Kirsty Gainey

Technical Manager at Acheson and Acheson
Meet Kirsty Gainey, Technical Manager for Acheson & Acheson, a British-based company which develops and manufactures a large portfolio of beauty products under contract to international retailers and global brands.
What is your job title and what are the main characteristics of your day-to-day work?

My job title is Technical Manager, and the majority of my day-to-day work is spent supporting my R&D (Research and Development) team of chemists and technicians, and liaising with our commercial team and our external customers. This would typically be formulation queries, claims advice, ideas for new projects and anything during development that may impact on completing a project successfully and on time. I also manage our testing laboratory (stability and packaging component testing), so this involves working closely with our packaging team as well.

Do you use any area of science in your current job?
We use a lot of areas of science in day-to-day work, chemistry being the obvious one when formulating, but also biology when considering raw materials and writing presentations on how our products will work on the skin, even geology when we are considering aspects like the Mohs* hardness scale of scrub particles in relation to their impact on our manufacturing vessels.
What other department/professions do you work with?

The R&D department probably has the most diverse number of professional relationships within the company. Internally we work closely with most departments including commercial on product ideas and managing the critical path, production as we manage scale up and have an input into fill trials and quality for finished bulk and raw material queries. We have our own technical information team as well, who collate the Product Information Files, request our safety reports, write the ingredient lists and check global legislation, so we work very closely with them on a day-to-day basis. Externally we work with the commercial and technical teams of our customers, raw material [ingredients] suppliers, safety assessors, clinical testing houses and consumer research companies, and some other third party manufacturers. We also work with organisations like the CTPA when we need advice.

The learning really doesn’t ever end when you work in this industry, it just becomes more relevant.
How would you summarise your career path so far?

I left school the year that university fees were introduced, so I deferred my place for a year to earn some money to fund my degree (I was all set to study geology, and follow my childhood dream of being a palaeontologist). I joined a cosmetic manufacturing company as a lab technician as I wanted a science-based job, and only intended to stay for the year. However I loved the job, it was a great mix of science with creative and artistic flair. The company offered to fund the Society of Cosmetic Scientists (SCS) Diploma if I stayed, and based on the advice that I’d had going through school that “dinosaur hunter” was best left as a hobby, I embraced the opportunity. After finishing my diploma, a Chemist position came up and I applied and was successful. I stayed working as a Chemist for over 12 years, progressing to Senior Chemist and I worked with many different brands in that time. After a total of 14 years with the company an opportunity came up to move to Acheson & Acheson. I joined there in 2011 as Senior Chemist, and shortly afterwards was promoted to Technical Manager.

What are the best things about your job?

There are several aspects of the job I love, firstly from a personnel perspective I always feel very proud when members of my team succeed. I have had a number of team members progress from Technician to Junior Chemist or Chemist. Being able to support and encourage them in their careers is very fulfilling. I also very much enjoy presenting new ideas to a customer, and seeing your own enthusiasm for a project rub off on other people. I also still love seeing products you’ve developed on shelf, and seeing people buy them or spotting them in peoples’ bathrooms. The novelty also never wears off when you see good reviews in magazines, or your products win awards.

Are there any specific skills essential to the job you do?

You need to have a good memory, exceptional organisational skills, patience, creativity and a love for science in all its forms. I also think you need to have experienced being a technician and a Chemist in order to be a good mentor to your team.

What qualifications are needed to do your job? Which of your qualifications do you find useful in your job?
A science-based background, the SCS Diploma, a lot of experience and a good reputation are probably the most looked for qualifications. It is quite unusual for a Technical Manager not to have a degree, but until relatively recently a specific cosmetic science degree didn’t exist, and a pure science degree such as chemistry or biology only has limited relevance to the job, so I don’t think it has held me back in any way. Raw materials and trends are constantly evolving, legislation is constantly changing, so even the most academically qualified person will be in a constant state of learning and evolving in a role like this. The SCS Diploma is a good foundation for anyone starting in the industry, but experience is still the most useful.
Is there anything you wished you’d studied when younger that would be useful now?

I do sometimes wish I’d gone to university and studied geology, however if I had done that, I certainly wouldn’t be doing this as a career now. Retrospectively, maybe a biology biased degree would be the most useful. I am lucky enough to be able to go on various courses each year, including SCS symposia and raw material supplier training days, so the learning really doesn’t ever end when you work in this industry, it just becomes more relevant.

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*A measurement of how hard a mineral is by scratching its surface.