“The Wellcome Sanger Institute is an extraordinary place to work”

Last issue, our Profile focused on Jo Jones, Executive PA Awards winner of the UK PA of the Year category – this time we’re finding why her boss, Professor Sir Mike Stratton, director at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, secured the Executive PA Awards UK Boss of the Year accolade.

Tell us a little about yourself – and your accolades…
My primary research interests have been in the genetics of cancer and my early research focused on inherited susceptibility.
In 2013 I was recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours as I successfully mapped and identified the major high-risk breast cancer susceptibility gene BRCA2 and, subsequently, a series of moderate-risk breast cancer and other cancer susceptibility genes.
Then, Jo nominated me for Boss of the Year – she was so confident I was going to win that she cleared a space on my shelf for the award before we’d even gone to the ceremony. That night the whole team were involved and very supportive – we had a wonderful evening, topped off, of course, with me winning. The award now sits proudly in the centre of my shelf.

What makes your company different?
The Wellcome Sanger Institute is an extraordinary place to work. The science that our guys produce makes me feel very privileged to be here and to play a small part in it.

What is the working environment like at Sanger?
Our environment is quite unique – based on a massive parkland site, you really have everything at your disposal. As well as the important laboratories, we have a number of cafes, a restaurant, a dry cleaner, an ATM, a gym, showers, changing rooms and bedrooms. We’re also very proud of the man-made wetlands nature reserve, which is an area of natural beauty; hosting a diverse range of flora and fauna and managed by staff volunteers.

Tell us about Sanger Day…
Sanger Day is an event for the whole Institute where I reflect on the year gone by and the team gets to hear from various members of the organisation about a particular project or piece of science they’ve been working on.
Then everyone comes back to my house for food – the whole team is allocated a course to prepare and bring but I’m usually responsible for the main course. It’s a lovely way to round off Sanger Day and enjoy a few well-earned glasses of wine with the team.

What other ways do you show appreciation for staff?
Each year I give staff the afternoon off to sit back and enjoy the Sanger summer barbecue. Various garden games, including football and frisbee, are played and the highlight is the raffle, with lots of great prizes donated from suppliers – this can range from the coveted Sanger branded bag to an iMAC. I also provide some treats for the team after my family holiday, and at Christmas time. There are perks and benefits too – a pension scheme, private healthcare, life assurance, childcare vouchers, a children’s summer holiday club, dental and eye care schemes, and the cycle to work scheme, which offers an interest-free loan to purchase a bicycle.
We also have social events, from on-site cinema evenings to coach excursions. And, on ‘pay day Friday,’ there are drinks and nibbles for staff in the afternoon.

How supportive are you towards wellbeing?
I’m committed to everyone’s health and wellbeing and Sanger has a range of activities, workshops, support groups and leaflets. We promote outdoor meetings, lunchtime walks, volunteering for on-site conservation activities (we have a man-made wetland on-site), eating healthily and sleeping well. And we boast a 24-hour gym and multiple exercise classes, including Jazzercise, yoga and circuit training. In relation, employees are offered flexible working, remote working and the opportunity to get involved in volunteering schemes which enhances the work/life balance.

What is the CSR like within the company?
We were given the Athena Swan bronze award in 2014, which is a Charter to advance women’s careers in STEMM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine). It celebrates good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in those subject areas within academia. And, on-site, we have a variety of environmental- related projects, including plastic and metals recycling, biodegradable waste, and limited paper usage.
We have a ‘green’ travel policy and operate a number of free bus services for our staff. Once a month, we offer Dr Bike; which is a free bicyle servicing facility (and free breakfast!) for all those who cycle to work. There’s a car sharing scheme, too, aiming to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles that attend our site.

Finally, what qualities do you look for in an assistant?
A ‘can do’ attitude, complete discretion, the ability to offer me and others high-level counsel and, most importantly, trust. They should have a complete understanding of the organisation’s core business and working processes, whilst being curious about the business and all the people in it. Finally, an assistant must be approachable, resilient, and have accountability.

About Sir Mike Stratton
Sir Mike Stratton, one of the most respected leaders in his field, trained in medicine and specialised in histopathology (changes in tissues caused by disease). He since focused his research on the genetics of cancer and says: “We only know the causes of about half of cancer cases. The rest are a mystery. We know that some cancers are more common in some parts of the world than others but we don’t know why. By looking deep into the DNA of cancers from five continents my team wants to understand what the differences are in these places and, hopefully, identify new and preventable causes.”


About Wellcome Sanger Institute
The Sanger Institute works on genomics (the study of DNA, genes and their functions) and is one of the premier centres of genomic discovery and understanding in the world. The team uses clever technologies to advance understanding of the biology of humans and pathogens to improve human health – through sequencing, analysing and interpreting DNA, they’re beginning to transform how human health and wellbeing is understood. It took ten years of international collaboration to read the first human genome and 30 per cent of this was done at the Sanger Institute. Now, the team can read 417 genomes every day. Each human genome is three billion letters of DNA code, so Sanger has truly immense amounts of data in its 1,000 square metre data centre.