What is your job?

What is your job?

Over the past 25 years, John Lewis has worked for four different biotech companies managing their capital projects. In one of these previous jobs, John hired a company named CRB to design, build and qualify a cell culture facility. He ended up loving CRB’s style so much that he joined them!

CRB specializes in engineering, architecture and construction. The company has been involved in a variety of projects inside and outside the pharmaceutical industry. A recent high-profile project helped upgrade part of the Deep Space Network (which made headlines in July after NASA released new images from the James Webb Space Telescope).

Today, Lewis is Senior Project Manager at CRB. Here, we look at his role and motivations.

I first hired CRB to design and qualify a new commercial mammalian cell culture facility with an extremely aggressive schedule. I didn’t think I could deliver a facility from concept design to installation and operational qualifications in 21 months, but CRB convinced me to use their ONEsolution approach. We were able to deliver the project on time and within budget. I was so impressed by the people and the methods of carrying out the projects that I decided to join the CRB for the last years of my career.

They were great! The company has a great culture and the sense of focus is also greater than when I worked on the “owner” side. On this side of the business, executing capital projects is not the primary goal – the goal on the owner’s side is to make a product, get it through regulatory inspections, and get it out . CRB executes its projects in a very interactive, collaborative and professional manner.

Delivering a commercial manufacturing plant from start to finish in 21 months is never easy. Generally, the rule of thumb is that due to quality, cost, and timing, you can choose two and only two. Ideally, we should be able to choose all three! That’s what I’m aiming for at the CRB.

When it comes to delivering projects, the industry is now quite comfortable with Zoom, Teams, etc. Remote meetings are the norm. Earlier in my career, we had 50 or more people in a big room three days a week. After the transition to Teams, we also started dividing into smaller virtual meeting rooms where smaller groups could discuss the same topics.

I actually think a lot of businesses have thrived during the pandemic by finding new ways to adapt. That said, I think a lot of us have realized that we’re better together in person. It’s great when you can bend over someone’s desk and have an impromptu, but important meeting — something you might not be able to do via video call or instant message. But I think the industry has also learned to appreciate the importance of flexibility, with people coming into the office a few times a week and working from home the rest of the time. Going forward, I suspect the industry as a whole will adopt a much more flexible working model.

As a general rule, large projects are over budget by at least 20% and are often late! Anyone who has worked in this field knows that current contracting methods are organized in such a way as to often block the development of a team culture, which can prevent innovation. I think these methods need to change. Teams need to be real teams and they need to be incentivized. Open communication is also essential – everyone should not only have a voice, but also feel free to use it.

Peeking behind the curtain is always a little strange. When I was a customer, the curtain surface always looked so clean and shiny. Moving on to the other side, I found a few things that needed improvement and greater efficiency – for example, sometimes one system doesn’t talk to another. The advantage is that the CRB had already identified these problems and put in place the processes that would solve them.

I have! With CRB, I “toured” a virtual factory and was able to walk at ground level, but also zoom up to 35 feet to the position of the sixth pallet in the warehouse if I wanted to. I was even able to check out issues that I couldn’t get on a live visit.

It was a bit like visiting Disney World and jumping on one of their virtual reality rides – air travel around the planet Pandora comes to mind. You can actually get a little nauseous if you fly too fast!

Between my undergraduate studies in English and my masters in publishing, I was in Shanghai, teaching, learning and losing myself a lot. Now I expand my mind into a rather different rabbit hole: the pharmaceutical industry. Outside of this job, I read mountains of fiction and philosophy, and I must say that it is very difficult to say who is the most advanced: the scholars or the drug manufacturers.


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