Marc Fages is the Quality Assurance Specialist of Supplier Quality Management at Amgen, a bio-pharmaceutical company recently voted to Forbes’ list of “100 best places to work for.”
Marc started out by going to UC Santa Barbara and almost didn’t finish college. He had A’s in his Marine Biology coursework but he felt that school was keeping him from his real passion: cooking. After college he planned on moving to Kauai with a life-long friend to open a fish taco restaurant. He cooked professionally for awhile, but with the arrival of his children his priorities soon shifted. Looking to do what was best for his family, he applied at Amgen and was hired.
He is now going into his eleventh year with Amgen, but his first year outside of the manufacturing department. In a ten year span, he was able to work his way up from making products hands on, to supervising production, to engineering facilities and is now a category manager within supplier quality management. To clarify, he manages a commodity of chemicals, small molecules, and raw materials that go into making drug products for use on humans. It is his job to ensure that the drugs’ specifications and expectations are met. Marc also deals with the relationship between Amgen and its suppliers.
When asked about how much of his college education he uses in his job, he responded:“I see college as preparing you how to work, how to investigate, and be resourceful of sorts. I majored in biology when I was in college, and its good to know about biology and math. From the perspective of college as a preparation tool, I use it all the time. Writing reports, research, and professionalism are all things that school prepared me for. One thing school did not prepare me for was business practices, which is something that I learned from mentors, meetings, and on the job training.”
One point in the interview that I thought was interesting and I have heard a few times on this trip was this quote:
“When people think they know it all, that is the biggest danger (to learning). It doesn’t matter what kind of degree you get, doesn’t matter where you work, there’s always something to learn…from anybody. Usually the people that teach you something is where you don’t expect it.” (On the same topic of learning from others) “Sometimes college students with a fresh perspective come in and make a simple question about procedures, and all of a sudden it’s like wow, I never looked at it from that perspective.”
When asked about how does a student achieve business confidence, the response was:
“If you don’t have much experience, it is important to know as much as you can about the company and the particular area of the company that you are applying for. By knowing about the specific area you will have an edge because at the end of every interview there is always the part where the interviewer asks if there are any questions they can answer. By asking what are you looking for, what do you expect, what do you want, you really have a better understanding of what you are getting into. (Related to confidence in an interview) Know who you are, know what you’re about, know where you want to go, and on the converse, know what you don’t know about yourself and what do you need to work on.”
A question relating to the first job:
“You have to be patient. If it’s your first job you want to go out and kick butt, but it takes awhile to learn. There’s always something to learn. You have to be respectful. You have to manage your time.”
“It’s one thing to learn something in a book, and then it’s another to go out and experience it. But it’s the book that sets you up.”
“A degree is very important. Lower level positions will be the only positions that will be available without a degree. Management also looks at a degree as what type of person and what type of background do they want their people to fit.”
What probably interested me the most was Marc’s philosophy of “the flight of stairs,” relating to changes in life. His philosophy was that people are cruising along in life, when all of the sudden you hit a challenge presents itself to them. They struggle with it until something clicks, progress is made and then they realize that they are on another next level. They’re happy with their accomplishment and continue cruising along until they hit some other thing that causes them to think and forces them to change. That’s when they know their onto the next level. According to Marc, this cycle perpetuates throughout your career. The biggest thing with this philosophy is that you can’t ever think that you have reached your final career destination, because you haven’t. The second you think that you’re “there” is when the ability to move on and grow is taken away.
“Young people don’t realize it until they experience some adversity, so when you hear someone saying those things over and over again, listen to them the best you can, and if it doesn’t make total sense, you’re just like the rest of us…including myself.”
I almost didn’t graduate college. To be honest with you. Not that I didn’t have the capability. I was high A’s, and had my college paid for through scholarships. Just didn’t have the will. I wanted to cook. And I did do that professionally for awhile.
My girlfriend and I made a baby. To be completely honest. So all of a sudden had to get real responsible real quick and things changed. So I applied at Amgen, got a job, and it’s all history.
My goal after graduating college was going to Kaui and starting a fish taco business. Me and my friend since fifth grade had a goal of getting three stands together and hopefully selling those and using that capital to either start a restaurant or get into aqua culture type of stuff. So from a perspective of having this path outlined and driving towards it, it wasn’t at all like that.
But in the end I’m glad it happened the way it did. Things have worked out really well. So there’s my preface. Unfortunately it’s not a story of planning ahead and all that.
What do you do with Amgen?
I’ve been here ten years now. I’m going on eleventh year. The first ten years I was in manufacturing in all different disciplines from making products hands on to supervising to engineering. Everything from building facilities to starting up facilities that had been built.
I worked in California here doing clinical manufacturing and commercial, which are two different disciplines.
Currently, I’m working in corporate quality supplier quality management. I manage a commodity. Chemicals and small molecules and their raw materials, meaning that we’re going to use them for further processing and they are going to end up in drug products that we give to humans.
So from that perspective, there’s a lot of attention to be placed on the raw materials in terms of the quality and a bunch of other attributes. Owning the raw materials specs, which is a document we create that outlines the materials and specifications and the expectations for testing.
Once one is already is created, it’s dealing with supplier issues, or issues Amgen is having with suppliers or raw materials. Interfacing with the outside business that we use as well as interfacing with our internal business.
There’s always something to learn from anybody. Usually the people that teach you something comes from where you don’t expect it.
There is a tendency in a business setting when things go wrong, people start to blame. It usually starts with why did it go wrong? What happened? And then, who did it wrong? Oftentimes, I don’t want to say a waste of time, but it’s usually inappropriately done in the sense that at the beginning, you should make sure that everything gets fixed up and put back in place. From a lesson learned perspective, I absolutely see the value.
From a getting people in trouble perspective, I think it’s important that you keep track of mistakes and who does them for a long term type of thing. Something we say at Amgen is that if you make a mistake, just don’t do it again. It’s the second and third times where it becomes an issue.
What’s the most enjoyable part about working at Amgen for you?
I really like the fact that we’re helping people. We’re doing something that at the end of the day derives a benefit for folks. Especially from the perspective that I’ve had my own family members who have taken our products, as well as having neighbors whose family is taking it. When they found out what I did, they were just amazed and so happy. When you see the impact on them, it makes the work significant.
When I was working in manufacturing, you work hard and you make these products, but you don’t see it at the end of the day. I wasn’t in the final fill where you put it in a vial, you put in a box, and you ship it out. You have these big stainless tanks and all this equipment, and as much as work as you’re doing towards a final product, your real work is making it and documenting it.
Without any documentation, nothing happens. There’s a saying that if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Basically, you throw everything away and start over.
To be able to see that perspective from an outside person who doesn’t know what I know, but sees that little package and gets their little dose, and goes from one day feeling really crudy to the next day doing things that they haven’t been able to do in years. That really is the bonus.
The pure dynamic nature of it all too. I joke around and say that I have an ADD type of situation. There’s just so much going on here. Something is always happening. It’s not monotonous where you’re always doing the same thing day in and day out. There is the mundane piece of the job where you’re just documenting and processing things, but it’s always supplemented with new issues, problems, and changes to make something better.
A lot of the times too with the people here at Amgen is that there are so many issues going on that you finish one or two in a week and you get on to the next one or two in your list and certain personality types can feel like they’re not getting anywhere. But if you stop and pause and see that the things we fixed last week and the things we fixed in the last month. All of a sudden you can stop and see that we’re getting stuff done.
The side of business that ever seems to not have an issue or not have some evolution, which is probably true for a lot of different disciplines I’m guessing.
That would be the two biggest ones for me.
Know who you are, know what you’re about, and know what you want to go to. Know what you don’t know about yourself.
You have to be patient. You get a job with a big company and you just want to kick butt. You want to do well and retire early and all those grandiose plans. Not to say don’t have dreams, but temper them because it takes awhile to learn. There’s the piece of tenure. No one is going to hand you anything.
Opportunities may or may not come. As an employee, you always have to be cognizant of your boss, your managers and how they treat you. You’re responsible to the company and your managers to do well and work hard. But in my opinion, what I’ve come to learn over the years is that your managers are very important to you too. You have a manager that isn’t taking care of you, my suggestion is, go find another position. Find another boss. Do whatever it takes. Because you can get stuck somewhere after a few years and really have not gone anywhere. That can be a contradiction to what I’m saying about being patient, but it’s a balance.
Are you being patient? Do they take care of you? Do they listen to you? You should be able to go to your boss and say, ‘Hey. In two years I want this position. Next year I think I want your job if there’s the availability. Is there something I can do to help prepare myself for that? What do you think?’
If you have a hard time having conversations like that with your boss, is it because of your personality? Or is it because when you talk to your boss, they look at you like you’re crazy? Be very cognizant. You need to manage your career and be responsible for it. It’s not your company that’s responsible for it.
To me, bosses and the company should be responsible in providing the tools for you to get what you want. Not necessarily tell you where to go. If there’s a specific need, they’re not going to be shy and they’ll tell you where to go. But does that fit what you want? It’s a relationship just like with a girlfriend or anything else. It’s kind of hard when money gets involved to separate that.
When you’re young, you’re worried about stability. My rant and rambles is pretty much going on to what do you know about yourself, where do you want to go, what do you need to work on, and those type of things. Because I’ve found that knowing the answers to those questions will make somebody successful more so than kicking butt in school.
If you’re not having a good time, why bother? Life’s short. You have to balance responsibilities and what not, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have both. I see so many people just give up, or be scared and not push for that or just not know what they want. So they freeze and keep chugging along.
If you’re happy with that and you’re good, fine. More power to you. Me, I’m having a good time when I come to work and I enjoy it.
It’s not what the company is going to do for me to help myself grow, but what I am going to do for me to fit the business need. In turn, how can I get support from the company so I can fit those skills and fit into the business need in some other capacity. The business isn’t going to do anything that’s not of benefit or isn’t going to be harmful to them.
There’s a lot of opportunity out there. You’ve got to find it. You’ve got to make it happen.
Know yourself. know what you want, and why you want it. If you don’t know everything about yourself and what you want, be cognizant and open to that and do what you can to figure it out. Those things aren’t things that happen quickly. It’s things that your subconscious chews on over years. If you ask me what I want after being in this company for ten years, I have a better idea than I did ten years ago. I fully expect it to continue to develop.
I think of life as a flight of stairs. Being a science geek too, in physical chemistry there is phase change. You’re inputting a bunch of energy into water and nothing changes, nothing changes, then all of a sudden, BAM! It changes phases. That’s like a stair step.
Humans in general as we grow we get some kind of challenge and we struggle and what not and you’re working hard on it and the all of a sudden one day it clicks. You feel like you jumped up to that next level and you feel happy. Then you start cruising and you don’t think about it so much, then all of a sudden you hit some other thing that causes you to think hard and force change. Then all of a sudden, BAM! You’re up another stair.
It just keeps going and going. And again, the biggest thing is don’t ever give that up and think you’re there because you’re not. I don’t care how smart you are or how good you are because the second you think that, there’s a huge part of life in the ability to move on and grow- that’s just taken away because you’ve made a decision.
I think when you’re young, most people don’t realize it. From my experience, you need a little strife or a little adversity to make you realize that.
So when you hear people say these type of things over and over again, listen to them the best you can, if it doesn’t make total sense, you’re just like everyone else including myself. Try to think from a different perspective.
But it will come. Be patient. Be happy. Because there’s really no other point in my opinion.