Payroll at Waterford site comes in at €1m per week
Sanofi, the French-owned multinational pharmaceutical company which employs over 700 staff at its plant on the Old Kilmeaden Road, is responsible for a weekly payroll totalling €1 million, underlining its significance to the city and regional economy. Speaking to The Munster Express, Site Head Ruth Beadle said the company’s commitment to Waterford had been re-enforced by the investment it has made in the plant over the past five years. Explaining that investment, Ms Beadle stated: “We’ve been blessed by the backing of the company, for a start. There’s been over €700 million invested here since our start up (as Genzyme) in 2001, with €200 million of that coming in the last five years. And why does a multinational like Sanofi back a site like Waterford, because we are one out of 80 sites (the company owns globally)? Because of the people we have here and the community that we have here that supports, in an agile way, a multinational. We have in excess of 700 people now, which is far beyond what was ever foreseen, I think, and it’s been trending upwards over the last number of years. We are the most diversified biopharma and medical device site in Ireland, and I would actually say within Europe, and what makes us different is the people.”
Ms Beadle, who has worked for Sanofi since 2007, added: “We’ve always had projects and growth here, which is fantastic. There has been a level of maturing in the skills base which is advantageous and I think that’s down to hard work and the delivery of the people that are here every day. And in terms of the city (ecomony), we already contribute a million (Euro) a week in terms of payroll, which is significant.”
The high level of recent investment in the Waterford has, in her view, been driven by a past performance tradition of delivery. “Sanofi, as a company, has moved into different types of products, products that are very well suited to a site like Waterford. Diversifying into more of the biologics, which was Genzyme’s area, is part of the Waterford heritage and more and more investments and acquisitions which Sanofi has been making, have been along those lines and that has certainly helped in terms of additional investment”.
While, like any business, there’s “always a natural turnover” in the composition of the workforce, Ruth Beadle stated: “We try to attract the best and the most talented people, and we work very closely with WIT, for example, to try and do that. We’ve been partners with WIT for a long time in relation to issues such as technology, engineering and science, but we’ve started working very closely with them now on women in leadership. Of course, there are many different types of diversity but we’ve decided to focus on gender diversity because it’s good for business; diversity brings discussion and is representative of society. So we’ve started a programme with WIT and we now have two two young women, still studying at WIT, who have been working with us for the summer and will have placements here over the next three years, which we hope will encourage more women into the sector in a leadership aspect.”
With that in mind, does the notion of a glass ceiling for women working within the pharmaceutical industry still persist? “I think there are lots of opportunities for women now,” said Ms Beadle. “There’s possibly a level of positive discrimination at this stage because there’s such a level of promotion when it comes to women on boards and women in leadership across so many companies. I don’t think there’s a glass ceiling there but I think the challenge for women is pay – there’s still a pay differential for women – naturally because women have children and you have a period out of work – I have four children myself so you may fall behind (in terms of pay) – so the natural dynamic makes it more challenging rather than focusing on the glass ceiling that perhaps had been there (previously). I think what’s needed now is to foster and build a deeper sense of courage, confidence and role modelling for women, younger women in particular, to show that you can advance and succeed in this sector.”
Referencing a radio item she recently heard in relation to the work ban on married women which existed between 1933 and 1973 (with the exception of the teaching sector from 1957), Ruth Beadle added: “but then when married women came into the (labour force), it was almost as if children were excluded and it’s as challenging for men as it is for women to try and have both parties working.” And what of WIT and IT Carlow’s application for Technological University (TU) status? “It’s critical,” Ms Beadle replied. “It’s been spoken about for too long; my own uncle, Dick Langford, was the first principal of the (Regional Technical) college. For us, it would do a number of things. First, in terms of competitiveness, we will never be as cheap as China, but we need to be more competitive than, say, other European states, and having good people is what helps you to get there. Secondly, it’s not only about attracting other people into the region, it’s also about retaining our own. My eldest son is gone to Trinity and I wonder if there was a university here, would he have stayed here? So how many more of him, for example, are there out there? Waterford is a fabulous place to live and a great place to raise your family but we have this gap where a lot of people move away, and not just for three of four years, but maybe 10 or 15 years until they have their own family and then want to come home, so I think this is as much about retaining our own talent as a community as well as attracting in others, so I feel university status would make a big difference.”
In the digital age, the nature of work itself has fundamentally shifted, both in terms of work patterns (Sanofi, for example, is a 24-hour working site) and the near unavoidable element of bringing work home with you, i.e. checking work emails on your phone or tablet, dealing with paperwork, etc.
Ms Beadle feels what people “are looking for out of work now versus, say, when I started 25, 26 years ago, is totally different. People were then more inclined to look for that permanent, pensionable, nine to five type of role whereas now it’s more about life/work balance when technology and phones make you so much more accessible 24 hours a day. How I try to deal and how we try and deal with it within this organisation is that there is no one size fits all model: we have a 24/7 operation here, we have different shift patterns, which can be challenging, but we try and encourage a healthy work/life balance. For example, we’ve been heavily involved with the GAA in terms of resilience, we host an annual conference and there’s a good public awareness of that event now. We look very much towards the sporting world because you’re talking about high performing people in that area…we’ve had Katie Taylor and Paul O’Connell in for talks here, two very different people from two very different sports but both equally interesting when it comes to high performance and what it means to them, and those talks really made a significant impact with a lot of our staff. We also have a gym on site which is open 24/7 and that’s been part of our effort to create a healthy space within the work environment and to provide our staff with a different outlet.”
Given the investment boost in recent years, a query about Sanofi reaching the 1,000-employee mark in Waterford sprung unavoidably to mind. On that note, Ruth Beadle stated: “I don’t know. It would be nice to think it might happen but having said that, it’s quite nice to have a community and that’s what we have here. And when you have a massive factory, you might lose that sense of community and if you were to grow that number again, would that be good for the city? Absolutely, but having said that, I think you need to balance that against what makes us special, what makes us unique and what makes us stand out among those 80 (Sanofi) facilities and that, for me, is the fact that you feel like you’re coming into a family here. And, for me, that’s what makes working here so special.”