Lisa Houston | Chemist Profiles
Lisa Houston has been a process director at PAC, LP, for six years. She supports her company's sales force and applications engineers, helping to improve product performance and resolve issues for customers. "I'm a firefighter for the company," she says, referring to the problem-solving aspects of her job.
PAC manufactures more than 300 types of instruments for elemental analysis, physical property measurements, and chromatography, to support industrial laboratories and manufacturing process applications. Houston started out 15 years ago in the applications group for elemental analysis. She progressed through lab manager and product manager positions to arrive at her current level. In 2009, she transitioned into the process side of the business.
Houston received her bachelor's degree, with a major in biochemistry, in 1986. During her college years, she worked in a series of summer jobs that were related closely to medical technology, the field in which she had intended to work. She explained that these jobs had an unintended effect — "They helped me determine what I didn't want to do!"
As she was preparing to graduate, she spoke with her professors to learn what job opportunities might be available. She found out about an open contract position in an oil research laboratory, which turned into a full-time job and a career. "It was a summer job that lasted 8 years," she says. Her next job was with a start-up business that worked on bio-desulfurization of fuels. The company never fully got off the ground, but she found her next job at PAC. Houston had used PAC instruments in her research, and PAC hired her for their elemental analysis applications group.
What is your major responsibility in your current position?
I manage an interdisciplinary team that provides global sales, service, engineering, and application support for the Process Analytics business segment. This segment makes the instruments that oil refineries use to monitor their processes (including distillation, sulfur/nitrogen, viscosity, flash point). We help refineries increase their productivity and profits. I make sure that everything is covered: customers' orders are fulfilled, service issues are resolved.
What's a typical day on the job like?
I spend 25% of my time in meetings, 25% managing people, and 50% coordinating organizational activities.
Our customers are all over the world, so Asia starts up before my dinnertime, and Europe gets going when it's very early in the morning here. I check my email from the time I get up until I go to bed, to make sure I'm not leaving a customer hanging.
I travel a few days a month to visit customers, product distributors, and our company's other locations. I am active with ASTM (a standard-setting organization), and I attend their activities about three times a year to make sure that our equipment complies with their standard methods. I go to all of the ACS national meetings, as well as other conferences and trade shows.
Are there any apps/software/instrumentation/tools that you can't live without?
I use Internet Explorer and the Microsoft Office suite of products (Outlook/Word/Excel/Powerpoint/Lync). I rely a lot on my Outlook calendar. I also use SplashID Safe password management software, Dropbox cloud data storage, and Adobe Reader for pdf documents.
What is your work environment like?
I work in an open office environment, which consists of 4–8 desks with 5-foot dividers. Everyone, from the President down, has the same size desk and work space. My team, except for two offsite employees, resides in one of the 8 tops (open office areas). This open environment eases communication and increases efficiency. You can see who is in the office at any time just by looking around. I have a laptop with a dock and monitor, and a telephone. For private phone conversations and meetings, we have various sizes of conference rooms.
Does your job follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule?
I work about 60–70 hours a week because I must be accessible for global support. I am salaried, so this is just part of the job and not considered overtime. The environment is fast paced.
What do you like most about your job and why?
I like working with a team of people from varied backgrounds and expertise and finding ways to get the best out of all for the good of the organization. I also love the global travel aspect. I make sure that I get to do at least one "touristy" activity on every trip I take, and my boss supports that. You have to have that "me" time, and I've gotten to see some very interesting places
What is your best productivity trick?
I set tasks and reminders to ensure that everything gets done (eventually).
What's the best career advice you've received?
Do what you love and love what you do.
What personal talent or trait makes you a great fit for your job?
I am a great organizer of people and efforts. This has served me well in my job as well as my volunteer efforts for ACS.
Is there anything else you would like to mention about your career?
I believe that I have gotten where I am due to my abilities to be organized, diplomatic, flexible, and caring.
What essential habit do you have now that you wish you'd started much earlier?
Networking — although I think I was doing it long before it had a name.
What is your favorite ACS resource?
C&EN. I love the electronic version, since I am saving some trees and can peruse the contents quickly and key in on what I want to know more about.
How have you benefited from being an ACS member?
Participation in ACS governance allowed me to take on leadership roles in a friendly environment. I am a counselor and the chair of long-range planning in the ACS Division of Energy and Fuels, which is a result of a merger with the ACS Divisions of Petroleum and Fuel Chemistry. I'm also the webmaster and social media person for the ACS Women Chemists Committee. I am the chair of the ACS Multidisciplinary Program Planning Group, and the treasurer of my local (Houston, TX) ACS section. Practicing my leadership skills with ACS allowed me to spread my wings long before I took on any leadership roles in the work environment.
I like working with a team of people from varied backgrounds and expertise and finding ways to get the best out of all for the good of the organization. I also love the global travel aspect."