This Chartered Manager works inside the UK’s new global vaccination hub

Tuesday 01 June 2021
The government is determined to build the UK’s long-term vaccine manufacturing capability at high speed. That calls for a CMgr
Portrait photo of Julie Nash CMgr

When the chance came for Julie Naish CMgr to join the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) as its Head of HR in November 2020, she jumped at the chance.

“The opportunity was absolutely incredible, not least because of all of the external factors that we’re currently going through, but also the opportunity to help people around the globe.”

VMIC is part of the government’s efforts to strengthen the UK’s long-term manufacturing capability for vaccines. It was incorporated in 2017 and up until ten months ago had about six employees. The facility was set to come online over a medium-term timeframe, with the aim of being operational by 2023. But because of the pandemic, the government moved the timeline forward. Now it needs to be operational by early 2022.

That means some serious scaling up. “Originally, it was planned to be about 30 or 40 people,” says Julie. “But now it’s scaled up to about 100, with considerably more capacity in terms of manufacturing.”

Julie is at the heart of the action, creating HR processes and bringing in talent through a remote recruitment process. “Any one thing would be a challenge. But if you add them all together and shave 12 months off the timeline, it’s incredibly difficult.”

The VMIC project combines a number of key themes from Naish’s career: fast-growth companies, process-building and a specialism in engineering and life sciences. Her passion for people management started with an Investors in People accreditation via her then-employer, CBG Consultants. The company sponsored her training right the way through to a master’s degree in leadership and management.

Her next challenge came from PsiOxus Therapeutics, another fast-growing company that was developing novel therapeutics focused on cancer treatments. “I was the first permanent HR manager they had. Prior to that, the COO had dealt with everything.”

“I like the challenge of setting something up from scratch,” she says. “I’m not filling anybody else’s shoes. In my last three organisations, all the systems and processes have been developed by me.”

In biotech, you need to be able to think on your feet, Naish explains. The environment in which the sector is operating is uncertain and volatile. “Biotech is definitely all about being first past the post. So if you’re seeing data coming out of clinical trials that’s not showing you exactly what you want, you might have to pivot quite quickly into doing something else.”

The VMIC facility, based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, is still being built, and the team must be agile. “We can’t be too rigid in our thinking because, frankly, we don’t have the time,” says Julie. “We’re recruiting people that are at the top of their game and leaders in their fields. So we absolutely must exploit their knowledge and skills.”

Julie regularly practises mindfulness to help her juggle the pressure of her workload and the demands of her two young children. “It’s important not to be too hard on yourself,” she says. “I can only do what I can do. That’s how I manage to keep going.”

The pressure is worthwhile. “I can’t imagine working for a more worthy organisation. Looking into 2022, I want to make VMIC the employer of choice, not only because it will be a fantastic organisation to work for, but also to fulfil our vision of being an international centre of excellence.”

If Julie’s story has inspired you to consider starting the journey to Chartered Manager, you’ll find lots of useful information at CMI’s CMgr hub, where you’ll also read other real-life stories.

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