The scientist was working at Massey University in Palmerston North studying liver function, but kept borrowing equipment from the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute across the road.
“Someone said ‘you should start turning right instead of left in the morning’,” he said.
That decision to turn right led to Hill becoming internationally recognised for his work researching dairy, and him being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Hill has been Fonterra’s chief science and technology officer since 2007, published more than 100 works as part of his research, and was appointed an adjunct professor at the Riddit Institute in 2018.
Arguably his biggest role was being the president and chair of the International Dairy Federation, the only New Zealander to hold the position in its 117-year history.
He had planned to become an academic while studying in the United Kingdom, and did his doctoral research in liver metabolism.
But it was the possibility of doing post-doctoral research, which resulted in using whey to make a product much like cocoa butter, that was his first dip into dairy.
His work at the top of the International Dairy Federation led to the signing of The Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam in 2016, a commitment for sustainable and environmentally friendly dairy production.
The dairy industry continued to cop flak from some quarters for a range of issues, including pollution of waterways, but New Zealand’s dairy industry had one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, he said.
All food production impacted the environment, so it was important to look at the nutrient richness of a product against its environmental footprint, then figure out how to improve.
“The food system needs fixing, but it isn’t just about dairy or plants,” he said.
“We need to improve all production systems, wherever we are doing it and however we are doing it.”
A career in science had taken him around the world, including stints in California and Brussels, and he recommended it to anyone.
“I’m very grateful I did go this way.”
His work always involved a team of people, who, as well as his family, Hill was keen to thank.
“Often when people are recognised, they are recognised not just for themselves but for all the people who supported them.”