David McClelland

Head, EU Biologics Operations, Merck BioReliance® Services
B.Eng(Hons) in Mechanical Engineering with Electronics 2000

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What made you choose GCU and your specific course?

I was already in employment, in an aerospace/ engineering organisation.  The B.Eng in Mechanical Engineering was a great fit for my role, and crucially was available on a part-time basis enabling me to continue working whilst studying.  I had also spoken to some colleagues that were midway through the same course, and they rated it very highly.

What are your memories of University? 

The part-time study model was tough, balancing the degree with a full-time job (which also included shift work).  That being said, I fondly remember my day at GCU being the highlight of the week.  This was a full 9am-5pm day of classes, followed by an evening class after a brief break.

I had a fantastic set of lecturers and the part-time students bonded really quickly into a great support network.  We also mixed regularly with the full-time students and I like to think we learned a lot from each other.  I was not involved in any clubs during my time at GCU (I simply didn’t have the time) but I suppose we did make it along to the Asylum on a fairly regular basis! 

How has your career progressed since graduation from GCU?

I finished my degree in 2000, after successful completion of my Honours year.  This opened new doors for me with my employer.  I progressed quickly from a front-line engineering role into a series of office-based roles with increased levels of responsibility.  I then made lateral moves from an Engineering track onto a Management track.  The management track ultimately took me into professional Operational Excellence roles, and I ultimately left the company and ‘jumped industry’ into Life Science.  Despite moving away from my subject of study (Engineering), I know that many aspects of my degree, including the focus on business operations and project management, have stood me in good stead during my subsequent career. 

Can you tell us more about your current role?

I am the Head of EU Biologics Operations for Merck BioReliance® Services.  Merck is a global science and technology company, and BioReliance® Services is a portfolio brand of their Life Science business.  In this role, I am responsible for 3 sites and 360 employees across Scotland.  I have progressed through a series of operational leadership roles in the company over a period of 13 years, and this has allowed me to pick up the key scientific principles at work in our industry – learning from the fabulous team members we have, most of whom are biologists and many are also GCU Alumni.  My role is hugely varied, as most General Manager roles tend to be.  There are, of course, key duties such as the financial stewardship of the sites and the duty of care for all 360 employees.  There are also many other aspects of the role.  One day I can be interacting with a lab team to help troubleshoot operational processes, and the next I can be on a plane heading off to visit one of our many clients to support our Sales team in business discussions. 

What is your greatest professional achievement?

I believe my greatest achievement has been my successful transition into a new industry, and the subsequent progression into my current role; having entered the industry with no biological knowledge to speak of.  I take pride in working very hard to overcome any gaps that I may have, and being very inquisitive.  I also led a division of our company in the US for 2.5 years, at the height of the global financial crisis.  The overseas assignment was a great learning experience, and the navigation of the team through the downturn, enforced lay-offs, and eventual recovery was a challenging but also rewarding experience.

What advice would you give to current students and new graduates?

No two career paths are the same.  My route into a senior position within the Life Science sector was by no means conventional.  Based on this, my advice is to always be open-minded to opportunities when they present themselves.  I would also recommend the development of a diverse skill-set.  Lateral career moves are valuable and can open up many more doors in the future.  If I had not diversified from Engineering into Operational Management, I wouldn’t be where I am now. 

What are your future plans?

Having only been in my current role for 2 years, I definitely have unfinished business.  My immediate plan is to continue developing this role and contributing to the success of Merck.  I feel a great responsibility towards my staff and I want to contribute to further growth and business improvement before I move into another role. 

On a personal note, I plan to cycle much more.  I used to be a keen runner but I have a recurring calf injury that gets really frustrating.  Cycling seems to be much easier on the calves!  I will also continue my German studies.  I started this in the spring and will progress to the next level after the summer.  I find this personally rewarding but it is also a prudent professional move when working for a large German company.

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