December 20, 2021

Success and collaboration in biotech: It’s in the DNA! – CSL

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If there’s one thing you should know about Vanessa Sandford, Senior Director of Drug Product and Global Analytics for global biotech company CSL, it’s that she doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

“I gravitate toward complex challenges that contain uncertainty,” she said. “At CSL, I’ve never felt apprehensive about taking on large visible projects or tackling the obstacles that inevitably pop up along the way. The company takes a mature approach to successes and challenges. Everyone here – leaders, teams and individuals – are supported.” 

It’s this collaborative, supportive environment that has contributed, in part, to Vanessa’s willingness and ability to tackle tough challenges head on. 

“The team at CSL is highly engaged, supportive and actively works together. We’re committed to continuous improvement and identifying innovative ways to progress our technology to deliver much-needed treatments to patients.” 

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In her role, she is responsible for leading 100 scientists and engineers who develop processes to manufacture drug products for early-stage clinical supply. This includes scaling up processes for commercial manufacturing. 

“Our global analytical team develops strategies to monitor products to ensure we understand them thoroughly and that they are of a high quality. I’ve also been working with our teams to design our new headquarters in Melbourne to ensure our new technical spaces are flexible enough to accommodate our evolving needs.”

Vanessa shares the lessons, insights and successes in her biotech career so far, and the work flexibility and support that makes achieving great things possible.

1.  There are no failures in life, only lessons

“The word ‘mistake’ always makes me feel uneasy because I feel like it discourages people from taking appropriate risks and can imply errors are a bad thing. I rarely categorize something as an outright failure. Often, you just need to make a few tweaks to get a project back on track. You’ll often experience complex challenges in science and engineering. At the end of the day, we’re in the business of solving challenges.” 

Vanessa’s ability to dish this wisdom has come from overcoming ‘failures’ (read: lessons!) firsthand. 

“I’ve had to fix issues quickly for processes that haven’t performed on a large scale. I’ve had to work on peer relationships that have gone pear-shaped. I’ve had to rebalance my focus on being a mum when work has crept too far into my family time. It’s all part of an adventurous career and there will always be more challenges to come.” 

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. That’s good advice for everyone, especially for women, who often have to balance many spinning plates.”


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2. Great leaders and mentors pay-it-forward 

Vanessa knew CSL was a great place to work ever since her first interview, more than 12 years ago. 

“During my first interview, I met some incredible leaders, some of which are still here today. The style of the interview and the open conversation made me realize CSL has a truly collaborative atmosphere. This motivated me from day one, and still does now. We’re 100 percent committed to continuous improvement in all parts of the business for the benefit of our patients.” 

Vanessa is grateful to men and women leaders who have played important roles in her life and is excited to pay it forward. Now, she spends a significant amount of time coaching and mentoring staff at all levels, which brings her a lot of happiness and satisfaction.

“I’m passionate about coaching and mentoring women leaders and assisting people who are keen to progress in their careers. For women, increasing the visibility and diversity of our roles and experiences can nurture, inspire and increase our influence throughout the industry. For me, it’s a chance to open doors, connect with other women leaders and share our successes and challenges.” 

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3. Flexibility, support and celebration make all the difference

Vanessa can be flexible in her work due to the support and trust from her management team. 

“When working in a global organization, you sometimes need to work early mornings or late nights. But I know I can pop out to collect my daughter from school or participate in a meeting while whipping up a school lunch! I did take a year off on maternity leave many moons ago. At the time, I was worried it might affect my career, but those worries never eventuated. CSL has always been supportive of work-life balance.”

This motivates her to pursue ideas and strategies, and empowers her to lead and deliver. Additionally, CSL team members share a commitment to patients. 

“Patients are front and centre in our minds, guiding our decision making and strengthening our work ethic. We all share a commitment to high-quality frameworks and technical standards. It’s incredible to see such a strong foundation of knowledge and commitment in our teams, which we use to move with clear direction.” 

Did you know CSL offers a range of flexible working arrangements? This includes shorter working weeks, job sharing, remote work and more.

Learn more about CSL’s flexibility policies.

4. Amplify your biotech career with international opportunities and recognition 

Prior to working for CSL, Vanessa worked with a partner company in the USA, which developed her appreciation for CSL’s skills and products. 

“I was part of a team developing scalable processes to manufacture the Gardasil vaccine. I felt really proud to learn this vaccine had its foundations at CSL and with other Australian pioneers, like Professor Ian Fraser. In the end, it was those connections that led me to apply for a role.” 

CSL offers all staff the ability to connect virtually with other staff across global sites and work collaboratively on a frequent basis. Staff are sponsored to travel to international conferences as their skills develop. 

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CSL has provided me with a broad range of opportunities to work internationally. I’ve collaborated with partner process-development teams in Germany and Switzerland. I’ve visited partner companies across Europe and connected with colleagues across all our global locations – meeting every second year in science forums, which are designed to help us share our work, collaborate and connect.” 

CSL sponsors a scientist exchange program between Marburg, Germany, and Melbourne, Australia – where two scientists travel to partner sites for four to six weeks to perform a small project, share information and increase their awareness of other areas in the business. 

“Companies are so well connected on a global stage. They’re using cutting-edge technology and approaches to develop products. CSL does this, while still being dynamic and committed to continuous improvement. This is embedded in the culture of our organization. We enable change and advancement.” 

Recently, Vanessa has participated in virtual executive leadership forums. This helps expand team members’ understanding of the business and interact with colleagues in different areas. CSL plans to reinstate these face-to-face meetings in the USA again, when COVID restrictions ease. 

Design your own promising future in biotech

No doubt, it’s companies that facilitate collaboration that make achieving great things possible. This has fuelled Vanessa’s excitement, motivation and dedication in her work. 

“Be passionate, be willing to learn new technical skills, embrace teamwork and be highly engaged in growing your skills in leadership. Most of all believe in yourself and foster your passion and drive for solving problems and challenges.”

“Be passionate, be willing to learn new technical skills, embrace teamwork and be highly engaged in growing your skills in leadership. Most of all believe in yourself and foster your passion and drive for solving problems and challenges.”

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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job. Check out the latest job vacancies with CSL