Scientist Snapshot | Emma Rhodes, Head of New Product Introduction (NPI)
23rd Feb 2023
At Sterling, our highly experienced team members and their passion for what they do are central to who we are. This month, we spoke with Emma Rhodes, Head of New Product Introduction (NPI), to learn more about her role and Sterling’s project management approach.
Can you briefly describe your background and current role at Sterling?
Throughout my education and career, my core focus has been on chemistry. I completed my degree in Chemistry with German at the University of Hull and spent a year working for a chemical company in Germany during my studies. I then spent five and a half years in the United States working towards my PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
After completing my PhD, I moved back to the UK and took up a role as a Development Chemist at what is now Sterling’s Dudley site. I have been with the organisation ever since. After three years working in the Development Centre laboratories on process development and scale-up, I spent time working as part of the proposal generation team. I then became a Laboratory Project Manager before moving to the New Product Introduction (NPI) team, responsible for the project management of customer projects. After five years as a project manager, I transitioned into the role of Head of Research and Development (R&D) at the Dudley site, before returning to the new product introduction team as Head of NPI. I think that my experience working across a broad range of technical areas has been beneficial for my work in NPI, as it requires close collaboration with different teams and departments across the organisation.
Can you go into more detail about what your day might look like as Head of NPI?
My position involves a lot of communication and collaboration, both within my team and across different departments. I head up a team of five people who are focused on keeping customer projects running smoothly. This requires us to regularly work with team members from the chemistry labs, production, quality, engineering and a number of other teams both at the Dudley site and with colleagues at our other sites to make sure projects are moving along as planned and adhering to required timelines.
A large part of the role of an NPI manager is to communicate directly with customers to gain an in-depth understanding of all of their project requirements and to keep them informed of project status. Our team serves as a bridge between the customer and Sterling, making sure that everything goes as expected throughout the lifecycle of a project.
I am also a part of the Senior Leadership Team at the Dudley facility. I work with other members of the leadership team to discuss key topics throughout our organisation and help shape broader strategies. It is also my responsibility to escalate any challenges or decisions within customer projects that require input from the Senior Leadership Team.
Head of New Product Introduction (NPI)
PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Organic chemistry, new product introduction and project management, research and development
Quality and safety are of the utmost importance in any project, and it’s critical that we prioritise these two factors at all times.”
Can you share more about the NPI process?
Customers come to Sterling for a variety of different projects with their own unique requirements, from lab work, to manufacturing and more. Whenever a new project comes in, it goes directly through our team and is assigned a project manager. The project manager is tasked with coordinating activities throughout the lifecycle and overseeing that the project is going as planned. That person serves as the customer’s primary point of contact. Quality and safety are of the utmost importance in any project, and it’s critical that we prioritise these two factors at all times. Keeping a keen eye on how much time we are spending on a project is crucial for adhering to our customers’ desired timelines. Ultimately, our team’s goal is to ensure that our customers are happy with the work we deliver and that we remain aligned with our customers at all times.
Is there anything that sets Sterling’s NPI approach apart?
What really sets our approach apart is that we form a true partnership with our customers, and assign a dedicated project manager to every project. This person works directly with the customer to establish a strong working relationship, so that the customer knows they can contact us directly with any questions or concerns at any time. Our customer relationships are of the highest importance within the NPI team and across Sterling, and we take our customers’ projects very seriously. We recognise that our customers place their trust in us, and we are always working to meet their needs, providing support and guidance every step of the way.
We are committed to remaining fully transparent with customers, and it is important that if an issue does arise, we are already proactively working to solve it.”
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
One key challenge is remaining ahead of any issues that might surface over the course of a project. We are committed to remaining fully transparent with customers, and it is important that if an issue does arise, we are already proactively working to solve it. We provide our customers regular updates over the course of their projects to ensure that they maintain full visibility at all times, even amid any challenges.
Keeping close track of timelines is a key aspect of project management, as a number of factors can have an impact. In any instance, we maintain close communication with the customer and take every measure possible to progress the project as efficiently as we can, while still putting quality and safety first.
How does internal collaboration factor into your role?
Just as I prioritise close collaboration with customers in my role, I see internal collaboration as equally important. We have regular meetings across all of our teams, from the technical teams, to engineering, quality manufacturing and more, to ensure alignment at all times. Customer requirements can change quickly, and clear communication of any changes to the Sterling project team is critical to ensure the project delivery remains on track.
The experience and hard-working attitude of the NPI managers and the project teams drives our desire to maximise success for our customers, and collaboration plays an important part in doing so.