Traits of the Trade

Four key qualities of effective leaders

by Calvin London

I didn’t begin my career in quality, but I think it’s always been in my blood.

Sometimes a thankless task due to a lack of understanding, quality can be very rewarding when you experience a successful shift in an organization’s culture and production.

I believe that in today’s world of technology, commercial pressures, corruption and bribery, the hallmark of a successful quality professional is based on four things:

  1. Having determination.
  2. Having the passion to lead by example.
  3. Being motivational.
  4. Being a visionary.

There will always be a new system or process that changes the face of quality, but those are just tools of the trade. Like any tool, it is only as good as the person using it.


My determination was tested during my time spent pursuing my doctorate in microbiology. My scholarship was rescinded after my master’s thesis supervisor passed away and my first doctorate thesis supervisor fled to Spain after getting caught falsifying research data.

Through the experience, I realized that I no longer wanted to be an academic, but I persevered to obtain my doctorate and certification before moving into the world of pharmaceutical quality. That determination has stuck with me through today.


To me, the cornerstone of quality is that successful systems and quality goods and services are the result of employees who share a passion to do the right thing. Many times, these employees are inspired and led by a visionary quality leader.

Of course, those in the industry will attest that there will be some organizational resistance. It is about finding the "What is in it for me?" button.

Change is difficult, so it is easy to give up and hide behind the statement, "Well, at least I tried," without passion. The challenge for leaders is to convert their passion into a language that inspires others. After this is done, it is infectious.


Implementing a quality management system (QMS) is a challenge because it requires you to have a clear vision of the result before you start. I always prepare by mapping which system components are required, how they will interact and to what extent they need to be deployed; I call it a spider diagram.

I remember taking on the challenge of adapting an organization’s QMS to a process following the Australian Quality Awards criteria, which is similar to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality
Award criteria. This required taking a good manufacturing practice-style QMS and adapting it to a different set of
criteria focused on performance

We established a vision of how this modified system should look and went forward with passion and determination. Two years later, we received the Premier’s Award for Excellence and were a finalist in the Australian Quality Awards.


The final necessary trait of a successful quality practitioner is motivation. During my tenure as vice president of quality operations at a U.S. organization, I was challenged to create a culture of quality and address operations. Battered and bruised by historical compliance issues, the organization responded by severely cutting the workforce and instructing the remaining employees to rebuild the organization.

We developed the adage of, "If you are not on the train, stay at the station." During a party for each achievement milestone, every employee had a train ticket punched by senior management dressed as train employees. The response was amazing: People became enthused, invigorated and could see value in "this thing we call quality."

My parting words of wisdom are: "never ask anyone to do anything that you have not, or would not do," and "If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got."

Dare to be different, the new world demands it. Let people see your vision and enthusiasm so that they can take this as example and direction to be motivated to adopt new processes.

At the end of the day quality is nothing new. It is just a formal reflection of things that we do (or should do) in our everyday lives.

Calvin London is the senior director of healthcare and GxP compliance for Asia Pacific at Celgene in Melbourne, Australia. He holds a doctorate in microbiology from La Trober University in Bundoor, Australia. Calvin is a senior member of ASQ and specializes in quality systems and compliance.

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