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A high-voltage life: GE’s New Zealand Country Leader

GE has appointed its first country leader in New Zealand. His name is Kevin Hart and his CV includes experience working at all levels in the energy sector over more than three decades—and an even longer devotion to Judo, a sport in which he has competed at an international level.

“I still get down to the Judo club once every couple of weeks,” he says, “and try to keep fit with gym work and some running.” Hart will need to keep match fit, because GE has high expectations of the business that he’s heading up.

“It’s a pivotal time for energy and industry in New Zealand,” says Geoff Culbert, president and chief executive of GE Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. “The country has an impressive national target to generate 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025, and GE is uniquely positioned with the technology, global experience and local capabilities to help New Zealand support this target.  Kevin will play a critical role in identifying new opportunities and further establishing GE as the market leader in efficient energy and digital industrial solutions.”

Hart has a passion for renewable energy (he previously served on the board of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association), and for digital solutions that improve grid resilience and efficient economic outcomes.

He is also a very proud Kiwi, and is looking forward to finding new ways to make a difference in his country by way of GE’s Energy Connections, Power & Water, Healthcare, Transportation, Aviation and Renewables businesses. He points to a recent project where GE’s ZeeWeed membrane solution purifies water from the Waikato River on the country’s North Island to create treated water that exceeds the Ministry of Health Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand.

“Water quality is starting to receive media attention here in New Zealand, which is an area that New Zealanders have always taken for granted given its clean green history.  However with the massive development of the country’s dairy industry, water aquifers previously considered to be pure are now at risk of contamination. GE’s water-quality solutions are just one example of how GE can really make a difference to local communities,” says Hart.

After the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, where Hart now lives, GE PowerOn energy transmission technology was vital in helping local electricity distribution provider Orion deal with its devastated network; it allowed the control room team to efficiently direct its emergency workers to prioritise restoring power to critical sites, as well as safely disconnecting power to badly damaged buildings.

Hart’s career already includes 16 years with New Zealand’s national grid owner Transpower, which has an international reputation for innovation, as well as several successful consultancies and startups in the energy industry.

GE Reports plugged into Hart and found a man who sees opportunities pretty much wherever he looks.

He learned the power industry from the earth up
Through a competitive New Zealand government program, Hart was trained as an electrical design draughtsman, specialising in high voltage substations. As well as academic study, there was an enormous practical component to his early career.

“I went to power stations, worked in high-voltage substations. I learned how to weld and how to wire up telecommunications panels,” recalls Hart. “I received a mass immersion into the power industry … from the design of the facilities through to the construction, manufacturing … everything.”

He emerged as an electrical design draughtsmanship and was then thrust into working on projects such as the government’s “Think Big” projects, including the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, 1,000MW Huntly Power Statation and later the Pole 2 HVDC power network across the South Island and upgrade across Cook Strait.

“These experiences allowed me to discover that “I loved to learn on the job,” says Hart.   “They really suited my learning style.”

In the land of the All Blacks, he gave rugby union away when he was 11
It’s not that he doesn’t love rugby, but when he discovered Judo, Hart gave every other sport away. By the time he was 19 years old he had a black belt, and represented New Zealand in Judo throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

With the NZ team, he had the “amazing experience” of training at the US Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs for just over three years, and represented New Zealand at the US Open.

From the Judo dream came a golden career opportunity
Living in Colorado Springs, Hart had to find work to finance his Judo habit. He was digging trenches on building sites when his Kiwi accent brought him to the attention of the building developer.

On learning that Hart was a draughtsman, the developer moved Hart from the trenches to the drawing board where he worked on architectural designs.

“I sat next to the company’s architect.  It was a steep learning curve, but I ended up starting my own business designing houses, freelancing for that company and others, and carved out a reasonable living while I did my Judo training in the evenings. It was a very exciting time in my life.”

The skinny on determination … and life lessons
Hart fought three US Opens and numerous other international events in his judo career, never quite making the Olympics but having a great time pursuing a sport that is, he says, “in my DNA”.

When he returned to live in New Zealand, the trials for the Commonwealth Games Judo team were almost complete. There was one spot up for grabs, in the weight division beneath Hart’s. He had to drop 5kg in five weeks, a big ask for someone who already had very low body fat.

He made the division by grams and reached the finals, but was beaten on points by the reigning national champion in that division. He lost too much weight too quickly and ended up with pneumonia afterward.

“You learn a lot from these defining moments when you push yourself to the limit physically and mentally,” he says. He stopped fighting competitively about 12 months later.  He ran the Wellington Judo Academy for several years and is now a life member. “I decided that it was time to focus on career and family.”

Loving digital disruption since before it was called that
In the early 1990s, Hart delved into digital for New Zealand’s national grid owner Transpower, where he worked for 16 years. He headed up a multi-million-dollar project to digitise all of New Zealand’s grid engineering drawings. He says, “I ran the project to automate all of the engineering-drawing information … and that was the start of my technology career.”

In 1996, New Zealand became the first country in the world to implement a fully deregulated wholesale electricity market, says Hart. “People could buy and sell electricity on a wholesale market trading platform the same way that people buy stocks and shares.”

Working on that digitally disruptive project exposed him to how the electricity market operates, “and I really enjoyed that”.  The technology that operates the wholesale market is still operating today. Following a multi-million dollar upgrade in 2009, it’s now part of GE’s technology solution.

While at Transpower, he also worked on developing a brand new business in trading electricity derivatives, known as d-cyphaTrade, which later sold to the Australian Stock Exchange, which now operates it.

A vision for GE New Zealand as a great big, windy technology sandpit
Hart says his homeland is the perfect place to develop and trial scalable industrial innovation: “We’re a nimble country. There’s a culture of technological innovation in New Zealand that we can leverage, and we make ourselves a sandpit to try out new things. GE’s Predix platform fits in really well here, and we’re starting to develop some new ideas in the health sector on how we can explore that to drive the Industrial Internet.”

New Zealand’s renewable energy target of 90% by 2025 is another opportunity for GE. “Wind projects will be the first cab off the rank as prices of wind generation reach parity with gas generation costs. Offshore wind generation is not really an option for us because the seas are too treacherous, but we have an abundance of wind onshore!”

Hands, and businesses, across New Zealand—and the world
“I want to lift the profile of the New Zealand business here and also inside GE,” says Hart. “My role is to take a holistic view of all of GE’s businesses in New Zealand and to develop the GE Store concept here. I want to get collaboration going across our businesses and to take a consolidated value proposition to the market. Then there’s the digital technology play, with Predix; there are some really exciting growth opportunities to show what we can do.”

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