60 second interview with Ralph Timms

Ralph Timms, SCI’s joint 2008 Lampitt Medal winner talks about 'not-so-cheap' food, the trend for nutraceuticals and the global nature of work within the fats and oils industry.

You’ve been in the oils and fats industry for some time – what changes have you seen in your career?
Globalisation and the rise of company amalgamation has resulted in fewer, but larger companies, which means there is less opportunity for research. When I started my first job in industry with Unilever Research in 1970, the company had many more research labs in this country and round the world than they have now. The same trend has been seen with other companies.

Also, until the recent spike in the cost of food, today’s generation not only benefited from cheaper food than previous generations, but has also had access to a much wider range of choice.

On the downside, there are fewer and fewer people working in the industry, hence fewer people to call on in terms of SCI membership and involvement.

What are the opportunities for young people coming into the industry?
For research, it is no longer enough to have just a first degree, however good – a PhD is essential, possibly with post-doc/specialist experience. For generalists, try to get as much experience in industry as possible. For those who manage to get a job in a global company, there are far more opportunities to grow and develop your career – particularly as there will be more chance to travel or to grow within the company. My advice to young people is to be flexible and be prepared to move.

What do you think of the trend for nutraceuticals – functional foods?
I am not a nutritionist, but in a nutshell, my advice is eat sensibly and enjoy a balanced diet. That always seems to be the conclusion of any health advice we get. Yes, there are fat spreads on the market that say they will help lower cholesterol, but whether they will actually help combat heart disease is another thing – the jury is still out on that. The causes of heart disease are much more complex than just the single measure of total serum cholesterol.

What inspires you and motivates you?
I confess I get bored easily, so anything that keeps me interested and challenges me.

What are the qualities you admire in people?
Honesty and integrity are the foremost qualities, followed by leadership. It is not enough to climb the greasy pole in your profession – I admire people who take responsibility for their actions and can take it on the chin when things go wrong rather than blame someone else.

Lipids Group

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