Phil Bowles

How did you end up joining Dark Horse?

I’m a dual citizen of the USA and UK, and I’ve followed my engineering career in both countries for more than 35 years. In the summer of 2021 I was fortunate enough to take a six month sabbatical, which began in Bristol, UK where I’d been working and living for a few years, and ended in Minneapolis, USA. Having been in the UK during the pandemic, separated from some of my family in the USA, I’d realized that it was time to head home. Minneapolis is where my son lives, so it made sense to relocate and settle here in the Twin Cities.

I had relative confidence that I could find a job somewhere once we had settled in and so after we arrived in the USA, I began my search.

I knew that Dark Horse was permanently set up to encourage remote work, which was a huge selling feature for me. Plus, I had worked with Scott (Cross, DHC Senior Principal) as a client of mine in an earlier role, so I reached out to him to begin a conversation. Being able to make that connection was proof of the value of networking, especially in our industry that is relatively small. Most of our DHC colleagues have worked across a range of companies that are either in or adjacent to our space, so not only do we know who to speak with, but we know what working with our future colleagues will be like.

What do you look for when deciding whether to join a company?

My own mantra is to follow the three C’s: Chemistry, Character, and Competency. Chemistry speaks to how I relate to the people at work…do we have a spark and connection? DHC interviews are a marathon, which is the perfect setting for assessing that chemistry. I think I interviewed with ten people and each and every one of them was a match in my mind. That indefinable ‘something’ was there—I knew we’d find working together to be rewarding. Character speaks to both the individuals (again, meeting that many people helped me make this assessment quickly) and to the company ethos itself. More on that later! And Competency is the final point of consideration: it’s critical to me that everyone I work with bring their best. A workplace doesn’t function particularly well if competency isn’t a top requirement.

And then my usual follow-up question is as follows: would you please take us further back in time for a look at how you found the field of cell and gene?

It’s funny to me that it was really just two chance events. I went to university to study chemical engineering and just always assumed I’d end up working in petrochemicals. When I graduated, though, I discovered a dearth of job openings that met my criteria. A buddy pointed out to me that there was an opportunity to take an advanced degree in biochemical engineering—and to get paid a fellowship for doing so. It’s hard to say no to the idea of expanding your job preparedness if you’re getting paid to do it! So, I fell into biotechnology and got my master’s degree in that.

Cell and gene was another happy accident—a friend of mine was doing a Ph.D. while I was doing my masters and I ended up working for her at John Brown, a UK-based engineering firm. When we eventually went our separate ways she founded a CGT consultancy based in the west of England and I went to the states to work for Amgen (where, by the way, Rob Allen, DHC’s GM of the UK office, has also worked). See, connections everywhere!

I would eventually find my way back to the UK to work in C&GT, which brings us right back to the beginning of our conversation!

And along the way I’ve run the gamut of biotechnologies from vaccines to antibiotics to monoclonal antibodies, and even non-pharma stuff like food. (Have I helped design and build a 200-ft-tall fermenter for processing a non-meat alternative protein? Yes, yes I have!)

You see some parallels between Amgen and Dark Horse, right? Tell us a little bit about that, please.

Amgen has supplied many a wonderful person to the field of cell and gene and I can see why. The company has a fundamental patient-first philosophy, and in C&GT you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a deep connection to the patient needs that fuel these therapies. Over 15 years with Amgen I experienced its evolution from a recent start-up to a full corporation and that experience is a teaching tool like no other. A lucky few C&GT companies will experience a similar sort of growth, and it seems obvious to me that DHC is also in a growth phase. When company growth happens, everyone has to be willing and able to try new things, work outside their comfort zones, and think outside the box. Some of us adapt to change better than others, and we tend to self-select towards growing companies, I think. Every significant corporate adaptation has growing pains—building the plane while flying it can make for a bumpy ride!—but a transparent and resilient culture makes all the difference. Also, values. Amgen had company values that we all truly aspired to live by, and I see the same here at DHC. It’s important to hold onto these values as we grow.

I like that you mentioned values, because we’ve just gone through the process of officially identifying ours. Do you want to talk about that for a bit?

Yes! I joined DHC in February, so I’d only been around for a month or so by the time we had a company retreat and I was able to meet everyone in person all at once. At the retreat we did an intensive session on our purpose and our values. Crafting something like that by committee can be a difficult thing, but we were all so aligned and comfortable speaking out that it actually worked. We homed in on how to phrase the purpose that’s driven DHC from the beginning (to accelerate cell and gene therapies through our unmatched expertise) and from there we brainstormed four values and associated behaviors that exemplify those values. It’s our “Dark Horse DNA” and you can read more about it online. Having a passionate and precise group of people pressure-testing each of these concepts made for an exhilarating activity! We divided up into small groups for this and when we came back together you could see the overlap that our brainstorming had created. That seems like such a sign of alignment, when we can each independently get so close to a shared vision.

Oh, and that also brings us back to the patient-focused element. For anyone working with patients, values aren’t just inspirational words or phrases…they must reflect the reason we all do the work that we do.

Would you describe Dark Horse as having a patients-first philosophy?

I’d expand on that and call it instead a place where there’s a people-first philosophy. “People” can be the patients we’re all ultimately working for, it can be the clients whose needs we put first (because if our clients can succeed in advancing their therapies then we’ve helped get those therapies to patients who need them), and it can also be us…our colleagues. I see it on our Slack channels where we seamlessly segue from sharing technical expertise and knowledge to sharing pictures of our pets, kids, and plants, as well as music and food recommendations. It makes me feel like I know so many fellow Horses as whole people.

Let’s circle back to your UK/US duality: I’m curious about what the U.S. looks like from your point of view of a recently naturalized citizen.

Our biggest driver for returning to the U.S. was family, as I mentioned, but there are also some wonderfully exciting things that dual citizenship has opened up for us. When we first arrived we thought of it as a big country with big opportunities—the concept of the “American Dream” still felt relevant rather than something of the past. We lived in California for a while and what struck me was how true the “melting pot” concept is. I’m not sure if the magnitude of that is as visible to someone who grew up here but the variety of experiences, cultures, languages—all of that diversity is glorious. There were 100 different cultures represented at our naturalization ceremony alone! The strength of a nation of immigrants is a concept that may have gotten lost in the noise for those who were born here…but to someone joining in, it’s very significant.

You mentioned the strength of diversity back during Pride month when you were quoted on DHC’s social media.

I did. It’s a word whose meaning has gotten lost and/or become divisive, but diversity equals power and resiliency in my mind. And it’s true for Dark Horse, too. Something just as simple as the near-even gender split here makes a huge difference in corporate culture. Diversity of thought is encouraged here and that’s so critical to me because no one has all the answers. No one person or group ever does or can. We all need to hear varying opinions and experiences to get the full picture. Dark Horse does that: the industry veterans are valued for their unsurpassed depth of knowledge and the younger employees are valued not just for their latest and greatest technical expertise but also for their ability to see things from a different perspective. I myself will always value a place that recognizes the value of its people.

And just for fun, a bonus shot!

Phil and his family smiling after naturalization ceremony

This picture shows my family after our naturalization ceremony. There were over 100 cultures represented and it was humbling and inspiring and overwhelming (in the best way). Being a dual citizen has been such a gift for all of us.

Phil sitting on the ground outside the Abbey

We took this shot in 2020 along a National Trail known as The Cotswold Way. It’s located in the west of England and runs for 100+ miles along the Cotswold Hills from Chipping Campden to Bath (where I’m sitting outside the Abbey). The scenery is stunning! We walked the whole thing in stages during the pandemic because it seemed like a great way to get outside and stay grounded while obviously avoiding people, as we all did during 2020.

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