Alan Levy, ISPE ISPE Member of the YearFor someone who did not originally plan to work in the pharmaceutical industry, Alan Levy, 2015 ISPE Member of the Year, has had a remarkable career. “Pharmaceuticals weren’t my original intent,” he told Pharmaceutical Engineering® Magazine. “Growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, with a chemist for a father, I knew early on I wanted to be a chemical engineer, but I expected it would be process engineering in some heavy industrial setting.”

With a Chapter of over 1,000 members, we needed ways to enhance our service offerings

Alan actually did process engineering as a co-op for BASF during college at the University of Missouri–Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology), where he graduated in 2000 with a BS degree in chemical engineering. After college, he and his wife moved to Philadelphia when he landed a production engineering position for Johnson-Matthey, making catalytic converters for the automotive industry. “We ran the production lines; it was labor-intensive and messy,” Levy recalled, “and I learned that I didn’t really enjoy production work.” To further his career, he took a design engineering position with Javan & Walter (now Javan Engineering) in their industrial group. “The first day on the job, they did not have an industrial project for me, so they asked me to help with pressure relief devices for Merck. I’ve been in pharmaceuticals ever since!”

Shortly after-ward he had the opportunity to work with several groups at Merck’s West Point, Pennsylvania, site in roles ranging from maintenance and operations to reliability engineering to a site-wide HVAC retro-validation initiative. “I loved my years working with Merck, but to keep growing my career, I decided to go back to the office and pursue project management for engineering and design,” he said. As a project manager for Javan, Levy took on increasingly complicated projects, developing a solid reputation in facility and utility renovation designs, engineering studies, and qualification for the pharmaceutical industry. He was Javan’s youngest employee of the year in 2008, and earned a master’s certificate in applied project management from Villanova University in 2009.

One of his most complicated projects was designing a replacement steam-distribution system for a pharmaceutical site whose existing buried pipes were rapidly corroding. “There was a mile of pipe in both directions—literally,” he said. Levy’s team was asked to change the buried system into an above-ground, over-roof system. “We had to develop innovative solutions for isolating and controlling multiple feet of thermal expansion, vibration, wind and ice loads, and many other variables that were different for every support on buildings with different styles of roof construction. It was truly challenging,” he said. “My structural engineers told me it was more difficult than designing a skyscraper!”

In 2013, Levy received the honor of being named Delaware Valley Young Engineer of the Year by the Engineering Club of Philadelphia, for excellence across professional experience, professional society experience, education, and charitable service. The following year, he joined Mace North America as Senior Program Manager over engineering, design, and sustainability governance; shortly thereafter, taking a role as interim global lead for GlaxoSmithKline’s Worldwide Real Estate and Facilities Sustainability group. He is currently the Global Lead of Sustainability for GSK’s R&D “Places” Program, which is consolidating and reinvigorating GSK’s R&D campuses.

Alan joined ISPE’s Delaware Valley Chapter in 2004. “My boss thought that going to a Chapter meeting would be a good thing,” he recalled. He became increasingly involved in the organization, and joined the membership committee in 2006. Two years later he was named the committee Co-Chair, then became Chair the following year. “I would’ve stayed on membership longer,” he said, “but the incoming president had other ideas.”

Levy’s next role was as Chair of the Education Committee. “I was asked to integrate our education offerings,” he said. “We went from having one very large conference per year to monthly or bimonthly evening classes covering different topics. It was the start of the recession in 2008, and member companies were not supporting large conferences, so we needed to find new ways to bring value to our members and generate revenue for the Chapter. This change allowed us to drop event prices while reaching more people and providing more depth of content. Thankfully it took off, and it’s still doing well 7 years later.” Levy is particularly grateful to GSK and ISPE Board of Directors Member Tom Hartman for hosting these events. “The monthly classes would not have been possible without their support in providing us a home.”

After 3 years as Vice President of the Education Committee, Levy became Secretary, then Executive Vice President, and finally President of the Delaware Valley Chapter in 2014. During his term, the Chapter experienced its most profitable year since 2008, and hosted its largest Vendor Expo to that point. While serving as President, Levy also chaired the 2015 ISPE Annual Meeting Social Events Committee.

Levy took on increasingly complicated projects, developing a solid reputation in facility and utility renovation designs, engineering studies, and qualification for the pharmaceutical industry

“I started coming up with ideas once I learned the Annual Meeting would be in Philly,” he explained. “I wanted to welcome our colleagues from all over the world, and show them what makes Philadelphia special.” This led to three facility tours (AstraZeneca, Morphotek, and Merck–West Point) that included elements of American history, stopping at Longwood Gardens, Valley Forge, and a local craft brewery. He also helped develop the “Taste of Philly” concept for the Annual Meeting Party. “We all thought the party in Las Vegas was going to be impossible to beat, so rather than trying to one-up it, we came up with something completely unique to Philly.”

He had some serious help in this massive undertaking. “ISPE has given me a lot of amazing industry colleagues,” he said, “and I chose my team for their specific talents and connections. In addition to the never-ending support and dedication from ISPE’s staff and leadership, we built a local team to develop logistics and timing, buses, site permissions for each of the tours, tour content, sponsorships, and marketing strategy. He further acknowledged, “None of this would have been possible without the support from Mace. Mace and my managers understood how important this was to me and allowed me the time and freedom to see it through.”

As Chapter President, Levy continued to challenge the Chapter’s educational paradigm. “Getting us to 4–6 sessions per year with around 50 people per session was great, but with a Chapter of over 1,000 members, we needed to keep looking for ways to enhance our service offerings.” To that end, Levy came up with the idea of virtual Communities of Practice (CoPs). “It’s built on the notion that ISPE already has thought leaders and subject matter experts across our industry, we just need a way to connect them to everybody. With a virtual system, any member can get whatever they need, whenever they need it, at any level of depth. When you have 50 people in a live session, they all have different levels of experience so you have to align content to the median. A virtual system provides for any level of depth and breadth from ‘What is GMP?’ to ‘How do I calculate NPSH to size a pump?’ That’s what we’re building.”

Alan Levy, Receiving Plaque for 2015 ISPE Member of the Year

Image credits: 2015 Board Chair Joseph Famulare (left) and Board Member Thomas Hartman (right)
presented Alan Levy (center) with his award, 2015 ISPE Member of the Year, at ISPE’s 2015 Annual Meeting.

Levy says the Chapter is looking at multiple categories: “Facilities, Biotech, C&Q—things like that.” Through the Chapter website, users will go to their CoP and choose from the different conversations they see. “Say I had an interesting experience and I wanted to tell people about it,” Levy said. “I go into my CoP and set up a meeting for anyone who wants to hear about it. It’s ad hoc, whatever the topic needs to be, whenever you want to have it. The infrastructure has been purchased and we’re currently recruiting SMEs to beta-test the system. We just need a few people to dedicate a bit of their free time to help us get it off the ground.”

A virtual system provides for any level of depth and breadth

Levy realized the virtual system could be used to reach university students as well. “We are working with Villanova University to develop a professional curriculum for students using our new web tools. Students will log into the class, where they can ask questions and take tests. Because it’s virtual it can be taught from anywhere with a good internet connection. We also want to accomplish a different professional curriculum for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Freshmen would learn things like the basics of project management and handling yourself professionally. For sophomores, we’d offer legal, finance, and business—things every engineer needs to know after college, taught by people who do it for a living.”

Building Bridges

Levy was honored with the Max Seales Yonker Member of the Year Award at the 2015 ISPE Annual Meeting Membership Breakfast. The award is bestowed annually on the ISPE Member who has made the most significant contribution to the Society during the past year. ISPE President and CEO John Bournas called Levy “one of ISPE’s greatest advocates.”

On the day of our conversation, he said he’d been at Drexel University the previous evening. “I talked to their biomedical engineering students, welcoming them into the industry and telling them about different paths to grow and succeed in their careers. But he doesn’t limit his outreach to students. At Drexel that same evening, he struck up a conversation with a cognitive design professor who was also talking to the biomedical students. “She was getting into GAMP and compliance for app-based medical devices,” he said. As they talked, “it became apparent that ISPE would be useful to her, even though she didn’t know we existed. I connected her with the Co-Chair of GAMP and probably recruited a new member in the process.”

During his time with the organization, Levy has also built collaborative relationships with other professional societies. “I firmly believe collaboration is a better model for us than competition,” he said. Levy started pursuing this philosophy after the recession in 2008 when most employees could only join one organization. “Being industry-centric,” he explained, “ISPE has a significant demographic overlap with many discipline-centric groups. Rather than fighting each other for members, we started informal local partnerships with these groups. We do collaborative events, co-promote each other, and attend events at member prices without being members. This creates better programming and encourages mutually higher attendance, which is better for all involved.” The Delaware Valley Chapter first allied with the International Society of Automation, and has since started collaborating with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

When asked about the benefit of ISPE membership, Levy says that while he is obviously enthusiastic about the educational and networking opportunities, for him the biggest value is friendship. “It’s so great. You get to know so many people who work in the same industry and have similar challenges that you do. You learn from them, they learn from you, and you end up with lifelong friends that you’d never have met without ISPE!”

By:  Amy R. Loerch
Publications Manager, Pharmaceutical Engineering® Magazine

Attend the Membership Breakfast at the 2016 ISPE Annual Meeting & Expo to see who will receive the honors of the 2016 ISPE Member of the Year.