Then and Now: Alison West
January 24, 2022
Thirty-two years ago, I joined our Technical Support Group. In the early days I spent a lot of time in Ireland visiting customers, advising on the best products, troubleshooting and conducting what seemed like endless rounds of filterability studies. We would receive a customer call and just jump in the car or on a plane and pay them a visit. Then, like now, we were there to help and provide the best products for each individual process, but back then there was less two-way discussion, it was more about trust in quality products and our expertise in their process usage.
The reality now is that we don’t just sell products. We provide complete solutions, validation packages and traceable documentation to satisfy regulatory bodies. The customer-supplier relationship has become an innovative partnership where data and methodology are far more open and transparent. In the last 30 years I have definitely seen us become more ‘customer-centric’. For instance, today, standard practice for research and development is to obtain feedback from end users right through the new product development process, from initial conversations and concept development through to final product launch. The more rigid customer-supplier relationship has disappeared. It is a clear partnership with the customer voice being pivotal and central to the solutions we provide. Clearly this is progress.
You can see this openness everywhere in the workplace with a welcome and overdue shift towards awareness of diversity and inclusion. Now, all voices have the opportunity to be heard. It hasn’t always been like this. Approachability of senior managers was not as easy in the 1990’s. It was an entirely different overtly hierarchal culture. Thirty years doesn’t seem so long ago, but it is clearly long enough to remember the taste of twelve pence instant coffee straight from the machine! Back then it was not uncommon for the culture of a large company to include an all-male director’s lounge or a separate canteen for the ‘workforce’. The early nineties were a time when old-school barriers within the workplace seemed difficult to bridge. Fortunately, any gap between management and associates has now closed dramatically. It has got smaller.
The world has become ‘smaller’ too. We take for granted how easy it is now to communicate across the world. It can be instant. But I can remember the time when we just relied on the telephone. Not a mobile, a landline! The first video call we eventually made seemed amazing! Faxes still seemed very ‘high tech’ back then! Technology has evolved so much. In those early days after visiting customers, I would complete a handwritten report. There was no opportunity to type it up on a laptop on site and ping it across by email.
Video conferencing, laptops, emails are essentially just communication tools which make life easier and quicker. They are fantastic. The real breakthrough, however, is that metaphorical walls have gradually come down allowing accessibility to senior managers, inclusivity of every voice and product design solutions that ask customers: what do you need?
I like to think that when all voices are heard, good things happen.
To find out more about Alison West or any of our Biotech People please read our biographies page.
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Alison West, Senior R&D Director, Life Sciences
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