Meet the Team: Jonathan Forbes

March 31, 2022
5 minute read
Tell us a bit about your educational background and your previous roles before joining Phlo.

I really enjoyed my school years; some might say too much as I stayed in education until I was 25. Northern Ireland has some excellent schools and I made it from there to Keble College, University of Oxford as an undergraduate. I finished education with a doctorate in high energy particle physics from the University of Glasgow, while living and working at the DESY research centre in Hamburg with an international team of physicists and engineers. Happy days!  

I joined Phlo in June 2019 as Chief Technology Officer and am now Chief Data & Automation Officer. I was lucky to have been CTO at another Scottish start-up success, an advanced analytics and data engineering business acquired in 2017. Before that, I was a consultant, and have had spells in the defence, energy, and financial services sectors.  

What attracted you to work for Phlo?

When I'm looking at a role, I look for certain signs, and Phlo ticked all of them.

  • Building a business from scratch needs all-in, almost superhuman commitment. Phlo's founder, Nadeem Sarwar, has that. If I can see that my role and my skills can take some of that pressure away, then I'll enjoy doing that.    
  • The vision for the business, what it's trying to achieve, is very important to me. I'm attracted to businesses that have in mind disruptive ways of doing things, and Phlo certainly has that.  
  • The people involved, or if they're not yet in place, then the commitment and backing to bring talented people to the team. Phlo's people have an immense depth of talent and it's a privilege to work alongside them.  
  • Phlo's role in primary care fits a personal ambition to understand personalised medicine and be part of delivering its future. I enjoy learning, and I'm studying human genomics and its relationship to medicines, a subject called pharmacogenomics. I'll never be a medicines expert like my colleagues, so my goal is to understand where my skills and experience can help.

What does your role entail, and what does a typical day look like for you?

My role is help the people I work with develop their skills and confidence, succeed in their chosen fields and between us, get things done. That means thinking ahead, planning, shaping, designing, talking, developing, checking and doing, together.    

My day starts with music. The world is better with Beethoven. Then it's a scan of email and sorting out my to do list for the day. I'll block out time in my diary to focus on specific tasks. We've systems that report what they've been up to through the night straight into a Slack channel, so I'll spend time there. Then I'll check out our operational dashboards. We present lots of data and insights, so I'll make sure we have what we need to make the right decisions or take the right actions, and if we don’t, I'll put a ticket on our boards to come back to. At some point in the day, someone will want an answer to a question which will mean me diving deep into our datasets and tools, which is always enjoyable.  

I look forward to my team meetings with Katie, Eva, Alanna, and Joanna in the Product Team and regular stand-ups with my colleague, Nacho Valdelvira in our Data & Automation Team. Phlo's Product Team runs regular reviews, which everyone can attend. This helps people see the progress we're making on the different areas of our business, and I always learn something new from them. Plus, it's great to see people on those calls whom I may not have spoken to for a while, given we're heavily into remote working. Like many, I'm hoping that will ease and we can meet up in person again soon. I miss our tradition of packing up early to head off to a local pub on Friday afternoons.  

What makes Phlo different and why do you think people should join us?

Phlo's doing amazing things, especially as we launched only in late 2019. I like how we are helping patients to better manage their NHS and private prescriptions and medication needs. We've innovated the socks off the pharmacy sector - pharmacies in shipping containers, a single view of NHS and private prescriptions, real-time medicine delivery tracking, single use security codes to name a few things. There's a ton of stuff left to do though. Come and help us do that work!

We've built all of our own infrastructure and products so that we can set things up to work the way we know that a digital pharmacy needs to work. We've invested heavily to hire the very best people for our teams. We've a fantastic set of investors backing us and having their experience and guidance to hand has been a huge help. There's so much further to go. We want people's help and we've great teams that people can slot right into to get started.  

What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to join a tech company?

Good call, tech is a fantastic place to work! You'll be part of a team, so remember that you're all working together to pull in the same direction. Be positive and dependable, put the effort in to learn the ropes. And truly, the best behaviour you can show at Phlo is put yourself forward to help people solve problems. That's the feedback we most like to see about people - that they pitched in and helped out.

What excites you about the future of the digital health space?

The growth in ideas and experiments in digital health has been huge for obvious pandemic-related reasons. But even before then we were wrestling with data from the US Food and Drug Administration showing that medication is deemed ineffective for 38-75% of patients with common disorders. That happens because the interactions between thousands of genes differ between patients with the same diagnosis. Yet as a society in the UK, the NHS spent £16.7 billion on prescription medicines in 20/21. We need to get on top of that. There are many pragmatic things we can do including making people's homes an epicentre of care with digital pharmacies and other health and social care professionals able to plug in to help our patients.  

If you want my moonshot, then stealing from the world of Internet of Things, simulations, advanced analytics, and personalised medicine, it is the creation of scientifically valid, medical-grade digital twins. These are high-resolution computational models of individual patients that can be treated using computer-simulated medications to find the combination of medicines that is optimal for the patient's health. That's going to take a while and with others, Phlo will be part of that work.  

What motivates you at work?

Putting together high performing teams so they can change things for the better. Finding patterns in data that help us make better decisions. Learning new stuff and passing on what I know where it's useful.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My wife Alison and I enjoy roaming around Scotland exploring its incredible natural history. When we're not doing that, I'm happy with a book and something listenable on my headphones. Or watching my club, Edinburgh Rugby, at mini-Murrayfield on a cold, clear winter's night. We're winning more than we're losing at the minute, though I've probably jinxed that now.

If you’d like to join the Phlo team and help us shape the future of Pharmacy, check out our careers page.

Content last reviewed on:
June 6, 2023
Next review date:
June 6, 2024
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