Synovate farewells market research doyenne, welcomes new—but experienced—blood

Synovate has announced some big changes to its senior roster, with Debra Hall announcing her early retirement effective October 29 and long-time independent researcher Duncan Stuart joining the team in a “suitably loose role”.

After some 25 years in the local industry, Hall says she is privileged to be able to leave at the top of her game.

“I have always respected athletes who retire at their peak rather than endure a downward slide, and while I love my work, my colleagues and my clients, I also love my family and personal time, and want to focus more of my energy on them. I am in the fortunate position where I am able to retire early, knowing that the company is in excellent health and that my clients will be well looked after by a highly competent team.”

Hall, one of New Zealand’s most respected, most awarded and innovative market researchers, co-founded Research Solutions Ltd in her Pakuranga garage in 1992. She has been an integral part of the changing face of market research in New Zealand  through her unique combination of intellect, pragmatism, and a willingness to “get off the fence and tell it like it is”.

Hall developed a great match of talented researchers and brave clients, with an unrivalled record in the biannual Market Research Effectiveness Awards. She was made a Fellow of the NZ Market Research Society in 2006, and is currently chairman of the board of the New Zealand Marketing Association.

The strong performance of Hall’s company made it an attractive acquisition for one of the world’s largest market research companies, Synovate, to whom she sold Research Solutions in 2007. Her expertise was highly valued by Synovate’s global operations, who quickly invited her to contribute to the company’s global brand research development team.

Many of Australasia’s best known brands have also benefited from Hall’s research nous, and there will be few people in New Zealand whose consumer experiences have not been improved in some way by Hall’s recommendations to brand and service marketers.

“Debra is the smartest and hardest working researcher I know, but in addition to this she has always placed great importance on training and mentoring other researchers, so she leaves behind a strong, smart and dedicated team,” says Synovate’s New Zealand managing director Ian Mills.

And the strength of that team has been increased with the arrival Stuart, which is a fortuitous coincidence rather than as a replacement for Hall.

Stuart previously he worked as an independent researcher with his own firm Kudos and was the first market researcher in this country to be elected by his profession as a Fellow of the Market Research Society of New Zealand. Last year was elected as a Life Member in recognition of his contributions to the wider profession, including professional development sessions. In 2003 and 2004 he served as a judge in the NZ marketing Awards, and since the mid 1990s has won numerous awards at conferences.

“I’ve enjoyed 15 years as an independent researcher and have used those years to focus on personal professional development; exploring new ways to conduct and analyse research and better ways to push the value frontier for clients. Markets and media have changed radically in the past two decades, but I believe most researchers have not kept up.”

He says he was initially committed to remaining independent. But two things lured him to Synovate: clients that demonstrate bold thinking and the company’s desire to be the best around.

“They want to be the rock stars of research. I think their awards demonstrate that.”

Mills says Stuart’s role description is suitably loose, and is part the company’s flexible style in which expertise can freely flow.

“Classic research firms have a silo structure and that’s no way to get the best thinking for the client. Duncan joins a highly interactive team of top talent. His mission is to extract as much insight as possible from any given project; to work the data in fresh ways. We can learn things from him to help us lift our game, but at the same time we’ve got the environment where he can lift his. That’s the idea: we want to push each other to new heights.”

Outside of research, Stuart is committed to the running and support of a school he helped build in Cambodia in 2005.

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