Development & Alumni Relations Office 



MEET ROGER CONNOR – PRESIDENT, GLOBAL VACCINES GlaxoSmithKline

12 September 2019

A former pupil of St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick, County Down, Queen’s Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering graduate Roger Connor (MEng 1993), has worked his way up to the post of President of Global Vaccines at GSK (GlaxoSmithKline PLC), one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies.

“To be honest I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what I wanted to do for a career,” Roger told Queen’s, “but I knew it would be science and maths based – so choosing an engineering degree made a lot of sense to me.

“Several members of my family also went to Queen’s and it has a great reputation, especially for engineering.”

Remembering Queen’s

While at University Roger applied for sponsorship from the Department of Economic Development (now known as The Department for the Economy), which involved him working in Howden Sirocco in Belfast in year one and then undertaking his Master’s in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Queen’s over the next four years.

Each summer he returned to the ‘Sirocco works’ where his sponsor company manufactured fans for power stations, for a month-long work placement.

“Looking back, that first year working full-time and experiencing every department for four weeks at a time was a fantastic way to learn how companies operate.

“The people who looked after me in each placement were amazing and really took time to pass on their knowledge and expertise. I’m grateful for that,” said Roger.

Roger has strong memories of his time at University and recalls several influential faculty staff. “My Master’s at Queens was a great course and I spent many hours in the Ashby building alongside the impressive faculty staff. I remember Professor Crawford for materials, Dr Keating for design, Dr Hinds for manufacturing and many more.

“They not only took us through the theory but most importantly brought it all to life practically. Queen’s really led the way in two stroke engine design, gas turbines, and plastics.”

After graduating in 1993, Roger moved to PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Manchester and spent three years training as a chartered accountant, a move he treated ‘very much like a PhD’, in the hope that his ideal job would bring together his engineering and finance experience.

GlaxoSmithKline PLC

Roger joined GSK in 1998 from AstraZeneca where he spent two years, and has worked in a number of roles within finance and manufacturing strategy, including GSK sites in Cork and in the UK.  

The switch from the finance to the pharmaceutical sector has gave Roger the chance to use the full breadth of his career experience. And it’s an industry he clearly loves working in.

“Quite simply, the impact we have on people and the power to help positively change lives is amazing. We get to develop, and manufacture medicines and vaccines that make a huge difference.

“The engineer in me also loves the science and technologies involved in how we make this happen,” said Roger.

Headquartered in Brentford, England GSK develops, manufactures, and markets vaccines, prescription, and over-the-counter medicines, as well as health-related consumer products.

In 2008, he led a major restructuring of the Manufacturing organisation and in 2009 became Site Director at the Barnard Castle site in the North East of England, one of the largest sites in the GSK network.

In February 2010 he left Manufacturing and became head of Corporate Strategy for GSK working directly with the CEO and the Corporate Executive team (CET). He served as secretary to the CET, as well as having responsibility for developing the GSK long-range financial forecast, related analyses and benchmarking for CET, and integrating the key transformation initiatives that were under way across the company.

Roger returned to manufacturing in 2012 when he was appointed President Designate Global Manufacturing and Supply (GMS). Here he was responsible for over 30,000 people, and a network of 60 Pharmaceutical and Consumer Healthcare manufacturing sites. He also led Procurement, Product Quality, and Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability at a corporate level.

A member of the GSK Corporate Executive Team (CET) since 2013, Roger was appointed to his current role on 1 September 2018. He now oversees an industry-leading enterprise delivering vaccines to over 160 countries and more than £5 billion in turnover. In addition to his Vaccines duties, he is responsible for GSK’s global procurement organisation.

GSK Vaccines has a broad portfolio of more than 40 vaccines and a pipeline of 14 candidate vaccines in development. The Vaccines team is made up of over 17,000 employees across 11 countries working to deliver more than 2 million doses every day to help protect people all around the world.

“This is an incredible business, with great technologies and amazing people who work on the discovery, development and manufacturing of life saving products every day,” said Roger.

“It’s a great feeling to know that 40 per cent of the babies in the world get at least one of our vaccines.”

With 21 years in the Pharmaceutical industry Roger has a proven track record of leading a complex, global organisation, developing organisational capability and driving cultural transformation.

Impact of University

In addition to his Queen’s degree he holds a Masters in Manufacturing Leadership from Cambridge University but it is to that solid foundation in Belfast – and the combination of engineering and finance – that he attributes his successful career.  

“Vaccine development and manufacturing are difficult. To develop a new vaccine can take more than 10 years. To bring a new single vaccine manufacturing facility online typically takes at least 6 years – from the time the building work commences to when the facility gets its first regulatory approval.  

“In addition, manufacturing a single dose of vaccine can take up to 24 months, which is mainly driven by the high level of quality checks performed on every single batch produced.

“This is where the engineer in me kicks in. Engineering teaches you a certain structured approach to problem-solving, data analysis and project execution that I draw on every day.

And it wasn’t just the formal University education and experience that Roger enjoyed back in the early 90s.

“The non-academic time at Queen’s was just as important. Learning to work in teams and to get along with different types of people are critical skills that are sometimes undervalued.

Back home in Northern Ireland

While his father still lives in Downpatrick, where he is a keen sailor and golfer, Roger’s sister is a headmistress and one his brothers an optician in the local area. His second brother is a midwife in London.

Married to Denise, who is originally from Newry, they have two daughters – Emma, aged 15 and Sarah 14 – both of whom were born in Cork. Now living in Brussels, the family still maintains a house in Strangford, County Down, not far from where he was brought up.

“Strangford is a beautiful place, with amazing people,” says Roger. “I love going back home!”

And returning to Northern Ireland also gives Roger the chance to catch up with former classmates. “Nine of us shared various houses and flats around Queen’s and we are still close friends to this day.

“Every year before Christmas we meet in Belfast. The pub names may have changed but it’s really great to go back.”

Clearly holding his time at Queen’s – and his world-class engineering degree – in high esteem, Roger is already looking to the future.

“I am biased of course but I continue to see Northern Ireland creating the very best graduate talent in the world. Highly capable, with a positive outlook, and most importantly for me an ability to connect with people to deliver great things.

“I had a fantastic time when I was at Queen’s, I learnt a huge amount, met incredible people, made great friends and would love to see my girls study there in the future.”

For further information on GlaxoSmithKline please visit www.gsk.com.

To submit graduate news items, or for general enquiries about this story, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast or telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.

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