Interview with a quality manager
Published: April 22, 2022
Interview with Christoph Reiter (CR) CU Chemie Uetikon GmbH.
By Sabrina Kreutz (SK)
SK: Good evening, Mr. Reiter. Thank you for taking the time for this telephone interview.
CR: With pleasure and I hope I can help you with some questions.
SK : You work at CU Chemie Uetikon GmbH in the area of quality assurance (QA), What is your personal background – What did you study?
CR: I have a doctorate in chemistry and studied at the University of Stuttgart and the University of Erlangen -Nürnberg, where I started my job without a doctorate. I worked first and completed my doctorate after joining. So, if you can put it that way, I only applied as a “graduate chemist” and not as a doctorate in chemistry.
SK: That means your career entry was rather untypical?
CR: It is with us chemists so common that 90% of them do their doctorate after their diploma or master’s degree. That means, if you want to take it that way, I don’t have a QA background, which is why my entry into the professional world was rather untypical. Usually you get involved in research and development, mainly because your studies and the subsequent doctorate make it obvious. That means research is industrial and not academic, but the basic ideas remain. In industry they have laboratory technicians under themselves, whereas in studies they were their own researcher. If you were to lead a laboratory, you would have two to five people to look after you. You yourself are then less in the laboratory, but rather develop the ideas on paper and pass them on to your employees.
SK: That means you are still free and flexible in your work and it is not regulated quite so strictly?
CR: In the case of the laboratory manager, it depends on the company. Because it always plays a role how big the company is and what it manufactures. An intermediate form would be the research manager / laboratory manager in a GMP environment. That would mean that they would then already have these aspects, that they are not quite as free, but that they have to meet certain GMP principles. It´s like that in our company. Since we manufacture precursors for pharmaceuticals, it is the case that research is already geared towards these GMP rules. Of course, these rules of the game limit you. If you work for a company like mine (we make APIs (Active pharmaceutical ingredients)), we manufacture the last pharmaceutical stage of the drug product, but we are not yet at the end user.
SK: Was that how you imagined your career path during your studies?
CR: I don’t have a classic QA background. During my PhD thesis I did natural product synthesis and catalysis for 3 years. Then it was clear to me that I wanted to do something different and I no longer really wanted to go to the laboratory.
I didn’t believe it myself, but at some point I realized that my research time was over. When I applied, I didn´t know much about quality assurance myself. But I think that’s normal. You have to make your own experience in your own career path.
SK: What future ideas did you have with your degree?
CR: What can you do with a chemistry degree? You can do a lot and nothing at the same time with a chemistry degree. It is difficult to imagine what you will do later. You can imagine the job of a laboratory manager. Everything else is more abstract. As chemists you can become patent lawyers, you can work in an institute, e.g. Frauenhofer Institute, so there are a lot of possibilities. I then entered quality assurance from scratch, simply because the company wanted someone fresh. Fresh means someone who has not previously worked elsewhere and / or has ingrained thinking structures, but someone who can be trained from scratch. Someone who comes freshly motivated from university and has no rigid thought patterns but who can question everything in a positive sense.
SK: How was the application phase for you?
CR: I only had my academic background. No internships or similar. What may have benefited me: I played the “logistics man” for tools and solvents in the laboratory. So that was an activity that went beyond the doctoral thesis and showed a little organizational talent.
SK: That was definitely the factor that made you stand out.
CR: Right, and I brought international experience with me. I studied in Scotland for half a year. As a result, I had three universities to show on my résumé. There are many students who have undergraduate and graduate degrees and doctorates all from the same university. If you have several universities, you show a certain degree of mobility.
SK: What is your daily work like at CU Chemie?
CR: My daily work is different every day. We’re a small department with five or six people. In my daily routine there are, among other things, routine tasks, I take care of complaints and the analysis of process errors and assess whether this has an impact on the end product. We also look up the manufacturing regulations, not just when something happens, but also during normal operations. This is called a batch record review. I answer customer questionnaires and take part in audits in which questions are answered by our customers and vice versa. Everyone in the department also has their own focus. Mine is called GDP (Good Distribution Practice). This means that the transport of pharmaceuticals is also subject to certain regulations. Of course, deviations can also occur in this transport, the effects of which I am again investigating. You must never forget: A researcher and developer thinks differently than a “Q person”.
I like the variety and spontaneity about my company. These moments of surprise are sometimes the difficult and sometimes the nice thing in my company.
SK: And what big goal is your company pursuing with the introduction of
quality management or quality assurance? Because before the introduction of GMPs, the standard and quality were definitely good. Do I really need someone to regulate and monitor it?
CR: I ask you back: Were the standards really just as good before? Has anyone checked it, do you know? Perhaps one could have bigger limits than maybe the Q-people set them, but if they allow deviations on a small scale, these may get bigger and bigger, which then affects the quality. This is perhaps a philosophical approach, but if you think the thought through to the end, you will know why we are needed, even if we can sometimes be exhausting for the researchers and developers.
SK: I would not say exhausting now, but in some cases it makes work more difficult.
CR: Definitely, I agree with you and we are also aware of that. But that is also part of our basic conviction. And a Q-person must also bring this basic conviction with them: good judgment, perseverance, a strong backbone and a certain tendency towards accuracy.
SK: What problems do you encounter in your daily work?
CR: Problems in the sense of deviations This often happens in daily operations and sometimes you have to be consistent and be able to say: We don’t sell the product like that. It can happen that you have to be the “not-so-popular-person”. That’s why you can only be a Q-person if you stand behind it with full conviction.
SK: The nice thing about your company is that QM is kept alive and you have to cope with a variety of tasks.
CR: Yes, we deal with marketing, with the customer directly, with the questionnaires, but we also deal with the researchers and developers and issue statements. So in QM we still have a lot to do with people.
SK: You are, so to speak, an interface and coordination point for the company. I can imagine that many areas of the company will approach you.
CR: Yes, the Q area is an interface between the company and takes care of a lot, and our advice / recommendation is often needed.
SK : Do you have M.Sc. students in your company? As a permanent employee or as an intern?
CR: Yes, we once had a M.Sc. student in technology. But that is very rare. However, I also don’t know whether we had any inquiries from M.Sc. students at all. The students would have to dare to ask questions much more, because if they don’t ask there is no such chance.
SK: That means you miss the students’ initiative and courage?
CR: In part. That would also distinguish them, for example, as a good Q-person if they take the initiative. Think of it this way: If you see an official job advertisement, you have 100s of competitors. If you send an unsolicited application at the right time – and luck is of course part of that – then you are the only applicant.
SK: So you think that an unsolicited application is not old-fashioned? < br> CR: An unsolicited application always takes courage and it is also more difficult to write an unsolicited application than to apply for an advertised position. It takes more work and more time. I therefore think that such an application is not old-fashioned and would not advise you against it.
SK: It also shows that you have dealt intensively with the company beforehand. What kind of know-how would I need if I wanted to apply to your company? What do I need to bring with me?
CR: With us you of course need a basic understanding of chemistry and a chemical and scientific background. In addition, a certain flexibility, the aforementioned backbone and assertiveness and, most importantly, a natural curiosity to work your way into new things. This of course also includes creativity and sociability.
SK: How does a general application process work?
CR: For example, you are looking for a job on the internet and then you find something that interests you. Nowadays about 90% are done through online applications. There are very few companies that would still like to have written documents; most of them only want them online for their own convenience. After sending it off, you have to wait. And that can be very different: from a single day to several weeks. You usually receive a rejection via standardized email. If you are lucky you will get an invitation to an interview. The rather large companies then do a telephone interview. Here it can also be the case that you are invited to a face-to-face meeting. However, it can also happen that the company uses this option for an up-front telephone interview, because a telephone interview is a cost-effective alternative. In the interview they can check in advance whether your answers match your résumé. Of course, you can also receive a confirmation by email inviting you to a personal interview. This invitation is already a great success in the application process. Because when you are invited, you clearly have a lot fewer competitors and you are one step further. Now, depending on the company, they can go through one or more rounds of interviews or have to complete an assessment center first. The main purpose of this is to see how you react to stress. After the assessment center comes the real application round: Depending on the size of the company, you might face 3-6 interviewers. Always remember that this selection process is a two-way street. Not only does the company have to choose from the applicants, but the applicants also have to choose the company. After the interview, the company will give you a timeframe in which to contact you. If not, feel free to ask. Of course, it can also happen that the company doesn’t get in touch afterwards.
SK: Is there a no-go in terms of salary agreements?
CR: That’s a very hairy affair. But let’s go through the
interview: it takes about 45 minutes and at the end you have the opportunity to ask questions again: e.g. what is my training period like? And then you can wait to see if the company brings up the issue, or if it’s the final round then you have the right to raise the question of salary. The company can then of course test how they rate themselves. Your salary expectations should neither be utopian nor too few. The size of the company and the location also play a role in terms of salary. In the meantime, however, you can find out more in advance on the Internet. Always remember that both sides play poker when it comes to salary.
SK: What would you say would make this application process more manageable?
CR: I can only recommend you: build your network on XING or LinkedIN at an early stage . This is too late in the application phase and will not do you any good. If you now get to know people who have been in the job for 2-3 years, they may be responsible for hiring new staff in their later careers. Connections are key. Internships can also be offered to you. And to come back to XING and LinkedIn, I know some people who received their job offers through these portals. There are a lot of recruiters and headhunters out there. You should also try to find out who is sitting across from you and how the process will be before the interview. You can ask about this in a nice reply email and it shows interest.
SK: Thank you for the very interesting and informative interview. I was happy to talk to someone from the practice.
If you want to learn more about working in quality management, you might be interested in Lisa´s workshop (Introduction to quality management systems (QMS)) on this topic.
We wrote the article Jobs in industry: quality management, regulatory affairs & health and safety about various jobs in the regulated environment.