Three questions, three answers: Youssouph Thiare
To set up the production of single-use bags for use in bioprocessing, Youssouph Thiare was planning to relocate from Aubagne, France, to Beijing, China. But the coronavirus pandemic interfered with his plans like it did with those of many others. Canceled flights and entry restrictions in China held him in France for months, while two production lines needed to be set up urgently. In this interview, he tells how he successfully launched these lines remotely together with his team and what is still to come in his professional and his personal life.
This article is posted on Sartorius Blog.
Youssouph, please tell us about your responsibilities and what motivated you to move to Beijing?
As Head of Bioprocess Operations for Consumables, my current job is to manage the manufacturing of single-use bags for our fluid management solutions and of separation technologies in Beijing. For the past six months, my focus has been particularly on establishing the production lines for bags. These products help our customers to achieve consistent cell growth in the production of biopharmaceuticals, such as gene therapies and vaccines, and are used for storage and shipping such biologics.
When Sartorius offered me the chance to move to Beijing for this position, I knew that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave my footprint – a great source of motivation.
China is an extremely important market for the biopharmaceutical industry. In recent years, many biopharmaceutical production facilities opened here to meet domestic demand. Accordingly, many of our customers operate here. Sartorius is also at home in this country in order to be close to our customer base. With production lines in China, we can increase our capacity and shorten lead times – ensuring the same product quality as in Europe. This way, we can reliably supply our customers with products and contribute to minimizing the time it takes for medical discoveries to reach the patient. The pandemic, more than anything, teaches us that, eventually, this will be the most important outcome we are working towards.
Before you could actually move to Beijing, however, the pandemic hit and you were stuck in France. What challenges did you face in your work and how did you cope with them?
With me in France and my team of 50 people total in China, we had to find our way by collaborating remotely in different time zones for six months. I worked at night with them and slept in the mornings – of course, that didn’t always work out because, at the same time, I was handling things with colleagues in France and Germany, too. In the afternoons, I spent time with my wife and my daughter. They provided great support during that phase, telling me it would only take some months until we could move to China together.
After setting up the production lines, one main question we had to solve was how educate and instruct the team. Usually, we would train them on site. As we could not do that, we created a video about the production lines and organized virtual training sessions for the team. That was a breakthrough, and the team could start producing our bags in a cleanroom environment.
However, besides confronting challenges owing to the pandemic, you are always faced with unexpected situations when setting up a new production line. For example, in the beginning, we sent a production machine to China. We carefully filled out the customs papers, thinking everything would work out easily. As it turned out, it did not. The machine was too big, and we spent two weeks explaining the machine to customs. These things happen. You cannot foresee them and need to find solutions at the moment itself.
In spite of all these circumstances, we made it: Two launches in three months. In July, we launched the production of STR bags and at the end of September the production of 3D Flexsafe bags. I’m really proud of what we have achieved together.
In October, you boarded a plane bound for Beijing – ending up in quarantine in Shanghai for two weeks without your luggage. Finally, however, you made it to Beijing. What’s next for you?
That was quite an experience – being stuck in quarantine. Now I’m glad everything worked out and look forward to finally visiting the site and talking to the people in person. On the business side, an exciting year lies ahead of us. We have three new lines coming and will utilize the knowledge we gained over the past months to speed up the process. In addition, we will expand the cleanroom in Beijing from 800 m2 to 1,800 m2 and will grow the team who manufactures single-use bags from 50 to 100 people.
Personally speaking, I am looking forward to having my family here with me. We had to reapply for their visas, and they are still in France. They will come to in China in January. My daughter will then start school here in Beijing, and my wife is eager to learn Chinese. We will live in Beijing for the next three years. After that, everything is open, and we will see what the future holds for us – in China or in France.
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