Monday interview: David McMillan, MD of LifeScan Scotland

LifeScan begins at 50 for boss of worldwide diabetes company

Edinburgh-MD and chartered chemist David McMillan is running a centre of excellence in medical device firm LifeScan. Picture: Contributed
Edinburgh-MD and chartered chemist David McMillan is running a centre of excellence in medical device firm LifeScan. Picture: Contributed

Celebrating his 50th birthday this year, David McMillan of medical device firm LifeScan Scotland, part of the Johnson & Johnson group, has set himself 50 new tasks to complete in as many weeks.

The list includes everything from going to the opera to watching the Godfather trilogy, and even learning to kitesurf, which may require some international travel to find a suitable school. And travel is something he has had plenty of experience of over his career of more than 30 years with Johnson & Johnson, visiting the likes of Brazil, China, and various US destinations including Florida and San Francisco with the New Jersey-based group that operates in more than 60 countries with about 126,500 staff.

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After leaving school in 1983, McMillan joined medical device firm Ethicon as a lab technician, progressing through various technical, quality-assurance and operations roles, and studied chemistry on day release at what is now Napier University.

He subsequently completed a part-time MBA at the University of Edinburgh Business School, saying he really enjoyed this because it was his first exposure outside a ‘techy’ and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) environment. “It really gave me a different perspective on business.”

A chartered chemist and member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, he says that at school he showed a tendency towards science-related topics, and “because I had a natural understanding of the concepts, it made it an awful lot easier to study academically.”

He is now managing director and diabetes care worldwide customer quality and customer services director at the firm, which was created in 2001 when Johnson & Johnson acquired the UK assets of Inverness Medical, a medical device company set up in Inverness in 1995 to design and manufacture glucose test strips, and design electronic meters for the global diabetes market.

LifeScan Scotland now manufactures more than three billion blood glucose monitoring strips annually for the global diabetes market, with its workforce of more than 1000 staff to “create a world without limits” for people with the condition.

McMillan has covered various roles across Johnson & Johnson’s diabetes franchise, such as executive director of quality assurance, and worldwide director for quality and compliance at the LifeScan Global Logistic Centre in Zug, Switzerland.

Last year the business signed the Scottish Business Pledge, a commitment with the Scottish Government to support sustainable business growth in Scotland, and McMillan has said one of the biggest benefits of signing this “is the potential to attract new talent.

“The local and national community take note that we’re signed up to it – and people want to work here.”

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He has now been based in Inverness for ten years with LifeScan Scotland, one of the largest private employers in the Highlands, and he praises the town and the Highlands & Islands overall as “a thriving environment” for business and life sciences in particular.

Other advantages of the region include its community spirit.

McMillan has also welcomed plans by British Airways, announced last year, to begin new daily flights from Heathrow to Inverness. At the time he deemed it “fantastic news for the region, and specifically giving LifeScan Scotland employees significant flexibility in their travel plans”.

In terms of outlook for the firm, which describes itself as “a centre of excellence for those working in the field of diabetes”, McMillan highlights increased strategic focus on insulin delivery, ultimately developing the likes of a mechanical pancreas, so “any device that gives someone who’s managing their diabetes an ability to better control their blood sugars”.

Evolution in this technology is “continuous”, McMillan says.


Born: 1966, Edinburgh

Education: Musselburgh Grammar School, Napier Poly (in 1992, now Napier University) and University of Edinburgh Business School

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First job: lab assistant in Wire Mill (Bruntons in Musselburgh)

Ambition at school: I never looked much past the summer holidays!

What car do you drive: Volkswagen Transporter van

Music: Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Ragged Jubilee, Future Islands.

Kindle or book: book

Reading material: anything funny

Can’t live without: Mrs McMillan, and a good latte

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What makes you angry: anyone whose glass is continually half empty

What inspires you: helping family, friends and colleagues achieve things they thought was beyond them

Best thing about your job: part of a global, company with an aim of “caring for the world, one person at a time”