Faces of Olivet | Gordon Tommy

Alumnus Gordon Tommy ’97 shares about his experiences in the pharmaceutical industry.

In the Faces of Olivet series, we share snapshots of the personal experiences and careers of some of our extraordinary students, faculty, staff and alumni. This article focuses on Gordon Tommy ’97, senior manager of material control at Abbott Laboratories.

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As a chemistry major at Olivet (with minors in biology and math), Gordon Tommy spent most of his time in Reed Hall of Science. He benefited from the small class sizes and the opportunities to get to know his professors. In fact, he still stays in contact with chemistry professor, Dr. Doug Armstrong. In addition to his studies and work as a chemistry lab teaching assistant, Mr. Tommy also played four years of football. The comradery with his teammates gave him an appreciation for learning from a wide range of people with varying interests. That interest in pursuing both a depth and breadth of social and professional experiences has impacted his career in the pharmaceutical industry and set him up well for the position he’s in today.

When he first graduated from Olivet, Mr. Tommy spent a bit of time considering what to do next, biding his time by briefly working at the local Family Video store. Confident that he wanted to pursue a job related to his chemistry degree, he took his time finding the right position in the right company, eventually finding his footing in the pharmaceutical arena in the Chicagoland area. 

Mr. Tommy transitioned to work for Baxter in a supervisory role, and from there moved into a management position. He had opportunities to travel across the globe and speak at industry conferences, further strengthening relationships with colleagues at various competitor companies. His ability to adapt and grow made him an attractive employee and he was asked to return to Abbott two years ago.

Now, as a senior manager of material control at Abbott, he is responsible for overseeing the team that verifies the quality of product that leaves to the consumer market. While his division does quality control on many legacy pharmaceutical products, they have also been charged with quality testing for Covid-19 test kits. 

The team has rallied together like many of the other essential workers across the U.S. to move quickly and work hard to get the high-quality kits out to the public. Although the pressure is high, Mr. Tommy is excited to be a small part of contributing to a greater goal. “The thing that keeps us going is that there is a global impact. We’ve received thank you notes from people who have been impacted. It’s been a humbling process to be a part of.”

The ability for Abbott to pivot their work to meet the needs of the current times parallels Mr. Tommy’s ability to jump into his career with determination and innovation. “I’m proud that I never settled in my career. I took risks and tried things outside of my comfort zone. While I initially thought I would be a lab rat for my entire career, I learned I was a good supervisor and was able to take steps into management. I had good supervisors who gave me more responsibility, but I also sought out great mentors who helped me cultivate my skill sets.” I also had a lot of support from my wife of 20 years (Ann), who always encouraged me during each new venture.

Although Olivet is a relatively small school compared to some, Mr. Tommy’s experiences prove that ONU graduates have comparable résumés to other students, based on academic and leadership opportunities at the University. Instead, his advice for finding a career in a competitive industry is to focus on the interview. “Don’t worry about the resume. Rather, practice for the interview. Be prepared for high-level interaction with a prospective employer and show up with questions. Do research on the company and show genuine interest.”

Looking back at the wide range of jobs he’s held during his career, Mr. Tommy advises new graduates to not settle. “Figure out what you like. Find new challenges. Soak up the knowledge, wisdom and advice from veterans in your field. Try different positions, try different companies and keep exploring. If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it!”

Mr. Tommy and his family live in northern Illinois.

To learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Geosciences and Olivet’s areas of study, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivet.edu or 800-648-1463.

Published 5/22/2020
LB