What can leaders in science learn from sport? A conversation with Pierre Garcia

March 2, 2022

What can leaders in science learn from sport?

A conversation with Pierre Garcia

 

Born and raised in Tarbes in the south of France, Pierre Garcia was deeply immersed in rugby. His early experiences of the sport gave him an aptitude for coaching that he brings to work every day as a Team Leader at OmegaChem.

As he celebrates one year in the position, we ask Pierre about his approach to leading a team of scientists, the joys of living and working in Quebec City and what he thinks the future holds for drug discovery.

What is your background? Where did you begin your scientific career?

From the very beginning of my studies, I specialized in organic chemistry and organometallic chemistry, and I managed to master it all the way up to my Ph.D. in Paris-Sorbonne University. After that, I did a postdoc in Vancouver, followed by another postdoc in Geneva.

I’m happy that I have this background, as this area is a fundamental part of chemistry today. Now, this expertise allows me to be very much at ease when I work in the laboratory, when I meet with people and give them advice, and when I observe a reaction. This knowledge is really helpful and important.

After those two postdocs, I came to Quebec to start my career in the industry.

 

You have had the opportunity to live in cities around the world. What inspired you to come to Quebec City?

I really loved Canada while I was living in Vancouver, and always wanted to return. It’s a country that I have a lot of affection for. There are lots of big spaces, there is a lot of freedom here.

I was also looking for a French-speaking area, which would make it a lot easier for me, given that French is my mother tongue! So, those were the things I was looking for before I moved here, and I felt these needs were met during my postdoc and, eventually, when I came to work for OmegaChem.

Professionally, I also wanted to be in a group that was starting to establish itself, but also wanted to grow and evolve. That’s what drew me to OmegaChem specifically. When I arrived, there were just 30 team members. Today, we now have around 100 resarchers. In short, I was looking for a place that was built on strong foundations, but also had a desire to get to a higher level. My goal was to be part of that and to be able to advance that with my abilities.

 

So, is working for a CRO in Quebec City more enticing to you than working in a similar company in a larger city?

I think it came from a need for space. I have lived in big cities, like Paris, Geneva and Vancouver. The lifestyle and the sheer population density can affect your life. Here, in Quebec, we have a quality of life that is phenomenal. In summertime, I can cycle to work in 15 minutes. In winter, I can drive there in 10 minutes. There are skating rinks and other activities for my children close by. Everything we need is easily accessible. There is also plenty of natural space and parks.

Of course, urban areas have their perks! However, when you want to grow, evolve or start a family, they can be a little intense. Here we have a really nice balance between work and family life, and that is reflected at OmegaChem too. After work, we can switch very quickly to our private lives with our families, because it takes just five or 10 minutes to get home, collect our kids or go to the skating rink. I find this kind of life really pleasant, and that’s why I would seek out this kind of atmosphere as opposed to a sprawling urban centre.

 

What attracted you to OmegaChem specifically?

I liked the idea of working alongside people I knew well in a small company. I wanted a work environment where I knew who my manager was, and that we would say hello when we passed each other. I didn’t want to find myself in an enormous company or just be a statistic.

OmegaChem met that need. The company has grown, but it’s not too big. It’s a company that gives me opportunities to grow and that I feel part of.

 

You were appointed to the position of Team Leader at OmegaChem in February 2021. How would you describe your leadership style?

I have only been a Team Leader for a short time, so I’m still learning! I think I would describe myself as an exacting person – I expect a high standard from myself and from my team, because I think we can always be the best versions of ourselves. It takes work to reach that level.

My approach to leadership is based around sport, specifically rugby. Within the dynamic of a rugby team, everyone is unique and brings their own personality and abilities. In a team, we see how these differences complement each other. We understand that we need diversity in order to reach a common goal. So, I developed a style of leadership for myself that was influenced by my own experiences with the sport. Rugby is also based on respect, and that is also true in my team. The book I use as a source of inspiration is “15 leçons de leadership” (15 leadership lessons in English) by Christophe Urios. He is one of the best – if not THE best – French rugby coach. This is a must-read!

What I have learned from these experiences is as relevant to work as it is to the rugby pitch. Knowing how to communicate, working to improve yourself, and being adaptable are important skills in both areas. In rubgy, from one Saturday to another, you play against different teams, and we have to adapt to that. It’s the same in a CRO.

Rugby has been a fantastic experience and really helps me at work.

 

What is it like to be working in drug discovery?

Our work is about creating tools for our clients. Our clients need us to assist them with their discovery, to provide certain specialized skills and to be able to search for specific molecules. We work together with our clients to meet those needs.

At OmegaChem, I feel I have the best of both worlds. We work within a small but ambitious team, but we partner with larger companies and research programs on really important projects.

 

What do you like most about this kind of work?

I really like having that balance between leading a team of people and carrying out scientific research. I love talking to people to help them identify their needs and proposing challenges to my team that they might be interested in.

I also love having the opportunity to find solutions to scientific challenges, not just HR challenges. Being able to reflect on science and leadership is something I really enjoy. It’s entirely complementary.

 

Speaking of reflecting on science, what do you think the future holds for drug discovery?

Personally, I think artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will be fundamental in terms of design and will help us go a lot faster than before. However, I think we need to recognize the crucial need for human beings to be part of the process, especially in organic chemistry.

In this field, human beings can’t be replaced by robots. You need to pay very close attention to what’s happening in a reaction. The smallest variation can have a huge impact.

So, at the design level, AI will help us. However, we will always need that follow-up with humans who will actually carry out the reaction. Confidence and work ethic essential for a career in science. Asked about advice he has for the next generation of scientists in the pharmaceutical industry, Pierre highlights two essential ingredients. “I would say be confident in yourself,” he says. “Things can happen for strange reasons, and it’s important to be confident and work hard to reach your objectives. Once you work hard and try your best, things happen.”

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