Well, why not?
Dennis Lendrem thinks differently from most people. He takes accepted theories and approaches them from behind. Or upside down. Or even back to front. If accepted wisdom is that moving through development as quickly as possible is good, Dennis wonders what happens if we go slowly. If everyone believes that expected net present value is important, Dennis ponders what happens if it has zero validity.
‘Well, why not?’ would be Dennis’s answer. It’s not that he’s trying to be contrary. He just wants to see what would happen if…
On the surface, Dennis’s career manifests like a double helix – one strand of absolute truism of mathematics running parallel and eternally entwined with another of boundless possibilities that is innovation. But both strands ultimately lead to the same end point – problem solving.
I came to math through data. I guess I wasn’t that interested in math at school. I was interested in science. It wasn’t until I learned what powerful problem solving tools math brings to the table that I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this is really interesting!’ I guess I love solving problems.”
No surprise then that Dennis has spent most of his career working in research. The topics may change – genetics, oncology, pharmacology, rheumatology – but the problem solving tools are universal.
Add to this a keen interest in decision-making – especially decision-making in the face of uncertainty. Statistics, project planning, portfolio management – the markers in his career path – are all about decision-making.
I enjoy working with people to a defined end goal. And project management allows me to ride roughshod over traditional barriers.”
His time at Oxford was key, believes Dennis. “It was an exciting time to be in Oxford. Professors John Krebs and David McFarland steered me toward behavioural economics and economic decision-making. And Professor Richard “Selfish Gene” Dawkins taught me that it is not enough to have a good idea. It has to be translated into a communicable format.”
But in the early 80s a good idea alone wouldn’t pay the mortgage. “A career in academia was a bit like joining a monastery at the time of the dissolution – fraught with uncertainty. I turned to the dark side and moved into pharmaceuticals,” says Dennis with his usual wry humour.
And he never looked back – though he’s always had one or more other businesses simmering on the back burner, including being a partner in a fishing tackle company and a holiday properties business.
Following a nine-year stretch in IT, Statistics and then Project Planning at Sanofi-Aventis, Dennis took on his first consulting role. “I would go into a company and learn that they were doing things I’d been told were impossible by another the week before. I learned that ‘impossible’ means, ‘We haven’t thought of a way round this and so we prefer to believe it’s impossible.’ This puts you in a powerful position” says Dennis, “allowing you to challenge preconceptions about what is and is not possible. ‘Why not?’ is a powerful weapon.”
I love boundaries. I love the crunching, gravelly noise they make when I step over them.”
From there, Dennis moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals Trust firstly working in Data Management and then working in Trial Coordination – setting up clinical trials across the NE Region – before moving to Newcastle University. Currently, he works as a Project Manager at the Institute of Cellular Medicine managing the Translational Medicine portfolio in Musculoskeletal and pursuing his research interests in pharmaceutical portfolio modeling.
Along the way he was invited to be founding editor of the Journal of Pharmaceutical Statistics. At the time pharmaceutical statistics was primarily focused on clinical statistics. In his usual style, Dennis wanted to break the mold and create an international journal covering the full spectrum, from discovery to manufacturing. He was able to assemble his ‘dream team’ of editorial board members to do just that. “It was fun and I’m proud of what we created.”
Perhaps unusually for someone of his generation, Dennis is highly active on social media. While he’s discovered that it offers powerful tools for driving traffic to the sites he manages, he actually got into it as a way of connecting with his daughter (Lucy, now 25, works as a social media marketing executive in London) in her ‘world’ at a time when they were drifting apart.
Now he views his blog as his online learning journal, allowing him to capture new ideas and develop them. “Blog readers get early bird views of ideas that become papers. And blog followers give instant feedback on which ideas are worth pursuing and which are nonsense,” explains Dennis. “They help in refining the good ones. Some become bona fide collaborators and we end up working together.”
He adopted a similar approach to staying in touch with his son (Tom, now 30) during his teenage years, but this time it required a foray into the world of fantasy football. ‘Manager of the Month, Sunday Telegraph Fantasy Football League, October 1997’ sits proudly in his CV with all the other awards. Dennis keeps this “as a reminder not to take myself too seriously.”
Dennis has a third child, Ben, who at 13 thinks his dad is a bit slow.
I keep telling him I’m considered quite sharp in some circles. He can’t see it,” he quips. And then sincerely says, “My most precious days are when I get to spend time with all three.”