David Lynch

Engineers as leaders: The art of the possible over the probable

David Lynch, CEng, FIChemE, leads Engineering, Global Capital Projects, and Environmental Health & Safety for Global Manufacturing and Supply operations at GSK. He reflects on his career, the role of engineering in healthcare, and the path to leadership in the profession.

I knew engineering was the right career choice…

at a career fair, when I was 16, and a chemical engineer explained to me how engineers create products and technologies that have real value for people.

After earning my degree from the University of Exeter in 1986, I joined PZ Cussons, the British personal healthcare and consumer goods manufacturer, as a graduate trainee.

Working there grounded me in process and project engineering and operations management. Living in Indonesia, Australia, China and Nigeria during my tenure gave me a global perspective, and helped position me for the role I’ve held at GSK since 2011.

I’m proud to be part of our collective effort to create new and improve existing medicines and healthcare products.

I knew engineering was the right career choice…at a career fair, when I was 16, and a chemical engineer explained to me how engineers create products and technologies that have real value for people.

The coolest thing about being an engineer is…

that you can make a real, tangible impact on the world we’re living in now – and the one we’re shaping for the future.

Engineering focuses on finding practical, sustainable solutions to real-world problems. Engineering has solved many challenges in human history, from figuring out how to irrigate crops in arid climates to creating next-generation technologies that treat disease.

GSK engineers transform the brilliant work of our R&D scientists into medicines and healthcare products, and design the devices to deliver them into the human body. There is enormous satisfaction in knowing your work can help people feel better and live longer.

Engineers are critical to the healthcare industry because…

they are involved in nearly every aspect of our operation. GSK employs many kinds of engineers – mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical, pharmaceutical, specialist, environmental, safety and operational.

The work they do and the decisions they make directly support the research, design and sustainable manufacture of safe, high-quality products that must meet the expectations of regulators and the person at the end of our supply chain.

Our engineers are responsible for building and maintaining safe, secure manufacturing facilities for the nearly 32,000 people (nearly one-third of the GSK global workforce) who work in 71 sites, located in 33 countries.

They are committed to returning our people back to their families the same way they came to work – healthy and safe. “Keeping the engines running” is more than a metaphor when you consider the enormous responsibility our engineers have.

GSK employs many kinds of engineers – mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical, pharmaceutical, specialist, environmental, safety and operational.

Engineering is shaping the next generation of healthcare by…

transforming innovative scientific research into new, novel classes of medicines. The impact of engineering on the future of healthcare is significant. Take its role in developing treatments of the future, like cell and gene therapy and bioelectronics. Someday engineers will figure out how to make miniaturized, implantable devices that modify or read electrical signals that pass along nerves of the body, including irregular or altered impulses that can occur in a broad range of diseases. They will translate this research into actual devices – and the factories that will make them – to improve the lives of millions of people.

Three skills I apply as an engineering leader every day are…

good judgement, decision-making and problem solving, none of which are mutually exclusive. There’s a saying in our profession that if you can frame a problem, you can solve it.

After three decades as an engineer, I’m still sharpening my ability to think critically and analytically. It’s safe to say that the more than 4,500 other engineers and technicians who work at GSK do as well.

We’re fortunate to have professionals who have worked here their entire careers and many who are just starting out. Collaboration across the spectrum builds judgement and good decision-making across the board, and makes it fun to come to work each day.

The greatest challenge the next generation of engineers will face will be…racing against the clock to keep up with the challenges that society asks of us.

The greatest challenge the next generation of engineers will face will be…

racing against the clock to keep up with the challenges that society asks of us. Engineers innovate ideas. They have put a man on the moon, made advances in facial recognition technology, and created “smart phone” technology, to name a few. Healthcare engineers of tomorrow must keep pace with sophisticated technology set in motion today. At the same time, modernization in our industry can be slow, but it is deliberate. The result, in human terms, will always be worthwhile.

Engineers entering the profession impress me because…

they see the art of the possible over the probable. Young apprentices and graduates that I see today have a strong affinity with a digital environment.

Access to this technology enhances their capabilities and sparks creativity. Recently, our young engineers attended the Engineering a Better World conference, hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The event challenged them to generate innovative solutions towards 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the United Nations. I’m genuinely proud that our engineers presented proposals that were recognized in the categories of affordable, clean energy and sustainable cities and communities.

In a world increasingly dependent on engineering and technical solutions, society will continue to look to you to improve our quality of life.

Advice I’d give to anyone considering a career in engineering is…

to stretch yourself and be prepared to learn. Engineers and technical experts gain rewards worthy of the challenges that inspire them.

Recently, we named two of our senior technical and engineering specialists, Gordon Muirhead and Nigel Wood, as our first GMS Senior Fellows.

Gordon works at our facility in Ware and Nigel is at Barnard Castle. We recognize them – as we will other fellows in the future – because of their expertise and excellence, and because they nurture it in others.

Their path is what I hope for every young engineer, who should aim to exceed every expectation that is set.

Stretching yourself allows you to do things that are extraordinary. In a world increasingly dependent on engineering and technical solutions, society will continue to look to you to improve our quality of life.

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