The Kiella Calmer  

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The Story from Jeremy

In the mid-1980s I was the manager of the Control Stability Lab. One technician in this lab was Mike Kiella, a high-energy young guy who could do the work of three people to the highest standard. After doing all that work, Mike still had the energy to push too hard in some areas that got people's backs up. I knew that Mike had a great future and I didn’t want to come down hard on him so I decided on an approach with some humor in it.

I cut a length of 2x4 pine wood to be a primitive cudgel. I wrote “Kiella Calmer” on one side and “Use as Often as Needed” on the other side. I leaned it against the wall in my office and explained to Mike it would be a quick and effective way of telling him when he was pushing too hard and needed to chill. Can you imagine what corporate HR in 2021 would have to say about this approach!!!

Mike transferred to Jim Ray’s lab and to keep the tradition of the Kiella Calmer going, Mike and I presented it to Jim. I did see it in Jim’s office a number of times, Mike went on to have an amazing career at Upjohn, Pharmacia and Pfizer. The Calmer was always presented to his new manager. Mike kept it when he eventually left the company. Thirty-five years later, he and I are both retired. We get a good chuckle about the days of the Kiella Calmer.

Jeremy Winkworth
December 2021

The Story from Mike

Technician was indeed a career path, one that paid well, generally offered a great deal of job security, and employment benefits; yet, an important benefit that was missing was a consideration that technicians were capable of making professional contributions to chemistry and the pharmaceutical world. Our division in particular was categorically hierarchical. This hierarchy was strictly enforced. A deep chasm existed between the professional class,and technicians. This was an acceptable arrangement for the majority of the technicians, happy to have steady and challenging work, a clean environment, at a prestigious company.

The implications of this viewpoint in practice meant that observations and analysis arising from the technician ranks (a real term) that led to genuine discovery and an expansion of knowledge were usually assigned to career-path chemists. The technician was seldom recognized or thanked, and often told “it’s no longer yours to worry about." Technicians, according to the old axiom, were to be seen but not heard. Technicians were instructed to never speak to scientists. Interactions were based on hierarchy and not need.

There were however, a tier of technicians who, for reason or circumstance, unable to complete formal education, but were as competent and knowledgeable as the professional chemist class. I arrived in B259 in August of 1985 and quickly made my way into that tier; a conscious effort from day-one. Sometimes I had to push a lot of people out of the way to do that, but what I found along the way was that professional excellence and bringing fun and excitement to the workplace were not discrete - separate things. Boatloads of playful workplace fun was one thing, and the bestowing of respect quite another. I enjoyed and did my best to create the former (I admit it, I’m guilty), and demanded the later (if not, how would you like me to publicly call you out…). I arrived at many considered opinions at that time, and I gave voice to those opinions.

Jeremy Winkworth, my second manager, was one of the first to see what was happening. Jeremy, who was well on his way to hierarchical success, seemed to appreciate this movement and was an early catalyst in advancing the divisional image of the role - technician. Perhaps he simply did not want to risk his rocket-ride by being called out in public - I say this only half in jest. He was one of the first managers in our division to recognize the possibilities of a paradigm shift. He was one of our biggest supporters; yet, what I know now was the great risk he took in doing so (it pleases me to observe that for Jeremy, manager was not just a title, but a skill).

For my part, I never felt it necessary to ask permission to be good at what I did.It seemed to be enough that the scientific principle of falsifiability had me covered, and please don’t tell me to whom I may or may not speak.Hence, the Kiella Calmer was born. While I was never physically struck with the Calmer, I knew full well what it meant when Jeremy was staring through his office window into the lab holding it in plain view. It was always positioned prominently across his desk, during periodic performance reviews…a playful gesture that carried great meaning. I suspect the reason he never actually used the calmer, was he trusted that my science was always correct.

Here, on a different day, I have great admiration for those that had the courage to actively manage my professional career. I owe much to them, more than simply having fun, I learned from them - they were my teachers. I think back with great fondness on those times - the good people but one, good science, great fun. As for the other component, respect; it took hold and technicians were slowly, but surely, integrated into the scientific community and recognized as potential contributors and partners.

Michael Kiella MA, PhD
December 2021
-  First Technician Invitee: CLASS Presentation (Control Lab Analyst Seminar Series)
-  The W. E. Upjohn Prize
-  Pfizer Site Leadership Award
-  Playful Iconoclast

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