Why Hull is at the heart of health innovation as landmark R&D centre opens – RB chief executive Laxman Narasimhan

TODAY is a landmark day in the history of RB. We are opening our largest ever single-site investment: our Science and Innovation Centre in Hull.

RB is opening its new Science and Innovation Centre in Hull today.
RB is opening its new Science and Innovation Centre in Hull today.

This world-class facility equips us to meet the needs of consumers today and in the future. It is part of an overall £200m investment programme in the city.

Johann Benckiser founded an industrial chemicals business in Pforzheim, Germany, in 1823. Soon after, in 1840, Hull was the birthplace of the original Reckitt business, founded when Isaac Reckitt opened a starch mill on the site we occupy to this day.

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Laxman Narasimhan is chief executive of RB.

From these foundations, both Reckitt and Benckiser grew to be hugely successful global businesses, selling 20 million products a day in almost every country across the world.

As a global organisation, when we assessed the ideal location for our next centre of scientific excellence we looked at sites across the world, including Dubai and Singapore.

The symbolism of building on our 179-year history in the city of Hull and the depth of the talent meant Hull beat the competition hands down.

I am joined at today’s official opening by Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI. Coinciding with the event, the CBI is publishing a report highlighting the stark innovation investment imbalance between London and the South East, and the rest of the UK.

We are delighted the CBI 
can join us. We are proud that our investment in Hull runs counter to this UK regional imbalance. Our hope is that RB’s long-standing faith in Hull encourages other FTSEs to 
invest in Yorkshire and the Humber too.

Our history in Hull is an integral part of RB’s story. Over many decades our people and operations in the city have made a huge contribution to consumer health innovation.

This began with the creation of Dettol in 1932, while Hull is also the birthplace of Lemsip, Bonjela and Gaviscon; products to treat common ailments such as cold and flu, mouth ulcers and heartburn and indigestion.

Today, our site in Hull manufactures some of our largest global brands that you may have on your own shelf at home – Nurofen for children, Dettol and E45 – and generates multi-million-pound export sales for the UK each year.

As we look ahead, remaining as successful requires us to stay relevant to the changing needs of our consumers. We need to be restless innovators, driven by a core purpose – giving people innovative solutions for healthier lives and happier homes. That demands researching, developing and manufacturing products that continue to meet consumer needs.

It also means investing in the talent that will provide the dynamism and ingenuity to develop solutions to meet tomorrow’s health challenges.

So our core mission at the heart of this Centre is to make 
it a world of inspiring science. We want talented scientists to 
be as passionate about making their own contribution to the future of consumer health as we are.

That’s why every year we offer year-in-industry R&D placements at our Hull site to up to 30 students, providing invaluable work experience. We’re also a founding partner of Ron Dearing University Technical College in Hull, which combines academic study focused on technical and scientific subjects with employer-led projects.

Today we’re delighted to announce we have forged an exciting partnership with Hull York Medical School and the University of Hull to launch a new MSc in Pharmacology and Drug Development. This innovative programme is designed to provide students with insights into the entire journey of a clinical drug from “bench to bedside”.

Beyond this, we are 
ambitious to do more to 
continue to increase gender equality in the science community as a whole. We 
want more young talented 
female scientists to get the chance to excel and I’m delighted that we will be exploring how we can work with the CBI to help promote and support this important work.

Nearly half of our entire global R&D team is based in Hull and I’m convinced the fantastic talent we have will make a major contribution to meeting the global healthcare challenges of tomorrow.

My message to aspiring scientific talent across the region is to think about being part of that exciting journey. Don’t just think of forging your scientific career in London and the South East, think about the opportunities that exist in the UK’s regions too.

Laxman Narasimhan is chief executive of RB, the leading global consumer health, hygiene and home company.