Yvonne Duckworth, CRB’s director of digital technology, says she was fortunate to enter the pharmaceutical industry straight out of college. “My first job, 31 years ago, was a wonderful opportunity as an automation engineer with an engineering company servicing the pharmaceutical industry,” she said.
Duckworth has maintained her pharma focus at CRB, where she has worked for the past 14 years. “Captivated by the industry’s unique challenges, I never left,” she said. “So, I might be a bit biased when I say the pharmaceutical industry is the best industry to be a part of.”
She says she finds that the ability to “make a difference in people’s lives” is one of the most rewarding aspects of her work.
In the following interview, CRB’s director of digital technology shares which types of projects she finds most rewarding. Duckworth also provides insights on Industry 4.0 and advice for young women pursuing leadership roles in the life sciences.
What projects, past or present, have made you love what you do as CRB’s director of digital technology?
Duckworth: I always love when a new client presents the project team with a video of actual patients benefitting from the drug they are producing. That is one of the main reasons why I love what I do in the pharma industry. I have been privileged to support multiple pharma, biotech, and cell and gene therapy companies throughout my career, and it continues to be extremely rewarding for me. I had the wonderful opportunity to lead the automation engineering design for a new manufacturing facility for Iovance Cell Therapy Center located in the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. I was also honored to work for one of the COVID vaccine manufacturing companies. This was such a humbling and rewarding experience. I loved seeing the collaboration between pharma companies, equipment suppliers and the FDA to make a miracle happen.
What projects are you most looking forward to?
Duckworth: I am very excited about all of the possibilities of cell and gene therapies. Through the automation and digitalization work I do, I hope to help advance their discoveries and production to see this innovative science passed on to the patients in need. I am also very excited to continue to work with clients who are focused on pushing the envelope when it comes to automation and digitalization/Industry 4.0. Automation has sometimes been seen as a mysterious black box that didn’t always receive the attention that it deserves. I think the industry’s recent focus on Digitalization/Industry 4.0 has changed that and brought a higher level of visibility and importance to automation on projects.
How do you help pharma clients develop and fine-tune best practices and processes for Industry 4.0?
Duckworth: Being an automation engineer, I love seeing companies push the boundaries and advance their facility’s level of automation and digitalization. Industry 4.0 is a wonderful initiative and umbrella term to help further the push toward Smart Manufacturing and Facilities of the Future. I am heavily involved in the ISPE Pharma 4.0 initiative — I am a chairperson on the Pharma 4.0 leadership team — and I am very passionate about this initiative. I continually work with my clients to help them to adopt the best-suited digital technologies for their unique situations in alignment with the Pharma 4.0 effort. When companies are considering which digital technologies to adopt for their facility, it is very important to identify pain points, and see which technology can alleviate the pain points, as well as add overall value. It is also important to think about the impact on the design of a facility from an engineering perspective when thinking about adding new digital technologies. Having an engineering background helps me to have a good understanding of the impact of implementing digital technologies on the design of a facility.
Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson you have learned that has guided your career?
Duckworth: One of the most important things I have learned in managing my team is to just listen.
Listen first and then talk. I think people need to feel heard and appreciated.
One quote I particularly like here is, “when a leader doesn’t know how to lead, they micro-manage.” It’s essential to listen to your team in order to help them grow, thrive and reach their full potential. I have never taken well to being micro-managed, so I always take that into account in leading my teams. Some people may need a bit more guidance, so finding the balance between helping and handholding is key.
In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in the life sciences today?
Duckworth: I am heavily involved with an ISPE initiative called “Workforce of the Future for Automation and Robotics.” As part of this initiative, we are helping several universities develop a curriculum around automation and robotics, and I regularly participate as a guest speaker for their lectures.
I think it’s important for young women to see and hear from women in their field. I remember when I was in college, I had two amazing women professors– one for Circuits and one for Differential Equations. It was so inspiring to see female professors in my male-dominated major of electrical engineering.
I am also involved in an internal initiative called “Women at CRB” which has been a wonderful conduit for coworkers, young or seasoned, to engage, share experiences, and promote mentoring. Overall, I think it is extremely important to support initiatives that give young women the opportunity to connect with more seasoned women within the life sciences industry.
Filed Under: Industry 4.0, Women in Pharma and Biotech