At New England Biolabs (NEB), every scientist takes a turn each month helping customers calling into the company’s technical support line—with questions about the firm’s restriction enzymes and other reagents.
If they call on the right days, customers can speak directly to two of NEB’s most knowledgeable scientists: William Jack, Ph.D., the company’s executive director of research, and Nobel Laureate Sir Richard Roberts, Ph.D., CSO.
Aside from the fun of helping customers solve problems, the time spent on tech support reinforces how NEB, which is an employee-owned company, likes to be viewed in the marketplace: as a peer to investigators rather than simply a vendor.
“It also gives us a good edge on what people are really trying to do, and what they’re trying to accomplish,” said James Ellard, NEB’s CEO. “The advantage is that when people call in, they’re going to talk to a scientist who’s working in a very similar area, and can provide that expertise to them. And, frankly, we enjoy it.”
So too do the scientists. In an industry where people, and companies, come and go, the average length of job tenure at NEB is 14 years. One-third of the company’s 350 full-time employees have held their jobs 15 or more years. Ellard, who joined NEB as a summer intern researching filarial parasitology, will mark his 30th anniversary with the company next year.
Under Ellard, who succeeded founder and still-chairman Donald Comb, Ph.D., in 2005, NEB has expanded beyond its core business of making and distributing reagents for foundational techniques such as cloning, PCR, and DNA analysis.