Stephen Croft

Pre DHC-expertise?

IMP, Commercial Mfg, and Global Distribution of a range of dosage forms, leading global teams, managing pharmaceutical licenses, QM systems, site commissioning/decommissioning, validation, and remediation.

What brought you to Dark Horse?

It was a return to my calling, really. Life has dealt me many unexpected cards and so I didn’t proceed along in exactly the way I’d hoped or planned. I expected to sort of march through my schooling, with a progression from my first degree through to MSc or PhD directly, and then just going out and finding a job in my chosen field. I graduated with first class honors, so it was an understandable expectation. However, that was not to be in the first instance, as news broke that I had become a dad earlier than I’d anticipated. In order to put my family first and pay the bills I ended up taking different work initially outside of Pharma, sometimes holding down three jobs at once. Sleep became a luxury as opposed to a necessity in those days!

I remember the first time I got a role in pharma that actually matched my chosen educational pathway (in microbiology). After many job applications without industrial experience, what a miracle it felt like to be finally working in my chosen field. It was with a small company so we all wore many hats, as one does, and I ended up in QC labs, production suites, and learning how to be a quality officer. The value of that work struck me. I recognized a career ambition to develop my knowledge and experience towards becoming an EU ‘Qualified Person’ and that to continue in that direction wouldn’t always be the easy path, but that almost didn’t matter because I’d found my calling and could both make a difference and support my family. Believe me, there was blood, sweat and tears!

Is it too early to ask what your sense is of the culture at DHC?

Well, I certainly don’t feel that I know everyone yet! That said, there are things about a culture that it’s easiest to pick up on when you’re new, especially if you’re someone like me whose job includes a focus on reading between the lines to see what’s really happening. The sense of commitment here is palpable. Talking amongst ourselves I hear people’s excitement about the field and the promise it holds. They all truly care, both about the success of the clients as well as the success of the therapies, which hold promise for so many patients. Having purpose and dedication be noticeable in internal meetings tells me that those feelings are central to the work everyone is doing. Plus, there’s a genuine sense of enjoyment in the interplay between my colleagues. That tells me that people like working together, which is always a good sign.

How would you describe the state of Quality Systems in cell and gene?

As a very general statement, most people (and by extension, most companies) function as risk-averse rather than risk-aware. C&GT developers are just as likely as anyone else to start out that way. Working in Quality, I want to help decision-makers reframe their relationship to risk.

Awareness of risk may be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but it means you can tailor your technology or process to factor in those risks. Talking about risk doesn’t cause risk, nor does it increase it! Everyone knows that intellectually but often not viscerally.

I also see a regulatory benefit to being risk-aware. If you have thought through potential problem areas and tailored your tech to address them, then you’re in a strong position when explaining the process to regulatory agencies. You’ve accounted for things that can go wrong, which means that your process is by definition more pressure-tested than someone who has just tried to avoid the element of risk.

In your opinion, what causes this common risk-averse behavior?

A fear of failure, no question. What I wish we could figure out is what causes us to fear failure. Children don’t start out that way, so it must be a learned behavior and I wish it were possible to help more people be willing to learn from failure rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Doing so is a societal norm that holds us all back a great deal. We need to be free from politics, be able to explore, ask basic questions, gain hands-on experience, check and challenge expectations,  work cross-functionally, and perhaps ‘dare to dream in places’ to really conquer this.

As companies without cell and gene experience choose to enter this space, what do you anticipate will happen?

There are bound to be lots of top executives who have experienced success doing things a particular way. In C&GT, most of those previous ways of proceeding will turn out differently than one might expect. That means the best thing top execs can do in this field is stay in touch with the technical details.

Talk to those working on the shop floors, dump the ‘suit’ off at the locker or wardrobe, cancel meetings, let somebody else reply to those emails, make time and space, go ‘get your hands dirty,’ have fun, explore your ‘shop.’ You will get a sense of what really is happening, the ‘highs, lows and opportunities’ as well as re-enforcing that you are part of that same team and just as much in the trenches with them. To be successful, for me, is measured by what people will do when you are not there to support the business and yourselves: what they will do willingly.  A great leader is somebody who has been able to harness this.

Coming into this field, one might well need to be willing to start from a position of less knowledge and be comfortable with that, but have a desire, plan and drive to learn – also do not be afraid to be humble and discuss your plan with others that can help. The most successful senior executives, in my opinion, are subject matter experts in the field of asking questions. Of course, I’m a bit biased because a cornerstone of good Quality work is in asking the right questions and remaining curious.

How does that curiosity manifest in your life outside of work?

This is unfortunate, but I feel like I’ve lost more hobbies than I’ve gained over time. An inability to take any time at all for myself was a pain point in a previous job and, ever the Quality person, I’ve learned from that mistake to make sure it doesn’t happen again!

What were some of those lost hobbies?

Martial arts, for one. I started with karate and worked my way up to a black belt, but eventually changed my thinking and found Jeet Kune Do. I prefer that discipline because it is less form-based and more about working by focusing on improving yourself and others. That is a philosophy that feels right to me, because you are contributing toward the overall ‘club’ and by this you yourself grow. Training amongst others provides you exposure to other people…people of different shapes, sizes, agility levels, knowledge etc. That changes everyone for the better, in my opinion.

I also really enjoy following the international football (that’s ‘soccer’ for the Americans reading this)! Oh, and back in the day I kept and bred tropical fish. I worked at the local aquatic center for a while and got to learn so much about different rare breeds and what other enthusiasts were doing and learning outcomes (things do not always go to plan!!). It was fascinating.

Stephan Croft, Practice Expert, Quality, wearing reindeer antlers

Can Christmas or Festive period come too early?!
Stephan says, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”

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