MEET KUMAR SIVA IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT AND PRODUCTION OF SHOWER GEL AND OTHER TOILETRY PRODUCTS AND HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS.
What is your job title and what are the main characteristics of your day-to-day work?
I’m a Technical Manager responsible for the research and development of products as well as testing their ingredients and products. I work with household products and toiletries. I’m also a council member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists, and as such am aware of all the new innovations and new materials that are being used in the industry, which informs our research and development of new products.
Most products are made in factories
What area of science (if any) do you use in your current job?
Mostly I use Chemistry in developing new products in terms of how ingredients work and how they can interact, how emulsifiers work to form a stable product. We also have to look at how the products can be manufactured effectively on a large scale because when we develop them we do so on a small scale in a batch on 1kg, but in production we need to scale up to 10 tonnes and this might mean a different manufacture mechanism e.g. adding ingredients in a different order, heating to a different temperature. I also use microbiology in terms of making sure the products we produce are stable and can be preserved without going off and without harming the environment.
Do you work in a specific department – if yes, is there a mix of speciality staff?
I manage all the technical departments and therefore a large mix of staff in different specialities e.g. skincare, haircare, suncare and household products like toilet cleaners and descalers. In the past, when I was involved in launching a new suncare range, I had to give talks to sales staff working on the shop floor about how our products work e.g. what SPF means.
What other departments/professions do you work with e.g. production, marketing, sales?
I have to work with all departments to a certain extent discussing technical issues. My main focus is research and development but I also have to work with production. I work quite closely with marketing to devise products. I have to tell them what we can and can’t do from a technical and legal point of view so they don’t promise or expect too much in terms of the ingredients we can use and what they can do. We also need to work with marketing to follow what fashion designers are doing and if purple is the colour of the season and the colour people are decorating their bathrooms in, we colour our products purple.
What made you choose your current job and why in the cosmetics industry?
I ended up in the Cosmetics industry by default. I grew up in Singapore and originally went to Australia to study to become a doctor but, after a traumatic car crash in my first year, I changed career path and came to the UK to study Chemistry.
After my degree, I worked as an Analytical Chemist in the cosmetics industry analysing competitors products to find out their formulations and how they worked. I would be asked to find out why competitors could make certain claims, or make a product so cheaply. That was quite interesting using experiments and knowledge to solve a puzzle but now the EU requires companies to list all the ingredients in a product on the back so the job doesn’t really exist anymore.
I went back to Singapore for a year to set up a research and development department over there but then came back and worked as a Formulation Chemist, which I loved as it is just like cooking - one of my hobbies. You change products by adding more or this or a bit of that - Development Chemists make good cooks!
I work for the company I’m in now because it employs 90% disabled people. My second daughter was born with a congenital blood defect that classes her as disabled and when I learned about this company, I thought I would like to join it because I could relate to disabled people.
What are the most exciting aspects of what you do?
Seeing the final launch of a product is the best part. When I walk into shops and see the product I’ve developed on the shelves, it’s a good feeling. In my last company we developed and manufactured products for a variety of hairdressers and spas, and when they launched, it was good to see them in shops and see people buying them.
When I worked as a Development Chemist thinking of these new products, I first considered the smell of the product and what it would look like on the shelf (the way it would be packaged) as these aspects are important to the consumer. So I start by considering these aspects, and then choose the other ingredients to complement the style of the product.
I also love running workshops with primary school pupils. They come in their last year of primary school and make shower gel and I tell them it’s like making a cake. You start with the basic ingredients of flour, butter, eggs and sugar to make your sponge cake and then you add extra ingredients to change its flavour, texture and colour e.g. you might add chocolate and nuts. With a shower gel, you start with detergent, water, preservative and then you can add colour, fragrance, skin conditioners, vitamins and things to make it look, feel and smell more interesting. They love the practical and write in saying how much they enjoyed making and using the shower gel, and how they can’t wait to study science at secondary school. I think it’s great to encourage them to study chemistry because it’s such a fascinating subject and fewer people these days are studying it. As more production is moving to China and other countries out of the UK, we need to concentrate on being innovative with new products and that means we need people who really understand the science of the products.
Is there anything you don’t really enjoy in your day-to-day work?
I get frustrated when things don’t work, when you try new ideas and it doesn’t pay off. Sometimes I also hate the red tape of legislation we have to deal with.
Are there any specific skills that are essential to have in the job you do?
In the past we only employed graduates with degrees but now you can study degrees on day release. I did a second degree whilst I was working and I think this is better because you get the best of both worlds; you get an education and you get to apply your learning immediately at work. I am encouraging our company to employ people with A-levels who then do a degree or a diploma with the Society of Cosmetic Scientists, which can be done by distance learning.
Could someone come into your job straight from school? What skills/qualifications would they need?
If someone came to work with A-levels they should have studied Chemistry, Biology and Maths. They should have the ability to listen and learn quickly and be adaptable to the working environment. We once had a person with a PhD who insisted he knew how to operate a machine in the lab but he didn’t, and was too proud to accept help from the girl on the Youth Training Scheme who actually knew the machine inside out. I made him apologise to the girl and I think he learned that although you can know the theory, it doesn’t mean you know the practical aspects of doing a job. People need to understand that they will always have to learn new skills in a job.
Did you receive any special training either before or during your first year of working in your current role?
I have to do a lot of presentations and have been trained in this. I have to keep up to date with new technologies and I’ve also learned how to follow the fashion industry with our products in terms of providing popular colours, scents and packaging.
Did your previous job prepare you for this one?
Yes they all did, although I did not enjoy my last job as a technical manager. The company went through some difficult times and I had to work hard to turn the reputation of the company round by reformulating products to win back consumer confidence. Although I didn’t enjoy it, I am glad I did that job as I learnt a lot that prepared me for the job I’m doing now.
Is there anything you wished you had studied or done differently when you were younger?
In some ways I wish I’d continued studying medicine after my accident at university as I see my brother who now works as a successful doctor in Singapore and he has a lot of job satisfaction helping people feel better. But if I hadn’t come to the UK, I would never have met my wife so I think maybe it all happened for a reason and I don’t regret my choice.
At school what did you think you would do for a living? For instance, did you envisage your sciences being used in the cosmetics industry?
As the first son in the family, I was expected to become a doctor and at school I always thought I would be, but in university I rebelled a bit and ended up in the car accident which then meant I did Chemistry. But even during my Chemistry degree I didn’t expect I would work in this industry.
What subjects are you glad you studied? Were there any that were not immediately obvious as useful to your career but now are proving helpful, e.g. languages?
When I was doing my A-levels and expecting to become a doctor I knew I would need Biology but wasn’t so sure why I needed Chemistry or Physics and I did Maths and Further Maths but didn’t see the benefit of Maths. However I’m glad I did double Maths – I find it so useful.
With your skills and qualifications, what do you hope to achieve next in your career?
In the past I was very ambitious and always wanted to be top in my field but when my second child was born disabled, it made me reassess everything and now I‘m a lot less materialistic and ambitious. I just want to spend more time with my daughter and want to give more back to society, use my experience to help people.