A woman wearing a blue top against a blank wall smiling at the camera.
Fiona Hegarty. Image: BMS

How this utilities engineer became a project manager

2 Jun 2022

BMS’s Fiona Hegarty talks about the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone to take on new opportunities.

Fiona Hegarty is a project manager and clean utilities subject matter expert in the engineering practice of Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS).

Having always enjoyed maths and science at school, she said engineering seemed like a practical application of that, so she went on to study mechanical engineering in University College Dublin.

This led her to a full-time role with BMS at its Cruiserath pharmaceutical facility as a utilities engineer. In total, she has spent around 10 years with the pharma company.

‘I have learned to persevere when it’s difficult and before long solutions usually become clear’

What education and jobs led you to the role you now have?

Following my primary degree, I completed a master’s in engineering management, which gave me greater knowledge of how operations can support business strategy, people management and project management as well as an insight into other business functions such as finance and supply chain.

This gave me a much more holistic understanding of all of the elements that contribute to make a successful organisation. It also helped to put business decisions into context for me as an engineer.

In 2011, I moved on from my role as utilities engineer with BMS and worked as a project engineer and, subsequently, a project manager with an engineering consultancy.

During this time, I worked with a variety of companies in the medical devices and food and beverage industries. I worked primarily on sustainability and energy reduction projects, which deepened my technical knowledge of utilities systems further. This experience also gave me a broad insight into different organisations and cultures.

In 2016, I was aware of the new biologics facility being constructed at Cruiserath and I was eager to work with BMS again. This led me to my role as clean utilities subject matter expert (SME).

In 2020, I began a 24-month tour of duty as project manager for new product introduction projects. I recently became a certified project management professional with the Project Management Institute.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered on your career path?

Throughout my career I have taken on new opportunities readily and as a result there have been many times where I was completely out of my comfort zone.

I dealt with these challenges by taking a breath and working though the item methodically. Once I could see progress, then it became more manageable.

I have learned to persevere when it’s difficult and before long solutions usually become clear. Often this happens when I am not in work. When out for a walk, mulling something over without even realising, the path forward often becomes obvious.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

My sister is also an engineer. She has been a great source of encouragement and advice to me throughout my career.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy solving problems and implementing improvements. This often involves collaboration with other groups across the organisation.

There is a good culture of teamwork at BMS and a shared sense of purpose in delivering for patients. When all groups are aligned in delivering a specific outcome, a huge amount can be achieved quickly, and this is what sparked my interest in in project management.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

As clean utilities SME, one of the primary responsibilities is compliance of systems from a good manufacturing practice perspective. As project manager for new product introduction projects I am responsible for delivery of broad and complex project scope. Attention to detail is critical for both of these roles so my ability work systematically through problems is beneficial.

I also really enjoy communication and interaction with people. Work is more enjoyable when you get on well with your colleagues. I also think it benefits the team and makes us more productive.

How did BMS support you on your career path?

One of the benefits within BMS is an educational assistance programme and this allowed me to complete my master’s in engineering management.

When I expressed an interest in project management, BMS afforded me the opportunity of a tour of duty into a project manager role, which so far has been a really positive learning experience for me. BMS also supported me in attaining project management professional certification.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area?

Consider choosing a degree that includes work experience. This will give a good insight into an industry and will help direct you when you graduate.

Many graduate programmes, including the one at BMS, are now structured in a way that allows participants to rotate through multiple departments over a two-year period. This opportunity is invaluable as it can become more difficult to move around as your career progresses.

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