Sunderland graduate Neil McFarlane, Senior Vice President for Quality, Health, Safety and Environment at Firmenich

Neil McFarlane

BSc Environmental Studies 1984

MSc. Ecology 1989

PG Certificate Management 1993

Neil McFarlane is Senior Vice President for Quality, Health, Safety and Environment at Firmenich, which is the world largest privately-owned fragrance & flavour company, creating fragrances and flavours for the world's most desirable brands. Neil studied a BSc in Environmental Studies in 1984, MSc. Ecology in 1989 and a Postgraduate Certificate in Management in 1993.

When asked why he studied at Sunderland Neil replied, ‘It is a long time ago now, but as you can see from my resume, I came back for more after my first degree! What I do remember is being very resolute regarding what I wanted to study – Environment – and at that time there were not many options available and I knew that the Polytechnic had a great reputation for Environmental Studies.

We also asked about the biggest influence for Neil in his time studying at Sunderland, ‘My final year dissertation supervisor, Dr John A. Cooke, who was also one of my tutors on the Environmental Studies course. He inspired me to go further with my passion for the environment and study for the MSc. Ecology at Sunderland. Neil studied part-time, as by then he had started to work for Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council as an Environmental Health Technician. Neil’s passion for the field did not diminish as he managed to secure a position that included ‘Environment’ in his first job title, something that has stayed with him ever since.

Shedding light on how he developed his career Neil told us, ‘It was at this point I developed an interest in occupational safety and health and began studying for my professional qualifications whilst working for the Council as a Trainee Safety Advisor. This ignited my passion for safety. So, making the link with my environmental background soon opened up new opportunities which took me into the world of business and manufacturing with positions at International Paint, Courtaulds, Akzo Nobel and ICI, all of which gave me the experience of international travel’.

Neil’s current role at Firmenich has enabled him to continue to work in an environmental field, Neil told us about his current responsibilities at Firmenich, ‘As a family-owned company, sustainability is in our DNA: and a cornerstone value is that nothing is more important than keeping our colleagues and partners safe as well as preserving the planet for the generations to come. As the Head of Quality, Health, Safety and Environment, I provide the leadership to reach safety excellence, meet the highest quality standards for our products, and ensure we operate to the highest environmental standards. This is my personal leadership purpose and I am proud to work for a company with aligned values.’

Neil has continued to excel during his career, we asked what his greatest achievement to date was.

‘I have three achievements that I am extremely proud of:

Firstly, it is our duty is to ensure that every single colleague and partner goes home safely to their families, every single day. In 2012, Firmenich were recognised for our efforts as the proud recipients of the International Robert W. Campbell Award for Excellence in Environment, Safety and Health, the highest and most prestigious safety award any organization can achieve globally.

Secondly, in 2017 I was personally presented with the inaugural Firmenich CEO Award for my leadership in Quality Health, Safety and Environment.

Thirdly, Firmenich was ranked by CDP as a world leader in environmental management, one of only two companies to achieve CDP triple “A” status for climate change, water security and forests management. This extraordinary distinction epitomizes Firmenich’s commitment to conducting its business responsibly, with ambitious environmental goals embedded in its strategy.’

Speaking about his greatest challenge to date, Neil told us, ‘I lead Quality, Health and Safety, and Environment teams around the world, and daily our people face business-and operational critical issues and priorities. One of my biggest challenges is to build, motivate and develop teams who can excel in supporting the business and who can not only tackle the unexpected but constantly design cutting edge solutions, – and more importantly – proactively address potential and real issues.’

We asked Neil what advice he would give to recent graduates, ‘Young graduates need to take risks, be bold and challenge themselves, but never compromise their values. Find your purpose and constantly work to refine this. They need to own and manage their careers and seek out those who will support and mentor them for success. Before taking any position, I have always asked to meet the CEO, to assure myself that employee health and safety, and environmental protection were really a priority for the company – and aligned with my own core values and purpose. This has never failed me.’

Finally we asked about Neil’s future plans, ‘Firmenich’s ultimate goal is to become carbon neutral and we have recently publicly committed to support The EU net zero carbon target for 2050. Ensuring that everyone goes home safely is always top of my agenda alongside delivering our current 2020 environmental goals and ensuring that we deliver the highest quality, safe products for our customers.’

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