Since the very beginning of his journey into higher education and the workplace, Frontier Science (Scotland) Ltd (FSS) Executive Director, Darren Gibson, has been fascinated by working on new drug treatments that could help people live longer and live better.
This interest attracted him to a degree in Medicinal Chemistry, a PhD in Biological Chemistry and a career path encompassing the pharmaceutical industry, the NHS, academia and government.
Now, in his leadership role at FSS, he has been able to put this wide-ranging experience to work, helping to expand the organisation’s customer base and raise its profile.
We caught up with Darren a year after he joined FSS to learn more about his new role and his plans for the future.
“After a year in the job, I feel as if I’ve reached the centre, so I can now start to move forward with my plans for FSS”
What have the first 12 months at FSS been like?
Great! Right from the start I’ve had fantastic support from the senior leadership team, which is something I’ve really appreciated.
While I’ve been in senior management roles before, this is the first time I’ve led an entire organisation, so one of the biggest challenges for me has been learning about the ‘machinery’ behind a company. As Executive Director, my job entails making decisions about every aspect of the organisation. That can mean anything from grass cutting to heating systems, as well as the more obvious tasks such as customer deliverables and business development.
I would describe the first year as being like an onion – I’ve been peeling back the layers to get to the core of the organisation and identify our strengths and weaknesses. After a year in the job, I feel as if I’ve reached the centre, so I can now start to move forward with my plans for FSS.
Do you have a typical day?
Every day is different, but over the course of a week I generally cover the same themes. A typical week would see me looking at the progress of current projects, meeting with the wider FSS team to discuss operational or HR issues and our future plans, undertaking business development activities – such as meeting a pharma start-up or pitching our services to an academic research organisation, and taking the time to come up with and implement new ideas.
Your career has included stints in the health, medical research and innovation sectors, across many different types of organisations. Has that experience been helpful in your role at FSS?
Having those diverse experiences is an advantage because I can understand the perspectives of lots of different groups, from academics to entrepreneurs and government employees. Since a big part of my job at FSS is connecting with the right individuals to ensure that we’re on the radar of potential customers, this is useful knowledge to have.
What made you study for a Masters in Medical Law and Ethics and, more recently, an MBA?
While I loved lab work, I knew I didn’t want to work in a lab forever. It can become quite a dangerous environment when you’re working with carcinogens and other toxic chemicals. Luckily I wasn’t involved in any accidents, but they did happen from time to time. I’ve always loved learning, so I started searching for a non-scientific qualification that would be relevant to my career. The Masters in Medical Law and Ethics fit the bill perfectly, and it has proved beneficial in many of my consequent jobs since I completed it in 2011.
The MBA, which I finished in 2022, appealed to me as I took on more senior and executive roles. Perhaps it stems from my academic background, but I like to feel like I’ve got a proper grounding in whatever I’m working on professionally. I learned many things from the MBA that have fed into my plans for Frontier Science Scotland.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My management style is based on mutual respect and trust: I treat everybody equally, regardless of their seniority or role. I’m the polar opposite of a micro-manager, and I always try to focus on the big picture rather than getting into the detail.
You’ve developed a new business strategy for FSS. What’s in there?
The main thrust of it is business development. On joining the organisation, it was obvious to me that the team is full of people who are brilliant at what they do. The projects that are underway are going very well, which has meant I’ve been able to focus on external engagement and increasing our exposure. My goal over the next couple of years is to broaden our customer base so that we have more contracts with a range of different entities. This will allow us to innovate, and it will bring lots of opportunities for our employees to develop and evolve their skills. It’s about looking ahead and developing a forward-thinking culture throughout the company.
Another thing I’ve developed for Frontier Science Scotland is a company mission, vision and values. I felt it was important to put a flag in the sand to say, ‘This is who we are and this is where we’re going.’ It’s something for people to congregate around.