is a period of a good five years where everything must revolve around your child and I think it is a taboo subject just how much impact motherhood has on your friendships and partner relationships. It is a lot of pressure that no one really speaks about. No matter how much you love your partner and friends, you love your child more. This takes some time for everyone to come to terms with.

At work, I like to be ‘interrupted’ by emails – somehow, focusing on multiple things improves my performance so I am very likely to be emailing, checking social media and writing a report all at the same time. This style allows me to keep up contact with people. I also think the lines between work relationships and friend relationships can be blurred as many of my friends work in the industry too so we will talk both work and personal items all at once.

Do you get stressed? If so, how do you manage it? Do you practice any mindfulness or meditation?

Yes, I get stressed. It always surprises me when people say they think I handle stress very well. I think it is because I melt down over the small things – mostly about losing my keys or phone, which regularly happens as I am just about to go out the door and then realise I can’t get into my car!

I practice meditation and breathing practices in yoga. I have done many meditation courses, even with the Dalai Lama but I find it very hard to switch off. The closest I get to true mindfulness is gardening and I think that suits my personality as it is both mindful and productive. Of course, with children, you are forced to be present. And they are amazing for cultivating gratitude too. However, the practice that I find work best for me is focusing on my breath.

What do you do once you get home? Can you switch off?

When I get home, I try to protect the time I have with my son. Once he goes to bed, I finish off work then start to wind-down. A key part of that is the ritual of a hot shower and getting into comfy pjs – nothing glamorous there! I can’t relax until I finish everything that I wanted to achieve in that day, and once that happens, I find it easy to relax.

What do or don’t you eat or drink to maintain your performance throughout the day?

I am vegan so eat only plant-based food. There is a lot of evidence for the health benefits of such a diet and I believe it is not only good for the body, but also the mind and soul.

What time do you go to sleep? How many hours sleep do you try to get each night? Any special techniques for a good night’s rest?

Sleep is incredibly important so I try to keep a routine for the whole family. I used to be a 10 hours sleep person but since having my son, I am surprised how little sleep I can get away with. Eight hours is my current aim. For me, I can’t have any unaddressed stress before I sleep – go to bed with a game plan for the next day, all the chores done, all the work completed and no unresolved disagreements.

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