Leaders’ Insights: Russell Macpherson, GSK Sligo

8 Mar 2017

Dr Russell Macpherson, GSK Sligo. Image: GSK

Dr Russell Macpherson is the director of new product introduction and product technology at GSK Sligo.

Working with GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) since 2004, Dr Russell Macpherson joined as a continuous improvement engineer at the GSK Maidenhead site in the UK.

Macpherson previously worked as a senior project engineer with QinetiQ, taking responsibility for a diverse range of engineering projects associated with the building of a concept hybrid electric vehicle. He has also worked as a PhD researcher and lecturing assistant at the University of Aberdeen.

After a stint in consumer healthcare R&D in Parsippany, New Jersey, he made the move to Sligo in May 2013 to focus on new products and the technology behind them.

Macpherson holds a PhD in artificial intelligence and a master’s in electrical and electronic engineering.

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the new product introduction (NPI) and product technology director. My responsibilities can be broken down into two main areas: launching new products onto the global stage, and being responsible for the technical operations of a modern manufacturing facility. In simple terms, I am responsible for getting creative and looking into the science and innovation of the products we make at GSK Sligo.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

It’s important to differentiate the important from the urgent and recognise when you have both. That’s what I try to do and this helps to prioritise against timelines that I face each week. One of the most important skills to have in a role like mine is being able to deal, and adapt, with rapid change. This helps enormously with prioritisation and helps with your role in general – science isn’t static!

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

One of the biggest challenges in NPI is how to launch innovation quickly within a highly regulated environment, such as the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector. Regardless, a culture of continuous improvement must be fostered, and nurturing a team ethos of curiosity, learning and creative innovation in day-to-day activities helps me and my team to meet these challenges, and discover more ways of doing things better for GSK with science.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

People development. We have a very fruitful collaboration with the local Institute of Technology here in Sligo, where we have successfully developed a bespoke distance-learning degree.

As a science-led global healthcare company, having access to highly skilled employees is essential. In a bid to meet this demand, GSK worked in collaboration with IT Sligo to develop the BSc in pharmaceutical science, with a module specifically focusing on colloid science and pharmaceutical manufacturing due to a skills gap in Ireland, and globally across our sites.

So, colloid science (the fundamental science behind creams) and manufacturing modules for this new programme was a huge focus. It gives our employees the opportunity to study for a degree while deploying new knowledge in the workplace – a win-win situation. It is a Level 7 degree, open to all 1,800 GSK employees located in any of the four GSK sites nationwide (Sligo, Dublin, Dungarvan and Cork) as well as staff located around the world via online distance learning.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Enquiry and curiosity, refusing to take no for an answer or being told that something can’t be done, and some good advice from a wise family member: my grandfather.

I was also very fortunate that I listened to his great advice when I was completing my apprenticeship in process control and instrumentation many years ago. I was thinking about quitting to pursue something else and he told me to finish what I had started as it would always a give me a foundation to build on. I took that advice and from completing my apprenticeship, I went on to study at university and ultimately obtain a PhD.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Trying to please everyone! Once I realised that this was impossible and not realistic, I felt my eyes were opened and everything came into perspective. However, I think you learn this as you get older and gain experience throughout your years, professionally and personally.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Trust and empowerment. It’s important to direct your team, but it’s also just as important to trust your team to find their own way, make mistakes and learn from them. We work in a very fast-paced environment where we are constantly looking, testing, innovating and trying new things – science changes all the time. It’s so important we all believe and respect each other’s skills and ideas, so that we get to where we need to be and help patients and consumers to do more, feel better and live longer.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

Locally, no, I don’t experience a problem – I am very fortunate to be working in a company that champions diversity.

Who is your role model and why?

A tough one and to answer, there is no one role model. I admire people who show tenacity. For example, James Clerk Maxwell, the Scottish physicist who unified the theories of electricity and magnetism to give us the theory of electromagnetism, without which you wouldn’t be reading this on the internet now! I studied his famous equations as part of my PhD work and it was quite humbling.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.

The Limits to Growth by Donella H Meadows et al.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

The Eisenhower Matrix. It reminds me how important prioritisation is. Exercise to keep a healthy body and mind, self-reflection and a little me time.