Robert John Coldreck started his second career at 59, after he retired from Switzerlandbased Novartis in 2008 in the US and moved to Suzhou.
Shanghai Daily sat down with him in his office at Wuxi Apptec’s research facility in Wuzhong Technology Park.
His initial dealings with the New York-listed Chinese contract research and manufacturing company dated back to 2005 when it was one of Novartis’ contract research organizations.
Coldreck was the head of Novartis’ quality assurance department for North America and China at the time.
“I visited Beijing and Shanghai in my first visit and I fell in love with China within a week,” Coldreck said, recalling his first impression of China.
During his frequent visits to Wuxi Apptec, he also familiarized himself with the Chinese company’s staff as well as chairman Li Ge.
“I knew the company well and also the management team has been very supportive of the work here in
Suzhou, and we also share the same belief in high quality,” he said.
He was presented with the opportunity to join Wuxi Apptec when he retired from Novartis in 2008.
“I saw it as a very good chance to have some sort of new career in a new location and so I decided to come to China.”
Coldreck first settled in Shanghai and commuted to Suzhou, but finally moved to Suzhou in 2009 when his responsibilities increased. The Suzhou facility was in the final stages of construction when Coldreck started in 2008. After that, he helped make sure it complied with Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) regulations since contract research and manufacturing of biopharmaceutical and medical instruments are highly regulated around the world.
“We started with the training of new staff and that went well and we set up the facilities along with the standard operating procedures,” Coldreck said.
“The staff was wonderful to work with and they really want to do well, so we have a nice experience working together.”
There were slight obstacles and issues here and there but Coldreck managed to solve the problems due to his previous experience with similar processes.
“I helped Novartis with Good Laboratory Practice operations in the early 80s when the regulations were new in the US and some of the experience
I had here with new regulations and new processes are similar to what I had back then, because we were starting from scratch in Suzhou,” he said.
“Bringing new people on board was challenging but also fun.”
Language not a big challenge Now that Wuxi Apptec’s facility is up and running, Coldreck’s job isn’t nearly as hectic.
He lives in Suzhou Industrial Park, about a 45-minute drive from Wuxi Apptec’s facility.
He often gets to work early to make sure everything is in good working condition.
After work, he sometimes eats out and goes to the gym.
Asked about any difficulties or struggles of living here, Coldreck said the biggest issue is language. But thanks to friends and colleagues, he said he manages to get around.
“Business here is basically conducted in English so it’s not a problem and although I tried to learn a little bit of Chinese through a computer system, I finally gave up as I really didn’t have the time to really focus on that.”
Coldreck got a Chinese driver’s license in 2010 and has been exploring Suzhou.
Now he drives to Shanghai about twice a month to meet former colleagues.
“Language is not a very big challenge since in Shanghai it’s easy to get around as a foreigner, the subway system and the highway is easier for drivers.”
In recent years, Suzhou has also been updating its public transportation system. Although Coldreck doesn’t take the Metro for his daily commute, he does use it on his days off or when he needs to go downtown.
“I’ve witnessed the expansion of Suzhou’s subway system — one of the biggest changes I’ve seen here — and it offers a convenient way for everyone to get around."
“It probably will be as good as the Shanghai subway system,” he said.
Coldreck obtained a foreign expert’s license in 2010.
He also encouraged one of his former colleagues to join the Chinese company.
“I met him at the end of last year and talked about the opportunity of working here and he finally accepted the offer,” Coldreck told Shanghai Daily.
“I always tell my friends it’s a good place to live and to work and overall
I’ve managed to have six years without having any major problems,” he said.
In recent years, Suzhou has also been offering a variety of after-work activities, making the community more attractive to expatriates, who value entertainment options.
Near the Suzhou Industrial Park area, a lot of restaurants are starting to offer bilingual service.
“I’ve seen a great change in the past three years,” he said.
Coldreck also visited a number of scenic spots in Suzhou including Tigerm Hill and most of the gardens and museums during his leisure time.
“I like to see the different architectural styles and contrast between the old streets and houses and the modern city,” he said.
He’s enjoying the newest part of his career and said he’s in the process of applying for a Chinese green card.
“Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll get my green card so it will be more convenient to continue working here as a foreign expert.”
Coldreck laughed when asked about his future plans.
“I’ve been told someone has called me the pioneer of GLP facilities in China and I certainly won’t hesitate to help another company build a new research and manufacturing facility all over again,” said Coldreck.
“I saw it as a very good chance to have some sort of new career in a new location and so I decided to come to China.
Robert John Coldreck