BSPP News 31 Autumn 1997 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 31, Autumn 1997

A Week in the Life of a Head of International Field Development in Industry

Monday morning always seems tough after a weekend in the beautiful Swiss countryside, in addition to which I still haven't got used to 7.30 a.m. starts in the office after moving to the city of Basle from England nine months ago. In fact, since a week for me is so full of meetings or other comittments, I leave Monday mornings "free" to spend time with my team of development managers, answering their immediate needs and making time for problem solving and getting ahead for the week.

My personal secretary, Rita, arrives at about the same time, unlocks the various filing cabinets and shelves, and business starts for the week. Without Rita my professional life would be impossible since she organises all those important things at work to ensure I appear to be efficient! Travel arrangements, meetings, visitors etc. are all handled professionally and with apparent ease, although I know full well how much hassle is involved! We have many visitors to Novartis here in Basle, from our own organisation, researchers, customers, officials and collaborators from around the world.

As the head of a group responsible for the field biology part of product development worldwide, there are always exciting new pieces of news and issues to be attended to. I am always amazed how relatively few times my telephone rings - due almost entirely I think to the vast amount of e-mail flying around. I spend at least 1 hour each day just going through e-mail to keep on top of it and prioritising it. This e-mail comes in from all corners of the globe (even your editor!) and is of course a real benefit to our operation with its independence from time zone problems.

Our work is very seasonal, being tied completely to crops and diseases, so thankfully, there is no such thing as a typical week for me. One week may be spent in Basle completely full of technical, management and business meetings. The next may be in some far flung part of the world looking at field trials - one of the best parts of the job since I always travel with locals and the places I travel to and things I see are completely different from the tourist trail! This certainly offsets the inconvenience and drudgery of many hours spent waiting at airports around the world.

This Monday, another major event - a meeting of our "divisional" management team, of which I am a member. With Novartis still in the relatively early days of its formation we still have many strategic, personnel and product issues to discuss and implement and these, usually quite long but important, meetings are essential to manage the business and plan for the future.

Interaction with our colleagues across the world is vital and this week we have two groups of visitors - the first being guests from Novartis Brazil, with whom I was travelling three weeks ago in their country and am happy to host them here. The second group are visitors from Novartis in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. We will be reviewing the results of their field trials and making proposals for the further development of various candidate products.

On Wednesday and Thursday I am "on the road" again, this time to the south of France to view field trials in grapes. A small group of us from Basle, together with others from the region, visit these trials to see the performance of products "in the flesh" - an absolute necessity to be able to really understand the countless tables of results and graphs presented in meetings, also to keep up with the science - an increasingly difficult thing to do in management. Seeing really in believing in this job. Another important part of these visits is the interaction with our colleagues in the countries where, after all, the markets are.

One of the big challenges in international work is languages, and on Friday morning I undergo the torture of my weekly German lesson! Although at work I can usually use English, for social reasons here in the Swiss German-speaking part of the country, and also for those occasional memos and meetings in German, I feel it is essential to be able to understand and use some German. Gabi, my teacher, visits me once a week (I have usually panicked to finish my homework the evening before!) and we speak nothing but German. She is an excellent teacher but, alas, my linguistic skills are not my greatest strength!

Another challenge I have is that I also manage a group of biologists carrying out glasshouse and field experiments in our four field sites in Switzerland, some of whom are French speaking and the others German speaking. Unfortunately only a few of them speak English and, to make matters more complicated the French speakers tend not to speak German and vice versa. This makes a "full group" event very complicated and we tend to have to hold it in both languages with translation.

So, after another action-packed week, Friday evening comes with a tough decision - whether to go to one of the "Thank God It's Friday" events of the local English-speaking expats, one of the cinemas where they show the recent releases in original soundtrack, a quiet evening with friends or, after a difficult week, just a quiet night in. Either way, the weekend in the surrounding countryside is just what is needed to recharge the batteries.

Andy Leadbeater

Andy Leadbeater is Head of International Field Development for fungicides in Novartis Crop Protection, based in Basle in Switzerland. Having worked for Ciba in England for 16 years in various field development positions, most recently as fungicide, insecticide and seed treatment group manager in R&D, he transferred in October 1996 to take up this position in the newly formed Novartis company.