Shift Team Manager, Barnard Castle


'Accidental' career that started as a summer placement

Beth Hutchinson’s career happened by accident. As a horse-mad 18-year-old bent on studying equine science and business at university, she took what she thought would be a short-term summer role at GSK. She never left the company. A three-week temporary contract turned into a permanent one, and 14 years on, working at GSK’s manufacturing site at Barnard Castle in County Durham, she’s going from strength to strength.

“Back then, all I was interested in was horses. I didn’t intend to stay with GSK,” she recalls. “As it turned out, in the time it would have taken me to finish university, I already had my own trailer and horses, and I had paid for it all myself.”

Hutchinson’s first role at GSK was as a laboratory-stability analyst. But soon after she arrived, a supportive operations manager spotted her potential and urged her to take her interest in science further (she had studied biology, maths and chemistry at A-level). “I was lucky to have a boss who was keen on recognising talent and giving people a chance,” she says.

To move from the labs into a more senior role in manufacturing and operational quality, however, she needed a degree. So after clearing the assessment hurdles, she embarked on an HNC in chemistry at Northumbria University – fully funded by GSK. She’s now halfway through a BSc in biopharmaceutical science at the University of Sunderland, which she juggles with her work commitments.

This makes for a gruelling schedule: her day sometimes begins before 5am and ends after 9pm. But Hutchinson is determined to rise to the challenge. “You don’t get anything without working for it. And GSK are very understanding – if I’ve got exams coming up, they’re really good about giving me study leave,” she says.

At 26, Hutchinson took on her first managerial role in manufacturing, overseeing a team of nearly 30 operators involved in making antibiotics. None of them were women. “It was terrifying – it definitely felt like a man’s world,” she admits. She doesn’t see it like that now, though. In fact, she relishes the managerial challenges, the fast-paced environment and the different demands of juggling budgets, ensuring everything is shipshape for possible audits.

When Hutchinson was 29, a manager nominated her for the Make it in Great Britain 30 Under 30 award, designed to recognise rising talent in the manufacturing world. Selected as one of the final 30, it gave her confidence a real boost. Eventually, she’d like to be the person ultimately responsible for signing off a batch of medicines for release – known as a “Qualified Person”, this is an official status given to a limited number of people by the industry watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

“It’s a very rewarding industry,” she says. “We produce 320 million doses of antibiotic tablets a year, which are distributed throughout the world, from this site alone. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had half a dozen completely different jobs, all within one GSK site, and I’ve travelled all over Europe. The opportunities are endless.”

This article first appeared on the Telegraph STEM Awards website.