Roger Phillips

BSc Biochemistry. Class of 1977. Business Leader. Advisor. Mentor.

What made you choose Swansea University for your degree?

Honest answer to this is that I made a bit  of a mess of my A levels and had to decide whether  to  resit some to go to university, my headmaster in school in Swansea encouraged me to go Swansea Uni and helped me through my thinking. In hindsight, he was probably right and I needed someone at that stage to give me good advice. This is a bit of a surprise, as until then my relationship with him was not great, but I guess he came through for me when needed. I now know how important good advice from a headmaster, teachers and lecturers can be and have seen this happen again with my children.

What’s your favourite memory from your time at as a student at Swansea?

I lived at home while at Swansea, which in many ways was, at that time rather unusual, it was also a bit odd in that I played rugby for Mumbles and not the Uni,  perhaps today I would have changed this. In those days many students lived in Mumbles and we used to “thumb” a lift to Uni every day which today is so different. I had big memories of almost burning down the Chemistry lab when I left a bunsen burner on under a wooden shelf and of filling the lab with foam from the dishwasher -  oops. The nightlife was very different from today, again almost always based in Mumbles,  thinking about Nutz, Cinderellas and Amandas  still  make me smile, laugh and shudder. Getting my degree was also quite a good moment. 

You graduated with a degree in Biochemistry. What did you do after graduation?

After graduating, I did a PhD in St Mary’s Hospital  in London, this  was for many reasons, I really wanted to continue in education, i was ambitious and wanted the challenge of a PhD which is a very different type of learning and to be honest I was just not ready to start thinking about work. After this I did a fellowship at Birmingham University before deciding that I needed  to find a job.

"I worked in organisations that have a very clear purposes, are ambitious for growth, have clearly defined strategies and put people at the centre, as a result I have enjoyed every day of a 40 year career."

How did you end up at Danone?

My first job was for a specialised Pharmaceutical company called Amersham International, where I worked in R&D. I quickly realised my ambitions were to be more involved in the commercial part of the business and worked hard to persuade them to allow me to move to Marketing. I found a mentor who helped me do this and at the time I was enormously grateful for his belief in me and guiding me through this. Soon, the  Medical Diagnostics part of the company I worked for was bought,  first by Kodak ( for those business strategists out there, the demise of this company is a fascinating   case study ) and then  by Johnson and Johnson where I worked  in both Paris and New Jersey USA. In about 2000 I decided to use what I had learned, and changed companies to leverage my blue chip knowledge to work in a smaller firm where I could influence the  business agenda much more. So I came back to the UK to to work for Nutricia a company that was a World leader in medical nutrition.  Nutricia was then bought by Danone, one thing I have learned  from this is how to manage yourself in vastly different corporate cultures and managerial styles.   I started there as Marketing Director for the UK business, Category Director in HQ, then General Manger for the UK business,  before becoming Regional Vice President for N. Europe and Australia/New Zealand. My last job was working in headquarters in Amsterdam as Chief Commercial Officer, Vice President Sales and Marketing for the Medical Division of Danone. I worked in organisations that have a very clear purposes, are ambitious for growth, have clearly defined strategies and put people at the centre, as a result I have enjoyed every day of a 40 year career.

Have you used your degree in your job?

Yes all the time, all my career has been involved with science and health, starting in R&D but, most of it in commercial roles. My science background gave me a big advantage, for example in talking with customers and understanding  how to turn new innovations into commercial success by demonstrating the value to all sorts of customers from Professors of Medicine, to large insurance companies  and government bodies who pay for our products. I was lucky from this point of view, as most of my colleagues had pure business backgrounds, whereas I could understand  the science, in a way this was my USP. On the other hand  I had to learn Marketing, Finance  and so on, I did this by, being sent on courses, having colleagues  teach me, asking lots of questions  and by my own reading - I have built a large collection of business books.

What has been your biggest achievement in your career?

There are so many ways to answer this, financial success, people success and things that just make you feel good. I was really lucky to be responsible for a brand that we managed to grow from sales revenue of less than €20 million to well over €200 million, I really enjoyed running our business in the UK where we managed to gain many market share points and really moved our people engagement, making people feel fulfilled and enjoy work while building the business is always something i was proud of. While I will always be competitive and driven by numbers, I often think about the letters customers would send in thanking us for the way we provided products and services to them, providing an outstanding customer experience is ultimately what makes the difference. And I have to say how my family have helped me through all of this, keeping that work life balance is an equally important achievement.

"Swansea is a special place and a great university..."

What advice would you give to anyone considering studying at Swansea?

Swansea is a special place and a great university, immerse yourself in the experience, absorb all the knowledge, learn from everyone, think about preparing for your next step and enjoy yourself, have fun you will never have this time again.