DERRIC Lee, 44, is passionate about life sciences. As the general manager of Illumina Singapore, he is in charge of the manufacturing operations in Singapore that has 130 staff.
Illumina Singapore produces about 70 per cent of BeadChips Array sold by Illumina worldwide. This technology supports genetic analysis and is used in DNA studies.
He has a passion for the evolution of genetics because Illumina’s products have enabled researchers to conduct comprehensive studies on human and non-human genetic variations that were not possible before.
He says: “Many of these studies had already helped to improve the human condition. Illumina has the capacity to change the rules of engagement on how human diseases are treated and how crop yield can be maximised to feed the world’s growing population.”
Mr Lee has been in the life sciences industry for about 14 years. He has worked for nearly two years in Illumina.
When the opportunity first arose for him to join Illumina, he was leading a successful team in a similar capacity in another company and he wasn’t keen to move. But when he was invited for an interview at Illumina’s headquarters in San Diego, he was convinced to join the company because of Illumina’s proven track record.
“I had been following the development of companies and technologies within the industry. I saw Illumina grow from less than $60 million revenue in 2005 to more than $350 million in 2007,” says Mr Lee.
“During that period, senior management also made some very bold decisions to drive the company forward.”
It helps that the working culture at Illumina adopts a “no door policy instead of open door policy”. Mr Lee describes it as a highly collaborative environment where they work to achieve common goals.
“Even the CEO operates from a cubicle, albeit bigger than others,” he says.
“The working environment mirrors the core values that we have in the company. It is a highly innovative company that strives for product leadership position in the market we serve.
“Product life cycles are usually short and changes happen very often.”
Mr Lee experienced this in July 2008, when he joined Illumina.
“I was given an audacious goal of setting up the operation, employing the necessary staff, while also starting the running of product qualification,” he says.
“We had to ship quality products out of the Singapore operations by September 2008.
“It was challenging because the team members were all new to the company and came from various industries with different experiences.”
Mr Lee and his team managed to ship the first products out in October 2008. “The Singapore culture of flawless execution persisted and the team worked hard to achieve the desired outcome,” he explains.
While he manages the Singapore operations, he is not here all the time. “I could be in for an early morning meeting with my colleagues in San Diego at 6am, orientate visitors on the operation at 9am, meet the team for a weekly meeting at 2pm and end the day with a one-on-one meeting with my peers in Europe,” says Mr Lee.
When he is in Singapore, he talks to the people on the floor to know how things are running. He says: “A large part of my time is spent working with people and helping them connect the dots.”
As general manager, there is a need to “have a good grasp of how to run an operation effectively and understand very diverse issues affecting performance of the operation”, he says.
To those wishing to pursue a career in the life sciences, he says: “In order to acquire the necessary skills and experience, you need to find an environment that will provide you an opportunity and be prepared to work in that environment for years.
“Job hopping may bring short-term financial gain but not long-term reward.”