Associate Success Stories: Richard Darwood

Richard Darwood
KTP Associate Richard Darwood of Salts Healthcare


A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a UK government scheme between a graduate, an organisation and a university. KTP has been successfully running for over 40 years and has become one of the largest graduate recruitment programmes across the UK. 

Recently, Aston's Business Partnership Unit caught up with previous KTP Associate Richard Darwood to see how the project had influenced his career. Richard began his KTP  project with Salts Healthcare, in 2001.

How did you hear about the opportunity?

Dr Allan Amass, one of my lecturers and final year project supervisor, knew that I worked with adhesives in my placement year. He asked me if I would like the opportunity to take part in this project, which he would be supervising.

This project ticked all boxes, I wanted to stay in Birmingham, it was based at Aston and I’d be working for Allan, for me it was a win-win situation.

How would you summarise the project you’ve worked on?

Salts Healthcare manufacture a range of medical devices, and one of the key components is the adhesive that sticks the product to the skin. We were looking to improve the manufacturing and my role was to assess what they did, and push it forward. In two years we made some really significant improvements to manufacturing the knowledge base, it was a huge success for us.

What was your specific role in the project?

I was a process chemist, taking samples from process and creating test methods for analysis to characterize what they were currently doing so it was polymer chemistry, analytical chemistry and test method development.

What did you achieve throughout your time working on this project?

For me it’s all about making a difference, I like to see the impact my work has.

During those two years probably the biggest thing that we did was improving manufacturing.  Had the project not being undertaken, Salts would have had difficulties with raw material supply continuity, it really was perfecting timing.

The outcome was massive for the business, I don’t think any of us at the time thought about how big it would have become.

What did you enjoy about working on this project?

It’s changed my life completely for the better, it really has! It was a fantastic opportunity, there was leadership, management, NVQs, all these tools given to prepare for meetings, presentation training, and things I've never really done before.

When I look back at it, it has given me everything! It sounds ridiculous, but 13 years on and I’m still at the same company, I work hard for the business and the business works hard for me. I’m really lucky that I’ve got a brilliant boss and an amazing director, we’ve got not only a work relationship but also a personal relationship, and that’s part of the company ethos, so for me it’s a good fit.

I can’t imagine not being here doing what I do.

 What did you find challenging about the project?

When I started doing the TCS, I thought it was really cool, because I was given all the tools to build the raft, and that was brilliant! Most of the things I learned during that time I still use now.  Probably the biggest challenge was getting used to the idea that, as much as it is an absolute pain, all the tangible benefits recording, meetings and Gantt charts are powerful tools if used correctly.  Wrapping my head around all these new ideas was a challenge at the time.

Did the project meet your expectations?

I thought it would be like contract research, I wouldn’t have thought it was what it was, and didn’t really know about all the training and the NVQ in management, or the expectations of any of them.

What impact did this project have on your career?

It’s allowed my personal life to develop, I've got a great job, I’m now a senior manager at the business, I get to travel, I get to see all sides to the business which I thought I never would.  I've also supervised two more KTP Associates with Aston University, building even stronger links.

My role in the business has stayed the same, except it has now diverted in other areas as well. I suppose a lot of the stuff I learnt on the TCS is transferable and gives an insight view point. The opportunities the TCS has given is a wide range and has made me realise within a couple of weeks, if you grab hold of the opportunities you can bring so much out of it, if you work hard you can shoot for the stars and reach them.

What is your current occupation?

I am now a Senior Manager, in charge of adhesive development. I've got my own team, which is small but works effectively.

What would be your advice to a graduate who hasn’t taken part in a project with industry before?

If you get an opportunity to do a KTP go for it! It doesn’t matter if your qualification is in science, business or languages; the frame work is not just for the success of the business it’s there for success for you.

I would say grab hold of it and make the most out of all the opportunities!

To find out more about how your business can benefit from a KTP, or how you can become an Associate, please email ktp@aston.ac.uk or call 0121 204 4242.