“Life is like a large pond, you are surrounded by lilypads and depending on your capabilities and circumstances you have to pick the next one to step onto.”
When I was younger, growing up in Wigan I was mainly interested in three things: football, computers and radio control cars. At school, I decided to study A Levels in maths, physics and chemistry and then went off to study chemistry at the University of Leeds with no fixed idea of what I wanted to do or where I was going afterwards.
After a period of unemployment, I was lucky enough to get a job as a Research Chemist with Crosfield, a Unilever company at the time. This involved working with Crosfield silica to remove protein from beer, essentially increasing the shelf-life of the product. To me, this was great, I was a beer scientist at the age of 21! I enjoyed the challenge of working on new formulations and eventually discovered a way of improving the shelf-life of beer using 50-70% less material than previous methods. At first, the brewers we worked with did not seem to buy in to the idea so the sales staff invited me out with them to explain the process to our customers. That was my first taste of sales and I really enjoyed it so I started to try to go out with the sales team as much as I could.
My next ‘career leap’ was in to telesales and this turned out to be a terrible idea as it really did not suit the way I liked to work and how I liked to develop customer relationships and insight. From there, I went to work for Dionex in a regional sales role with a remit for selling chromatography columns that separate chemical components. It was this position that helped me to recognise that I was actually quite good at sales and learned an important point:
“people do not just buy kit, they buy answers to the problems they want to solve.”
This led me back to my interest in computing where I taught myself how to use a macro-based scripting process that increased the efficiency of the sales process, helping me to match solutions to customer problems.
After several years in London, I re-located back to the North West and found a job with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) project managing an e-Science programme that looked at the application of web-based computing technology for solving real-life industrial problems. It was at this point that I decided it would be useful to return to education and studied part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University towards an MBA. It was great to be able to examine problems I encountered at work in an academic context. I focused on methods for lowering the barriers to innovation for industrial engagement which meant that, naturally, my job role changed from project management to industrial liaison where I helped understand the user requirements for a new data catalogue system at the Diamond Light Source.
My MBA also helped me to understand the essential technical elements of my role such as licensing and commercial requirements. These skills were utilised heavily during my next position as a Business Development Manager, where I worked to develop strategic industry partnerships for computational modelling research.
Four years ago, I joined the newly established STFC Hartree Centre as Head of Business Development with responsibility for a team that encouraged collaboration between industrial and research partners to extract value from big data, HPC and cognitive technologies for societal and economic benefits.
For me the best thing about the Hartree Centre is working with clients to understand how to integrate technology in to their organisations, ensuring that it works in the best way for them.
Clearly they thought I was doing something right because 18 months ago I was promoted to the Hartree Centre’s Deputy Director, which means I am more involved in strategic decision-making, stakeholder and project management and still get to dabble in some of the business development projects and partnerships I cultivated in the early days. It’s been a real pleasure to watch the centre grow from a small team of people in its infancy to a 50-strong department that has become one of the jewels in both STFC’s crown and a key asset to the Sci-Tech Daresbury campus and the North West. My experience as a deputy director has also provided me with exciting new challenges and opportunities for development in a rewarding position at the very forefront of digital transformation.
My advice to anyone would be to make the most of the opportunities available to you, recognise what you enjoy and what you’re good at and never stop learning or challenging yourself throughout your career.
Deputy Director, STFC Hartree Centre
Michael was invited to participate in a panel discussion on academic career development at the Business of Science Conference which was held in Manchester on 18 May 2017. Other panellists included:
- Dr Lynne Bianchi – Director, University of Manchester’s Science & Engineering Education Research & Innovation Hub
- Rhys Archer – PhD student, University of Manchester and Founder of Women of Science
- Stefano Ceci – Chemical Engineer, Johnson Matthey