Engineering for impact: Career insights from Kate Barnett


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As we celebrate International Women’s Day, our Chief Operating Officer, Kate Barnett, shares insights into her career journey so far. Kate Barnett_SPT Labtech_circle

Before joining SPT Labtech in April 2023, Kate led the operational performance and strategic delivery of specialist diagnostics manufacture within Thermo Fisher Scientific. There, she was directly responsible for 600 people across five plants around the world. As a qualified engineer, Kate obtained her MEng from Oxford University before progressing from Project Engineer to multi-site General Manager at Crown Packaging plc and later at Cambridge Assessment. She has an MBA from INSEAD and is a Non-Executive Director at The Royal Mint.

How are you enjoying life at SPT Labtech?

I’ve been here for almost a year and time has gone by so quickly, which I always take as a good thing as time flies when you’re having fun!

What led you down this career path?

I’ve always been interested in understanding ‘how things work’. Look around you at everything from huge cantilever bridges to a neatly designed car key fob, and the planning, design and construction all relies on good engineering.

I realized that the even more satisfying thing was learning how to ‘get stuff done’, effectively and with good joie de vivre. I saw the importance and value in building high performing teams that are curious, trust each other and are not afraid to try new things logically to achieve a goal together. So, I combined these passions by running factories - first in the world of very fast tinned food can manufacturing plants, then highly confidential examination printing and distribution, and more recently in medical devices.

What inspires you in your role?

Each industry that I’ve worked in impacts people’s lives, so it is crucial to get things right. I’m a strong advocate of Continuous Improvement and I believe that we can make a real difference by making things smarter. This involves bringing the right people together to ask questions on how we can make products better for our customers, for our colleagues producing them, and simultaneously addressing the challenge of saving the business money by removing wasted time and effort.

I really enjoy the collaborative and energetic part of planning out processes and coming up with innovative ideas together. Growing an environment where people feel comfortable to participate and know that their input will be valued is a win-win scenario – we achieve more, and we all feel good about what we do.

Throughout my career, I have been privileged to lead teams doing serious business whilst managing a bit of fun along the way – whether it be bringing together ideas from a crew running a single manufacturing line in a noisy plant alongside the customer facing service engineers, or bringing together teams from South Africa to Germany to share best practices that optimize ingredients from a scarce resource at the height of the pandemic.

What advice would you give to others looking to pursue a career in engineering?

It’s an extremely rewarding career – little improvements can quickly become significant improvements that make a real difference to people’s lives. 

Of course it isn’t always easy, and that makes the successes even more rewarding. My advice to anyone would be to adopt a mentor, be brave enough to ask questions to those around you, be curious and remember “no guts, no glory” - so just go for it!