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The Engine Room: Amy Hill

01/07/20

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has launched a new staff profile series.

‘The Engine Room’ aims to build the profile of AGPC staff members and provide interesting insights into what it is like to be part of the team working on two iconic international events, the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in Phillip Island.

Amy Hill, General Manager - Operations

1. How did you get to where you are today?

I started my career in the community sector and worked for many years in the leisure and aquatics industry. Interestingly, I didn’t have a great deal of major event experience before starting at AGPC, although my background in operations and risk management roles in the sport and recreation area were a good link.

Years ago, one of my first jobs was as a lifeguard at the local public pool. In this setting, you typically expand into working across a range of other positions so that then saw me rise through the ranks of the leisure and recreation industry. It was a fantastic team environment and provided me with some really unique and valuable opportunities in different project areas from whole of business strategic planning, drowning prevention, child safety, sustainability and gender equality.

I still speak very fondly of my love of the aquatics industry – for example, if you work on really old swimming pools, you actually have to learn the mechanics of them and how to fix problems that arise, so you apply basic chemistry, physics and mechanical reasoning. Because these places didn’t always come with instruction manuals, I think that really opened my mind up to the world of problem solving, risk management and developing tools and systems for the next person to benefit from.

As a young person in the workforce in that industry, you get safety drummed into you from the very outset. You’re in a setting that promotes recreation and a certain level of controlled risk taking, so you need to ensure it’s done safely. When those two worlds combine, you have to become adept at managing high-risk activities, which is certainly the case in my current role.

I have never had a traditional next career goal; I have always had an improvement goal or learning goal and that has genuinely been the thing that has advanced my career. I have always tried to learn and excel in the technical and strategic aspects of my job, as well learning parts of other jobs around me that weren’t to do with my role specifically. I have applied that approach throughout my entire career and it has helped to diversify and broaden my capabilities.

My appreciation for strategy started out as a curiosity for the environment I was in, which I think transitioned over time to a strategic mindset. I’ve always wanted to know what was going on in the environment around me, whether it be in the industry, the community, globally or in politics and then apply that context back to your own work.

When you work in operations and risk management, you really do learn not only how to mitigate risk, but how to take controlled risks. In sport, entertainment and leisure, you have to take and accept an element of risk. That is the thing that strangely, links everything in my career together – curiosity, context of the environment, managing risks and opportunities.

2. What or who has been your greatest influence in your career and why?

The ‘what’ is my own curiosity, drive and work ethic – I’ve never needed anyone else to motivate me. This can be a blessing and a curse because I can take on too much at times but I’m always bursting with ideas for improvement projects and I find a way to get to them which is very fulfilling.

The ‘who’ is more a set of traits that I look for, rather than a person, although I’ve been fortunate to have had some incredible mentors, who’ve challenged me in really constructive ways, which I appreciate.

The traits that I gravitate to in people are high integrity, high motivation and outcome-focused. When I come across people with this triple threat, I immediately want to spend more time around them, get energy from them, and give that energy back. That’s where my most effective work happens - I am most inspired by people who go the extra mile to achieve big things, who can thrive in a grey area and can find another gear when you think there isn’t one.

3. What have been some make or break moments in your role at AGPC?

There have definitely been moments that have nearly broken me, but these have ultimately been defining moments too. Having never worked in events before I came to AGPC, I didn’t experience the typical ‘internship’ into events at all. Event management was an entirely different style of work for me, so it was a big learning curve - reshaping my work patterns to deliver outcomes more immediately, than over a longer term.

Those first six to 12 months, I can remember my own comfort levels wavering. I was trying to learn a new role in a new industry and at the same time, use those skills I had to make a meaningful contribution. Transitioning into major events was one of the healthiest learning experiences I’ve had because I was forced to get out of my comfort zone. The ultimate outcome is that AGPC has helped me become a well-rounded leader and greatly broadened what I have to offer. The experience has been one of the best of my professional life.

That’s where the ‘make’ in make or break comes in – whilst I was challenged at first, I soon started to feel like I was really adding some value.

I enjoyed the experience of learning from my colleagues and team who are the ultimate major events professionals and also contributing my strengths to the business. My background in managing risk in sport, developing management systems, and building strong team culture gave me the opportunity to make an impact in a business with the inherent risks of motorsport and major events.

I’ve never seen such a talented group of people deliver at the pace, complexity and volume as the team I work with at AGPC. It blows my mind even to this day, walking around the finished venue on the eve of an event and thinking ‘how on Earth did all of this happen?!’. It really does take raw talent and dedication to get that result.

There are those uncontrollable things, whether it’s an event cancellation, a pandemic or poor weather, all of which we experienced this year, but it’s our job to prepare for and respond to those things. When they do occur, I am always grateful for the countless hours of planning and rehearsal we do and the resilience of our team.

4. You played an integral part in AGPC’s Green Prix program and the membership with the Sports Environment Alliance (SEA), where do you see this space heading in the next five years?

As a team, we always reflect on our practices, where we are leading the charge and what our next areas of focus are. In recent years, that focus has been on event safety, readiness, security, threat preparedness, customer experience and crisis management and we want to achieve those same standards in sustainability too. We developed what we call the ‘Green Prix’ project which describes our long-term approach and objectives in environmental sustainability, at both a macro and micro level.

Our membership with the SEA plays an important role in engaging with the broader sports industry and educating our staff. There’s a real commitment from within the Australian major events and sports industries to collectively improve and SEA are central to that commitment and momentum.

We partnered with SEA, Earth Bottle and Parks Victoria to deliver the ‘Green Prix Park Project” where the entire staff of AGPC volunteered in a clean-up day of Albert Park, which included a large tree mulching exercise and litter collection and audit. It was a great day in terms of education and inspiring the team to look at sustainability opportunities in their respective areas. Because our team has such a great connection and respect for Albert Park, that then inspired a series of ideas and concepts to be generated that would carry that drive and passion for sustainability into our event delivery.

In terms of the next five years, we’re excited about what we can achieve with our partners and suppliers. We know that our customers and fans really care about sustainability, as do sports fans in general. Some of the advancements in the motorsport world have been incredible – the technology and the research applied to the sporting components of our events are amazing and often trickle through the entire industry and you get these great collective outcomes in safety and efficiency.

We’ll be building on that and ensuring that from an events perspective, we’re identifying ways to minimise our environmental footprint. We will do that through things like transitioning our waste profile, maximising the use of recycled materials, promoting environmentally friendly content and activations, and working with our supply chain and partners to reduce the carbon footprint of the event.

I’ve been very fortunate at AGPC to look at a number of other venues and events overseas and taken the opportunity to learn from others. It’s so valuable to look at safety and security practices, the end-to-end customer experience and examples of the creativity and innovation that different teams bring to their events and venues, particularly environmental initiatives.

These experiences have resulted in me returning with long lists of things that I’ve wanted to implement in our own way. Whilst sadly our fans didn’t get to experience them in full this year, some of the initiatives that we had in place were fantastic and I’m excited to bring them to life next year. We had introduced a number of sustainability hubs around the venue, waste-minimisation strategies, sustainability officers, we had the technology to turn food scraps into liquid waste that could then be used as fertiliser and we made this viewable to our customers too, as seeing the impact of good waste management can really encourage people to take a moment and make the right decision on where to place their waste. In our new pop-up playground areas for families, we had some great assets made from recycled materials which we hope to show fans in 2021.

If you look at any aspect of our events, whether it be entertainment or activations, partnerships or different products that you utilise, each of them has a great opportunity to keep transitioning towards being more sustainable. We’re looking forward to seeing what we can achieve in this space in the future.

5. As a leader in major event safety, what have been the greatest innovations to ensure best practice?

One area where we’ve really pushed to be more innovative is in our event readiness program. Our readiness program is critical to event safety; it involves the entire network of individuals, organisations and agencies involved in delivering our events on the world stage.

There’s a substantial risk profile associated with our event and it takes well developed systems and readiness programs to prepare for event delivery. We have to be prepared for anything from extreme weather, to motorsport incidents, to security risks, to construction works, or in the case of 2020 - a global pandemic.

For each of these, we dive deep into the risk assessment process, operational planning and readiness exercises and we do this in sidestep with our agency partners. We have a series of inter-agency committees that are crucial for the safe and enjoyable delivery of our event and we’re always grateful for the incredible support we receive from them, particularly our partners in the emergency services. We simply couldn’t run our events without them.

In terms of applying innovation to the way we prepare, the Formula 1® Hydra exercise that we co-designed with Victoria Police was a world-first inter-agency and major event exercise specifically developed for the key stakeholders involved in delivering the emergency management capabilities for our event.

The exercise took the unique learning approach offered by the Hydra Academy and overlaid that with the operations and logistics of delivering the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix. We established some specific emergency and crisis scenarios tailored for our event and applied them in the Hydra context. What it did was open up this incredible learning experience to events professionals and emergency services personnel where we were all learning from each other and working together to consider information and form decisions. It has been invaluable to major event safety at our two motorsport events, but also to event safety in Victoria.

After we launched the first exercise in 2018, we’ve continued to engage our team in this experience as part of our event readiness program. It has now been rolled out to other emergency services personnel in Victoria and other major event promoters. This is great as it increases the collective capability of us all and it’s a great tool to familiarise with the Formula 1® event venue which looks very different in ‘event mode’ than it does throughout the rest of the year.

6. What aspects of your role are you the most passionate about?

What I’m most passionate about is the enabling and empowerment of my team to help them achieve their goals and develop their capabilities. I enjoy it greatly and I believe it achieves a much better result for the business than me just focusing on my job or workload.

I also like working with people on particular challenges, and workshopping solutions with my team and colleagues to ensure we get maximum fan enjoyment at our events. A real goal of mine is building a bridge between the creative ideas in the business and how they ultimately end up featuring at our events. That bit in between is what I’m passionate about – the machinery of idea to implementation.

7. How do you achieve work-life balance?

Firstly, its understanding what work-life balance means for me personally. Then it’s acknowledging the different roles and responsibilities that I have and understanding that some weeks are going to be bigger than others. I’ve found it more practical to consider work-life balance with a medium-long term view rather than trying to achieve it on a daily basis. I then make sure that over the course of a month, I’m factoring in time for all the things that matter to me outside of work.

It might be that I know I have a big few weeks ahead at work, so I make sure that at the end of that period, I’ll offset that with something that refills my bucket.

One of my greatest offsets is a different kind of work that I do for an eco-friendly apparel business that I co-founded and own, called Norte. This is a side project I share with my sister and the aspects that I’m responsible for with Norte are very different to the work I do in my job at AGPC. In my role at AGPC, I have a lot of process and structure, whereas with Norte, I’m more the creative mind working across marketing, photography, partnerships, social media, website development and environmental sustainability. Coincidentally, these are a lot of my hobbies so that works out well for me and forces me to make time for them all each month and I’m very grateful for that.

8. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to work in motorsport and/or major events?

I’m a big advocate for diversifying your skillset. Having not come from events, I have a firsthand account of transitioning into the industry through circumstance rather than my desire to work in events specifically. I think the biggest attribute that I had to rely upon was just having a toolbelt full of skills that you can pull out and use in different situations. The fact that five years on, I can so vividly recall my initiation into events speaks to how big a change that was and how important it is to me to have a broad skillset.

My studies have been in risk and safety, so I can’t really advocate for the various study pathways that are probably more typical for event management. However, my advice is really about digging deep and learning everything you can possibly learn, about a variety of areas.

I don’t think you can really get away with having a narrow skillset in events, and certainly as you navigate through more senior roles in your career, you need all the business fundamentals, strong leadership and technical skills. I think people thrive if they have a multi-layered skillset and it’s a real asset to offer employers. The final piece of advice; enjoy every moment of it, the highs, the not-so-highs, and make sure you build a strong and resilient team around you.