Where Are You Now?

John Dawson

John Dawson

BSc Pharmacy 1970

After graduating from Sunderland Polytechnic in 1970, John Dawson went on to build a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. He founded a prescription medicines and consumer healthcare company, Alliance Pharma Plc in 1996, that commenced trading in 1998. 

John is proud to say that one of his biggest achievements to date has been founding Alliance Pharma with minimal resources and growing it over 20 years. John, who is now retired, turned Alliance Pharma Plc into an international company with sales exceeding £100m and a market cap of £0.5bn. 


The company, which commenced with two full-time employees in the UK, has now more than 200 employers, operating out of ten offices in nine countries. 

John explained: “Following graduation in Pharmacy in 1970, I pursued a progressive career in the pharma industry at Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz, both now Novartis. This encompassed roles in technical, production, distribution, sales and marketing, planning and financial, and general managerial functions. 

In 1978 John decided to change the course of his career and took a couple of steps down the managerial ladder to go on the road as Medical Representative in order to move his career from Production and Operations to Sales and MarketingIn 1991 he was appointed Director of Finance and Administration with no formal qualification in finance, so he took a master’s in finance at London Business School from 1993 to 1997 

Asked about what attracted him to the University of Sunderland, John replied: “In the Upper Sixth, I decided to study Pharmacy after also considering Molecular Biology but wasn’t satisfied with the employment route. I looked at other universities, but Sunderland had a first-class reputation in Pharmacy and also I didn’t have the family financial support to live away from home, so I commuted into Sunderland from Newcastle. 

John remembers with fondness lecturer Ian Jones. He recalls: “In the third year a management studies module was started with Ian Jones arriving to run it. It was one of those subjects that made so much sense and one that I could just absorb without even trying to study. 

His advice for recent graduates entering the job market is to follow their strengths but be flexible at the same time. He advised: “You don’t always have to follow the well-trodden pathBe willing to leave your comfort zone. Pay attention to your personal presentation. Be enthusiastic. 

In 2019 John decided to radically do something different and joined the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race from September 2019 to July 2020.  This was interrupted in March 2020 when the fleet had to be left in the Philippines due to Covid-19 

Talking about his future plans, John concluded: “Firstly, finish the Clipper Race, whenever that happens (planned to be August 2021 to January 2022, but I have my doubts as the crews are international and vaccination status will be variable, plus host ports need to be open to visitors). After that, take stock! 

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