Faces of Science

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Faces of Science
Meet the Faces

Meet the Faces

Photo of Chris Flower



What is your job title and what are the main characteristics of your day-to-day work?

I am the Director-General of the CTPA. Each day is different – my main role is dealing with the strategy of the industry’s trade association in protecting the industry’s licence to operate. The products of the cosmetics industry are comprehensively regulated under the European Cosmetics Directive, which is implemented in the UK by The Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations. These laws are primarily to ensure consumer safety but actually control everything to do with the manufacture, labelling, sale and distribution of cosmetic products. In addition, self-regulation through guidelines and best practices have ensured the consumer gets safe, effective and high quality products. It is the manufacturer who carries the ultimate responsibility to make sure a product is safe – that responsibility is not handed over to a regulatory body.

In addition, I am also the ‘public voice’ of the Association and therefore the UK cosmetics industry.

What area of science (if any) do you use in your current job?

I trained as a Chartered Biologist and specialised in toxicology. Although I do not carry out product or ingredient evaluations for safety myself, the training has proven of great value in explaining to people why apparently hazardous substances can be used safely when one determines there is no risk to the user of the product. There are many such examples, but I’ll pick one from everyday life: acetic acid is highly corrosive in its neat or undiluted form yet we happily and safely consume it diluted in the form of vinegar both as a condiment and a preserver of foods.

"The formal training that goes into studying leads to people who are able to sift through complex information easily, assemble ideas in their mind and decide actions."

Do you work in a specific department – if yes, is there a mix of speciality staff?

I run the Association but rely very much on other people’s expertise. We have people with degrees in microbiology, chemistry, chemical engineering, pharmacy, music and law as well as undergraduate training in other areas too; a very wide mixture of skills. The formal training that goes into studying these subjects leads to people who are able to sift through complex information easily, assemble ideas in their mind and decide actions and, very importantly, to be self-motivated achievers.

We need to deal with the details of regulations and communicate consequences for member companies on a practical level. It requires assimilating factual information and attention to detail.

What other departments/professions do you work with e.g. production, marketing, sales?

"The challenge is to communicate complex science in such a way that journalists and non-specialists can understand."

We now work a lot with communication professionals in addition to the extensive contacts we have in regulatory, manufacturing and technical departments in member companies. We are frequently communicating to the wider public, especially about some of the scare stories that appear in the media, through the Association's website www.ctpa.org.uk The challenge is to communicate complex science in such a way that journalists and non-specialists can understand both the issue and our position.

We also try to contact academic researchers to find the basis of the stories sometimes appearing in the press as the facts underlying research can be less dramatic than some headlines might suggest.

What made you choose your current job and why in the cosmetics industry?

When I left school I joined a major consumer healthcare company researching the benefits of fluoride in toothpastes. Every two or three years I changed departments and responsibilities within this company gaining a wide experience of research and development in many multi-functional teams. Ten years ago I joined the CTPA; a very much smaller company. We have approximately 200 member companies, each with their own problems and issues. Our role is to help these members understand what they need to do from the regulatory and best practice point of view to be consistent with industry standards. It can be challenging because the timelines may be short and the stakes high, affecting the business of the company. However, this is a key area of expertise – to be their emergency service, if you like.

What are the most exciting aspects of what you do?

"Improved self-esteem has a significant knock-on effect for the individual, making them more confident and able to perform better in their jobs and in society."

The feeling that you’re making a difference both for individual members and for the industry as a whole. For example, CTPA has been carrying out research on how cosmetics and toiletries help people feel better about themselves and raise their self-esteem. Improved self-esteem has a significant knock-on effect for the individual, making them more confident and able to perform better in their jobs and in society. This positive contribution to society from the cosmetics industry has not previously been documented but has been well-received by regulatory authorities, politicians, academics and other key stakeholders.

Contributing to the European level discussions regarding the cosmetics industry is also very exciting, though demanding. Increasingly, the global marketplace requires global solutions to problems and not local fixes.

Is there anything you don’t really enjoy in your day-to-day work?

Not really. Of course, there is never enough time to do everything I’d like to, but I have a team that happily accepts increasing individual responsibility for managing their own areas of expertise. For example, we have no secretaries in the secretariat; instead , each person has significant projects of their own to manage and this empowerment really pays off in terms of commitment.

Are there any specific skills that are essential to have in the job you do?

Broad shoulders and a sense of humour! You can’t take things personally as sometimes there are huge issues at stake and no matter how hard you try, you know you can only contribute to the solution rather than fix the problem .

You need to see arguments from both sides before deciding on an appropriate course of action, consulting experts within and outside the industry as necessary. I am always pleased to see how frequently many experts will give their time to help us and consequently support the credibility of the CTPA.

"You need to be comfortable discussing issues with the media one moment, with scientific experts the next and then regulatory officials too."

Could someone come into your job straight from school? What skills/qualifications would they need?

This is not a job that could be done by someone who had not spent many years working with groups of people in some capacity and, I believe, who did not have some sort of a technical background, although that could be interpreted very widely. You could be a lawyer or a musician but you do need to have acquired appropriate experience.

Each person would bring something different to the job of course as it is not a job that is easily defined. Nowadays you need to be comfortable discussing issues with the media one moment, with scientific experts the next and then regulatory officials too. I have appeared on television and radio as well as in print presenting the industry position.

Did you receive any special training either before or during your first year of working in your current role?

When I began my role as Director-General, I was fortunate to have the full support and backing of an enthusiastic Chairman and Executive Committee as well as the Board of Directors. Collectively, that represents a great wealth of knowledge and experience that I could count upon. That support has continued ever since.

As the role has become more public-facing, I needed some training to understand how the media functions, how best to perform in front of a camera and even advice on appropriate shirt and tie patterns to avoid peculiar effects on TV screens.

Did your previous job prepare you for this one?

To some extent I think it did because in my previous company I was used to gathering information, presenting and arguing cases, running projects, taking important decisions and being accountable for my actions. After six years at CTPA as Head of Toxicology and then Director of Science, I had gained those other dimensions concerning the European and international regulatory and business issues that contributed to my appointment as Director-General.

Is there anything you wished you had studied or done differently when you were younger?

I sometimes think a better understanding of the law would be beneficial.

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?

I remember that biology was, to me, a fascinating science. It all seemed so real and relevant. But I was not then aware of the vast scope of job opportunities there were for biologists. I was fortunate in seeing a job that coupled biological research with the opportunity to continue training for higher qualifications. At that time, I did not think of myself as being in the cosmetics industry so much as doing biologically based research.

My employer invested heavily: there was five years’ studying to qualify as a Chartered Biologist; there was a further six years’ studying to gain my PhD; and later another full-time year when my job was to be a mature student and gain an MSc in toxicology. That year was truly fascinating – I was exposed to so much new and leading edge knowledge delivered by real experts in their subjects that each new day was eagerly awaited and each lecture debated and discussed by us students during the breaks.

After this I spent six months in the pharmaceutical side of the business as a ‘fly on the wall’ to learn more about their operation and the typical 12-year, £200 million process to develop a new pharmaceutical product. The vital importance of detailed, long-term planning and keeping to strict deadlines was dramatically demonstrated when multi-million pound projects could be cancelled almost before they had begun if the planning slipped by the smallest amount.

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?

Apart from the sciences, I am glad I paid some attention to both English and mathematics. The one helps me to understand the fact that science is not black and white and the other helps in presenting information to different audiences, particularly when English is not the first language of that audience.

But to be able to speak more than a few basic words in French or any other modern European language should be encouraged.

With your skills and qualifications, what do you hope to achieve next in your career?

If I had a dream, it would be for the politicians to truly act on the burden of red tape that so strangles enterprise in the UK. In practice, it would be for the regulatory authority to say “We have looked at this issue and no new regulation is needed.” In the meantime, I shall continue to promote the benefits of cosmetics, that is to say all personal care products, so that they are recognised as important in the daily lives of each of us.

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