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Darragh Pattwell, Site Director, AbbVie

Darragh Pattwell, Site Manager with AbbVie in Sligo and Manorhamilton talks to gradireland about his motivations when setting out on his career, how adaptability is key to succeeding in management, and what motivates him to keep succeeding in his work.
Don’t let e-mail rule your working/academic life – set time apart to work on priorities without the distraction of electronic media.

Degree subject Bachelor of Engineering (BE), Chemical Engineering (Hons), UCD (1998)
Job title Site Director
Employer AbbVie

What were your own motivations and inspirations when starting out on your career?

I graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering (BE) from University College Dublin. From my early days I have been motivated by the activity of learning, by extending myself and by striving for a sense of self fulfilment and achievement. I strive to make a difference in everything that I do. I have carried this through University and into working life.

Early experiences in my career have shaped how I have developed as a leader. The critical thing, in my view, was being open to the advice and feedback and using it to better myself for the future. Two examples come to mind. The first involves self-awareness, a key component of personal development. I have found personality profiling and mentoring to be two of the more effective ways of developing deeper personal insights. Profiling often characterised my natural style as a perfectionist and as having a directive style of management. However over the years I have learned to diversify my approach and adapt my natural style to become more balanced, able to call on other appropriate styles and behaviours. Soon after I began my career I identified a role model and someone I looked up to. He was always there to listen to me, to mentor, to offer advice and he was always honest telling me what he thought rather than what he thought I might want to hear. I truly recommend to everyone to seek out the advice and mentorship of someone you look up to.

The second involves peer feedback and learning from personal experience. I have been in manager employee relationships where there was a clash of personalities both from the employee and the manager standpoint. I have managed employees where I didn’t take the time to truly understand their perspectives and the way they like to communicate and be communicated with. Furthermore, I have had a manager who always could never be wrong and always expected things to be done his way, always hearing but never listening to what I had to say. This frustrated me at times and distracted me from doing my best work. Through these experiences I have become a better leader, I have learned to have more empathy and I have learned that a poor manager does not define how successful I can be.

I can remember sitting across the table from a peer when the chips were down and we were struggling on an important project and I received some open negative feedback from her about my ability to lead. Whilst I didn’t agree with this feedback, I nonetheless took it for what it was worth and set about becoming the best leader I could be and continued to believe in myself.

Since then I have gone on to lead a new Drug Product facility through regulatory licensing and first commercial manufacture, I have been the first combined leader of Drug Product and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient manufacturing at AbbVie Sligo Manorhamilton (MHR) and have been given the privilege of leading the Sligo MHR site since May of this year. I feel a strong sense of accomplishment with the progression I have made in my career and my eagerness to learn, to strive and to innovate has never diminished.

Could you tell us about your initial contact with AbbVie and your early career there and what it taught you about yourself?

My initial contact with AbbVie was through an approach by a recruiter. From the start I felt a connection with the ethos and the value placed on the contributions of all employees. I had previously worked for the same company for more than sixteen years and in many ways the move to AbbVie taught me that it is easy to fall into a routine and a comfort zone and that there is a lot more to learn when you diversify your experience outside of just one company. Since I joined AbbVie Sligo we have launched a cure for the Hepatitis C Virus and a new treatment for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia from this site, with many more life changing medicines in development. AbbVie has a strong connection with our patients and I have learned that this connection is also what inspires me to do my best work. My move to AbbVie reinvigorated me and gave me a renewed confidence in my own abilities and a drive to succeed with a company that is making a real difference in the lives of patients.

What has your career path through the company been and how it has differed from your initial perceptions/plans?

In previous employment I worked for more than sixteen years through roles of increasing complexity in Quality Operations, Technical Operations, Manufacturing and Lean Six Sigma. My experience spanned both Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient and Drug Product manufacturing. I was very fortunate and grateful to have been given this opportunity to develop a broad base of understanding in the pharmaceutical industry.

Since joining AbbVie in January of 2015 I have been the Director of Manufacturing for API and Drug Product and more recently in May of 2016 I was appointed Site Director of the Sligo MHR site. I can remember a specific point in time during 2000, two years after I began my working career, where I set a goal of becoming Director of Manufacturing within 11 years, also mapping out the steps I believed I would need to take to get there. I have been fortunate to fulfil those ambitions and having recently just turned 40, I believe that with AbbVie I can contribute even more in the future.

Your advice to graduates or students?

Everybody is different, and they respond differently to differing management styles and require different levels of motivation. But below would be some pointers and observations:

  • Your technical competence is a given through your academic accomplishments but try to learn something new every day.
  • Focus on how you interact with people and how you can adapt your approach depending on whom you are interacting with.
  • Be self-aware and consistently look for feedback. Be open to receiving constructive or what might be perceived as negative feedback – if properly channelled it may be the best kind of feedback to spur you into action even if you don’t fully agree with the sentiment. to outperform at my current role for a sustained period. I believe it’s important not to push for promotional opportunities for the sake of status alone. Invariably you will not succeed in the long term if you have not reached a level of competence and performance in your current role before progressing. I hope that my abilities and performance will enable me to accede to a Vice Presidential role within AbbVie over the next number of years. In the meantime, my ambition is to work every day to try to make sure that I add value and contribute in every way I can to furthering the success of the site I work in, the success of AbbVie and the health of patients all over the world.
  • Try to clear the air where interactions haven’t gone well. Sometimes the unsaid begins to fester and create problems where none should exist.
  • Treat everybody with respect regardless of job title or status.
  • Strive every day.
  • Plan and prioritise what you want to achieve next week before the previous weekend.
  • Don’t let e-mail rule your working/ academic life – set time apart to work on priorities without the distraction of electronic media.
  • Be open to learn from others. You won’t always have the right answer and somebody else might be doing it better.
  • Try not to restrict your career options by creating unnecessary barriers with regard to the geographical location of the best opportunities. Where possible try to be as flexible and as mobile as you can to be ready for opportunity when it knocks – it’s a small country and it’s a small world!

How you motivate yourself in your day to day work?

Quite simply, I am motivated by manufacturing medicines that have a remarkable impact on patient’s lives. I am proud to work for a company that is striving to making a difference in the areas of Oncology, Virology, Immunology and Neurology. I am excited about the potential for us to make innovative breakthroughs in the treatment of unmet medical needs. I am also motivated by the people I work with and our common desire to make positive change and to strive to get quality medicines to patients in time and all of the time.

What your own future career ambitions are?

I set no limits on my career ambitions. I feel that my ability to progress further should be determined only by my abilityto outperform at my current role for a sustained period. I believe it’s important not to push for promotional opportunities for the sake of status alone. Invariably you will not succeed in the long term if you have not reached a level of competence and performance in your current role before progressing. I hope that my abilities and performance will enable me to accede to a Vice Presidential role within AbbVie over the next number of years. In the meantime, my ambition is to work every day to try to make sure that I add value and contribute in every way I can to furthering the success of the site I work in, the success of AbbVie and the health of patients all over the world.