Gary Foley of BMS discusses his career development and how he ended up in his current role.
Gary Foley is associate director of supplier relationship management in external manufacturing at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) in Dublin. In this role, he is responsible for leading virtual plant teams in delivering medicines to patients.
Here, he explains what led him to this position, from a stint living in Australia to carving out time for personal connections and creating a five-year plan.
‘I found that being a holistic engineer with varying experience has stood to me, but also becoming a subject-matter expert in your field is rewarding’
– GARY FOLEY
What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?
I always had an interest in how things work and engineering while in school, so this transitioned into college where I studied mechanical engineering. After college, I went into industry and quickly got a taste for the working environment where I could gain more hands-on practical experience. Over the years, I learned more and more about the pharmaceutical industry and gained exposure to all areas of the business in terms of site engineering operations, manufacturing operations and qualification and commissioning activities.
This was supplemented by working in Australia from 2011 to 2016, which gave insight into working abroad and integrating my skills with different cultures. It was at this time in 2016 the opportunity was presented to join BMS’s new biologics facility in Dublin. I returned to Ireland and took a role in a very diverse engineering team.
In 2019, I decided to move on from my role with Cruiserath Biologics into external manufacturing. We are very fortunate that BMS Ireland has multiple business units and so I could make a career move from our manufacturing site based in Dublin 15 to a global business unit in the same locality.
What experiences led you to the role you now have?
I would see my education in mechanical engineering and energy and environmental systems as the ticket which opened doors for me to enter the industry, but it was really my working experience in the pharma industry that led me to this role.
Each different role I worked in offered invaluable experience across multiple API, biologics, sterile-filling and packaging sites. This enabled me to have the experience and understanding of what is required in the broader pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.
I also noticed that many of my managers or directors held various roles over various functions or business units during their time at BMS. This experience and knowledge led them to where they are today as part of the senior leadership teams.
If you would like to move business units, roles or departments, BMS encourages you to try it, either by applying for a new role or a secondment.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
The biggest challenges or surprises were when I took a chance on a new role or opportunity, even a project. Essentially, taking yourself out of your comfort zone. These challenges enable exposure to new areas with a steep and rewarding learning curve. Often, we can be afraid of these types of experiences, but this is where I have seen myself grow or achieve in some manner.
In dealing with new challenges, it can be intimidating taking in the sheer amount of new information and the new environment. My advice is not to be overwhelmed, set small goals week-by-week or month-by-month and then reflect on what you have learned with each milestone. You quickly realise what you are capable of.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
I can’t say that only one person had a profound influence on me – multiple managers and colleagues have helped along the way. In my experience, you have to go get it. Don’t wait for people to take a shine to you. Ask for help, advice, feedback and different perspectives from people around you.
However, what I found most helpful were regular one-to-one discussions where you receive more personal advice. I know this helped shape my career both in a technical and professional manner and aided the people-management aspect of working in a larger multinational organisation.
Learnings from various types of colleagues, managers and management styles have really made me look at how I now work with leaders, colleagues, new starters and graduates. My appreciation for one-to-ones and this personal time has allowed me to develop my own management style and to ensure time for connection. It is hugely helpful in order to explore new ideas, build relationships and for the team to ultimately succeed.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I enjoy meeting deliverables and improving ways of working continuously. Over a period of time, you should always reflect on what value has been added or what waste has been removed from a process. These enable systems to be most effective and people can focus on the right things.
More recently, I have enjoyed enabling and supporting my team. It is rewarding to see colleagues grow and develop from small nuggets of advice or feedback offered to them. The feedback I have received through the years has certainly helped me.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
I enjoy communication and people interaction in my role, always having some fun along the way.
How did BMS support you on your career path?
There is autonomy in my role to deliver objectives in a way that is best for the business and people around you. I find this hugely empowering as often it leads teams down a new route, developing new skillsets to achieve said objectives.
BMS further supplemented my career path by honing and developing skills through completing a coaching programme, presentation skills course and influencing courses so I could work at my optimum across the organisation.
These platforms helped me develop how to deliver my goals and manage my workload in order to support those around me.
One thing which really supported me and added value to the conversations I had with my managers was to develop a five-year career plan. This identified what roles I wanted in that period and highlighted the skills I possessed and the skills I needed to develop so I could achieve these roles.
This provided clarity for myself and my manager on where I needed to direct my focus. In addition, it supported my manager in advocating for me in the business should something come up that is relevant to this career plan.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
I would say always be open to new challenges, new roles or a secondment. In engineering, I found that being a holistic engineer with varying experience has stood to me, but also becoming a subject-matter expert in your field is rewarding and offers great career development.
I have spent time in every role from entry level to technical lead, then senior technical specialist roles to leading projects. Across each role you have to do the hard yards to get that experience. If not, you will be found out when interviewing for new opportunities.
It’s important to put yourself forward for projects that open you up across your organisation. This helps you broaden your knowledge base and change lanes from your qualification or core skillset. It not only allows you to understand how to work with other teams, functions and business units but also shows your agility as an employee.
Most importantly, enjoy your work and get involved in all that your organisation has to offer. This will only serve to enhance your outlook and work-life balance. I recently took on the role as lead for the diversity and inclusion engagement team in external manufacturing and have found this very insightful.