Name: James Cubbin
Degree and university: Masters in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology.
Work Title: Maintenance Process Improvement Engineer, AstraZeneca
What do you actually do? Prior to University, I worked for AstraZeneca as part of their ‘Year in Industry’ Scheme, sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering. As a result of the work that I had done throughout that year, AstraZeneca offered to sponsor me through University.
During my final year at University, I secured a place on the AstraZeneca Engineering Graduate Scheme. My first role was based at Macclesfield working in UK Operations. I gained such a variety of experience in the two years I spent in Operations; it really surpassed my initial expectations.
In November 2007, I started as a ‘Maintenance Process Improvement Engineer’. The role involved working as part of a small select team on a project called ‘Maintenance Excellence’. We identified huge opportunity both to reduce the AstraZeneca ‘bottom line’ and add significant value to the ‘top line’. The introduction of these new approaches would mean a fundamental challenge to the way in which we have historically seen and managed ‘work’.
Since developing processes as part of the ‘Maintenance Excellence’ work, I am now directly involved in delivering these processes as part of the UKFM Fast Forward Programme. My role currently involves working closely with Service Delivery Management Teams as a ‘technical change agent’ so the teams can strive towards becoming recognised as ‘World Class’. This work is already delivering significant value both to the top and bottom line, but it is a constant challenge to keep momentum going and for the teams not to treat our programme as a ‘project’ with a definitive end point. I will only have succeeded if, once I’ve gone, the change is sustained and the teams use the new ethos to continually improve their service offering in ever more innovative ways.
Would you undertake further study to gain promotion? If there was a specific need then yes I would. However, I truly believe you learn most by doing and then reflecting. Someone once told me ‘an expert is someone who has made the most mistakes and learned from each one’. But first you have to be open to the fact that you will make mistakes!
What do you most like about what you do and are there any downsides? At present it’s the challenge of changing the thinking of the people I’m working with. It takes time to change people’s thinking and they need to learn by doing, not me telling them! I have regular examples of teams I am supporting where I will say ‘I think you should be looking at XYZ next’. Time will pass, I’ll keep nudging the issue and then sometimes weeks later I will get individuals/managers within the delivery team announcing to the team ‘I want to do XYZ’. So in terms of downsides, a lot of what I do can go unrecognised, but then I wouldn’t have succeeded in sustaining any kind of change if I was recognised over the delivery teams.
What skills do you think you need to succeed? Without doubt in this role the key skills are:
- Active listening to those you are supporting
- A genuine passion for making this change happen
What advice would you give other graduates coming into the sector? My advice would be to be open-minded. The days are disappearing where there are discrete silos within pharmaceutical organisations – the emphasis in the future will be to work cross-functionally, and to link much more closely with meeting patient need through the discovery, manufacture and delivery of innovative pharmaceuticals. In the future it will be about how you can use your skills as part of a diverse team of engineers, pharmacists, scientists, chemists, accountants, and marketing professionals to contribute directly to delivering for the patient.