Angela Swanton: “People expect this to be a bloke’s job”
Angela is General Manager at one of Teva’s manufacturing plants in Irvine, California. She explains how she went from being an architect to running a huge plant, and why seeing friends can be a guilty – and expensive - pleasure.
People expect this to be a bloke’s job. My plant is about 500,000 square feet across a number of buildings and I look after almost 390 people. I recently talked to a guy at a dinner who works in the same area and he said ‘You run that place?’ There is a stereotype.
My advice to other women is don’t try to be someone else. I think women sometimes like to act as someone else because there’s a perception they should be a certain way. My advice would be to be yourself. Have the courage to do things without seeing any boundaries.
Every day I connect with my team. I will walk the plant to connect with people. Sometimes it’s going to their team meetings or just talk with people on the floor. I want to know what I can do for them.
I like to “make better days” for our colleagues. The Teva branding is used a lot in our plant and ‘making better days’ is a key part of that. I like to connect with the team and ask colleagues what they need. Just by having simple conversations I can learn a lot about where I should have an impact and what I should focus on.
My mentors said I would make a good site leader. I worked for Pfizer New Jersey, which started as a design and build-focused job but I transitioned to operations, such as plant reliability. Then I started putting steps in place to broaden my experience and go down the path to be a site leader.
People are the engine that drive the business. I took a position in Sweden to be the engineering leader at a manufacturing plant. In the plant there were people you could describe as sleeping, where they were just checking into work each day. I worked with an organizational psychologist because we wanted to awaken them and get them excited about their job. I worked with one utilities team leader who was tucked in the back corner of a plant. He used to play hockey professionally in the US and had a brilliant career, but he was not using his leadership skills. I shared the forward vision with him and got him to lead change. He got fired up and enjoyed the journey. When I left that plant he was my replacement.
I’m open to new experiences. After Sweden I then went on to a job in Supply Chain Management in Belgium to broaden my experience. I enjoy keeping on learning. I don’t think I understood the importance of ‘learning agility’ when I was young. These days I think kids of that age have a far better understanding that their careers are going to change a lot.
I’ve made some major shifts in my career, but they felt smooth at the time. The most significant move I made was my first move from Melbourne to Sydney in Australia - even though it was only an hour’s flight away - that was a line in the sand for my family, as I was leaving my home base. My Dad was full of encouragement, telling me to make the most of the opportunity.
Taking a break from work took courage. I stepped off the treadmill before I took my job at Teva. I’d not really considered the idea of taking a break to be an option open to me, but it was a great move.
I’m a contemporary architecture fan. My first degree was in architecture and I’m still very interested in it. When I look at houses I look for integrity in the style of the house, even if it’s kind of outdated.
Seeing my friends and family is my guilty pleasure. I enjoy yoga and paddle-boarding, and making time to see my friends and family even if that means getting on a plane to see them. I spend a fair bit of money going to see my mates.