Common-sense management style
In this excerpt, Gillings describes how the British educational system, with its emphasis on creativity, prepared him for success in business. He seems to have learned some common sense as well—he relied on his instincts to guide Quintiles in its early stages and made the company profitable. He shares something of a management philosophy: management is a question of identifying problems and fixing them.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Dennis Gillings, June 10, 1999. Interview I-0072. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
I'm wondering two things. One, whether or not the discoveries you made and encountering all these things that were suddenly on your plate, how that matched up against the perspectives you'd carried forward both as somebody who came over from England and somebody who'd worked in the academy -- that sort of academic consideration versus practical. And also--. Well, let me just leave that with you.
DG: I actually think an education in England has some advantages because there's a tendency to rely on a little more creativity in the earlier school years than rote [learning] -- turning back the answers to individual questions [to the teacher]. I have noticed that as a big difference in my own education to what I see practiced here. We didn't have too many multiple-choice tests. In fact, I rarely took any the whole time I was at school. The normal sort of test I would take, you'd study something for three months and then you'd end up with a question that would ask you to amalgamate everything you'd learned about that particular topic. So I was much more used to that method. I do think when you are really exposed to that -- if you succeed well in the educational system -- you develop a certain common sense and a certain way of figuring out how to proceed with things. I would put that [describe that] as to then how I dealt with anything. I don't know. Let's take legal issues. I tend to address [problems] in the early stages [of] legal issues by asking myself, “What sounds right and what sounds wrong?” I think laws are trying to generally get at a common sense good and evil, appropriate and inappropriate. I remember writing up my first contract and I think I did a pretty good job. It just seemed that in a contract there are certain things that you need to specify. I felt that was common sense. As we began writing more and more contracts, then I began to recruit the talents of a lawyer, but I did notice that they didn't change the structure that I'd put on it much. They just added more words.
JM: Any sense at the time that there were areas of the law -- areas of the state's tax or fiscal policies -- that were problematic for you as you tried to move your business forward?
DG: Not really. I think we were fortunate that I founded a business that was profitable from day one. The accounting issues seemed to me to be pretty straightforward. Since you make more money than you spend, there is some bottom line. You have some flexibility about whether you’re [doing] accrual accounting or cash accounting in the early stages. That I was not aware of, but of course Rachel advised [me on] what the most appropriate tax approach to that was. So on those technical things, I always followed the advice [of experts]. Management issues I felt were reasonably straightforward, because I think good management really is, again, identifying the components of any problem and making sure each one is covered and followed up. Now with respect to Human Resources, I think because there's a lot of laws about how you pay people with pensions and fringe benefits and all the things associated with that, that as the company grew larger -- and as we began to bring in health insurance and sort of pension related benefits and things like that -- we did need advice on how to bring that in to the structure of the company. We recruited a Human Resources person reasonably early on, about 1988 or '89. We put someone actually in charge of Human Resources. That made the development of that area pretty straightforward.