GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Richmond

GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Richmond

Despite facing an unprecedented global pandemic, executives at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSK) were able to recruit 150 new employees for the company’s research and development center in Richmond.

In October 2019, the company announced Richmond as the site for one of GSK’s three research and development laboratory hubs for the company’s global business — and that GSK planned to invest $16.7 million in expansions at the facility and bring new jobs to the Commonwealth. The news came months after GSK finalized a transaction with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. to combine their two consumer healthcare businesses into the largest over-the-counter healthcare company in the world. Previously, the Richmond facility had served as the global research and development headquarters for Pfizer Consumer Healthcare. Richmond and Virginia officials, along with VEDP representatives, diligently competed with GSK Consumer Healthcare’s other domestic and international research and development network sites to land the project for Richmond.

Luckily, the state capital proved to be the best location for GSK. “Not only do Richmond and the Commonwealth provide access to great talent and great universities, but it’s also a business-friendly environment here, as well,” said Dr. Peter John Ramsey, vice president and head of GSK, Consumer Healthcare R&D, the Americas.

Today, GSK’s R&D complex on Sherwood Avenue in Richmond serves as a nucleus of innovation where scientists and engineers work to develop new products to add to GSK’s list of consumer healthcare brands, which includes household names like Robitussin, ChapStick, Advil, and Centrum. As Ramsey put it, “A lot of iconic brands for the world are developed here.”

Typically, the staff stays busy developing about a hundred new products at any one time, according to Todd Koch, a senior director and site lead for GSK Consumer Healthcare.

For GSK, success depends on hiring some of the brightest minds in science. “Great talent is what we need, and so recruiting for us becomes a very pivotal and critical activity,” said Ramsey.

GSK hiring managers look for professionals with an understanding of consumer healthcare trends and regulatory issues. “It’s important to have individuals who not only have a scientific and technical background, but individuals who understand the business,” Ramsey said.

The company is almost always looking to hire for three in-demand positions: formulation scientists, who conduct experiments to create new products and improve existing formulations; analytical chemists, who work in the labs studying various dose forms of products and troubleshooting manufacturing issues; and process engineers, who design processes for manufacturing products on a large scale.

“It’s been a challenge to fill some of those positions because there’s a low supply of those individuals, but, overall, we’ve been pretty successful with all three categories,” Koch said.

In a typical year, the R&D facility in Richmond would have a 4% vacancy rate, which means the company would need to hire around a dozen new employees. GSK’s plan to recruit 150 skilled employees was a significantly bigger endeavor, but Dana Allison, a human resources director for GSK, felt up to the challenge. “It was really very exciting to be in a growth mode and to be able to hire new scientists,” she said.


GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Richmond

Shortly after the announcement of the expansion at GSK’s Richmond facility, Allison met with specialists from VEDP’s Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative that offers world-class training and recruitment solutions that are fully customized to a company’s unique operations, equipment, standards, and culture. Together, they began work on a recruitment campaign.

“The team was so responsive,” Allison said. “And they deliver on their commitments. They do what they say they’re going to do.”

The first order of business was wooing scientists from a small GSK R&D laboratory in Warren, N.J., which was closing as part of the company’s restructuring plan. “To be able to bring expertise — not only their scientific expertise, but their background in GSK processes and culture — was very important to us,” Allison said.

We had to sell the city. It's not just about selling GSK as an employer of choice. It's about selling Richmond as a great city to live and work in.

Lucas Sakalem Digital Marketing Manager for Employer Branding and Recruitment, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare

The recruitment team knew it would be a challenge, though, to convince people to uproot their families and move several hours away.

“We had to sell the city,” said Lucas Sakalem, digital marketing manager for employer branding and recruitment at GSK. “It’s not just about selling GSK as an employer of choice. It’s about selling Richmond as a great city to live and work in.”

Lightning-quick, the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program’s video production services team partnered with Richmond officials to produce a sleek video showcasing the city’s quality of life. Allison was impressed by how quickly everything came together. “We were ready to go inside of a month with new videos, with packets that the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program team and the city of Richmond put together for our colleagues,” she said. “Everyone hopped on a plane and we were there.”

Allison set a goal for the trip: she hoped to convince two scientists to move to Richmond. When it was all said and done, 17 decided to make the move.

“I think we ended up securing about half of the group that was impacted,” Allison said. “So, we were over the moon.”

By March 2020, however, the recruitment team could see their job was about to get considerably tougher. That month, Virginia went under a stay-at-home order in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. “We knew that it was going to be an added challenge to convince people to relocate in the middle of such an unprecedented pandemic,” said Sakalem.

Even so, the team couldn’t put hiring on hold. Following the transaction with Pfizer, other GSK Consumer Healthcare R&D centers around the globe had closed. The Richmond facility needed to take on their work. “Waiting was not really an option,” Koch said. “So, we had to figure out how to solve the problem by doing it virtually.” Due to COVID-19 precautions, the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program’s video production services team could no longer shoot footage at the Richmond facility. Sakalem, though, still needed fresh content to post on LinkedIn about the job openings.

That data enabled us to do targeted recruitment, to target the types of skills and experience we needed. So, we had nice-sized talent pools. For harder-to-fill positions, the data helped us go to the right places to find skilled professionals.

Dana Allison Human Resources Director, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare

As a workaround, Virginia Talent Accelerator Program staff virtually coached GSK’s Richmond employees on how to create digital videos on their computers with high-quality sound and lighting. “We made a new round of videos from that,” Sakalem said.

The videos were part of a comprehensive suite of talent acquisition services provided by the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program. These services included extensive digital advertising based on detailed talent acquisition analytics.

The research guided Sakalem in how to approach his online marketing efforts as he worked to attract scientists and engineers to GSK. “We needed to understand our audience a little bit,” he said. “Where are they? Where do they work? What companies are they working for right now?”


GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Richmond

“That data enabled us to do targeted recruitment, to target the types of skills and experience we needed,” Allison said. “So, we had nice-sized talent pools. For harder-to-fill positions, the data helped us go to the right places to find skilled professionals.”

Knowing GSK’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, staff members from the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program secured a premium sponsorship for GSK with HBCU Connect, an organization that connects companies with students and alumni from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. That organization later hosted a webinar featuring GSK employees of color talking about their experiences at the company. “We connected with a number of candidates who have come out of great HBCUs who were interested in roles with GSK,” Ramsey said.

To help GSK assimilate all the new employees into the organization, the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program collaborated with the leadership team to develop a unique employee engagement program for the remote workforce.

After all, many of the new hires have had to work remotely due to the pandemic. “We have employees now who started working with us last year who’ve never been in the building,” said Koch.

As the country begins to return to normalcy after the pandemic, more GSK employees will transition back to working at the Sherwood Avenue facility. As they do, Ramsey wants them to understand the importance of building a collaborative environment. To support this, the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program team is poised to pivot to in-person training, which will equip new employees with skills that enhance collaboration while providing a shared experience that should prove invaluable for building relationships with their new colleagues.

“It’s going to be very important for us to maintain a culture of connectivity and that family feel,” Ramsey said, “and to continue to build it as we assimilate new colleagues who may not have been exposed to that in the past.”

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