Then and Now: Peter Levison
Your network is your most powerful tool
May 4, 2022
Your network is one of the most powerful and useful assets in your career. It goes with you, wherever you go, and it’s totally personal. Realizing the importance of a good network, has allowed me to grow and develop my career over the years. It has opened up so many avenues to explore and given me the opportunity to help others in their career pathway.
After gaining my BSc and PhD degrees in Biochemistry at University of Manchester, UK and then a post-doc at University of Alberta, Canada, I returned to the UK and started working in a small contract laboratory as a biochemist. I then moved to a position at Whatman International, in Maidstone, UK in 1987, leading the Process Chromatography Technical team. Even though my position was in Research and Development it allowed me to travel extensively around the world, networking within the pharmaceutical sector. Back then it was less typical for R&D staff to be allowed to talk directly with customers, but I was surprisingly encouraged to do so because I had the ability to talk technical with end users, so I connected the science with the commercial world.
In 2003, my personal diverse network opened a door into Pall. I initially started working on a technology incubator function project. The project needed someone with the ability to scout for new technologies, to appreciate the science behind their technology, and how they could meet Pall’s needs. It also needed someone to create a presence through networking, and with my already well-established network, built from conferences, previous roles, and collaborations, I took on this role with enthusiasm. Pall soon established itself in process chromatography through a couple of acquisitions and I expanded my role to lead the R&D activities across that portfolio. As my career developed, so did the careers of my peers. The people I had initially networked with while in labs were now in more senior and influential positions, which brought about further collaborations particularly in the field of chromatography.
I was later approached with a job offer for a marketing position leading the downstream processing portfolio at Pall. Although I had an MBA which included Marketing, I hadn’t really worked in this field previously. Not long after starting that role and benefitting from the mentorship of my colleague Oliver Triebsch, I was asked to add the product management responsibility for a rapidly evolving Continuous Bioprocessing portfolio of products. This involved thinking outside the box, didn’t follow traditional rules, and I was willing to take calculated risks. This project generated a lot of headwinds. We developed and launched an end-to-end scalable downstream continuous processing portfolio within three years essentially starting from scratch! So many products were developed in a short time in parallel to piece the portfolio together. It was high risk and high cost but was fortunately a success!
In early 2018, I was again presented with opportunity - to develop a ‘Thought Leadership Program’. Being a fresh new concept, my team and I started from scratch to set this up. We wanted to attract a group of people, who were influential and passionate within their field, ones who could present their knowledge, and be able to educate and inspire people on their subject matter. We wanted to devise an incentive for their efforts which had to be something worthwhile, and something that gave back to both community and industry, so we set up the ‘Pall Biotech Scholarship Fund’. Two scholarship programs were created, one in intensified processing and the other in gene therapy aligned to the two Thought Leadership areas of focus. Each program provides five scholarships a year for up to four years to undergraduates or Masters students in financial hardship across a selection of universities. I had been lucky enough to get a good education at a time when it was funded entirely by the UK government, so for me this was a chance to give back and help others. It is an altruistic approach that benefits everyone, and one which made me so very proud to be a part of. Now we have early career researchers graduating from these courses. Who, without the scholarships, would have found it hard if not impossible to study there.
Through my career and lifetime of experience, I can say that the take-home message would be to make and build a network. It is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal. It brings people together, even in times of separation as we have experienced in recent years. Networking on one hand has not changed in importance throughout my career, but the way we do it has. Years ago, you would get a business card or delegate list of attendees at a conference or workshop. Nowadays, you can find people through LinkedIn and the web. Throughout my travels with both Whatman and Pall, networking has come in many different forms. One needs to be culturally sensitive and accommodating in how one dresses and interacts as socialising takes place in different ways in differing counties and regions of the world.
With hard work and commitment, along with support, opportunity, and help, I have been fortunate enough to achieve a career of accomplishment and meaning. So, at every opportunity I have wanted to give back and mentoring has allowed me to do this. I have always loved to mentor, and I am part of a mentorship program at Pall. Even before this program was set up, I mentored several associates informally. I cannot emphasize the importance of being a great listener, and to guide people, allowing them to solve problems and learn from them.
Science is where my career started, and the backbone of what I do, but leadership, mentoring and problem solving is what gets me up in the morning and at the heart of my passion. I always want to teach and inspire, and I believe I have done that at Pall, the universities and businesses I have collaborated with, and all who I have had the opportunity to work with.
To find out more about Peter Levison or any of our Biotech People please read our biographies page .
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Peter Levison, Executive Director, Business Development
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