Photos — Maurice Haas Date — 3 December, 2012
A brilliant researcher devoted to the discovery of new treatments for many diseases. A keen footballer coaching the company team of his employer Roche for several years. A watch enthusiast intrigued by the engineering beauty and precision of mechanical movements. Andrew Thomas is a dedicated man of many passions.
Andrew Thomas is a remarkable man, with a range of interests as broad as they are deep. Even his occupation as a research scientist specializing in neuroscience at Roche in Basel, Switzerland, is not enough, and Thomas finds time to inspire scientists as a visiting lecturer all over the world.
As a chemist and collector, Thomas is an expert in a number of fields – including vintage wines and whisky, sports – including cycling, football and golf, and charities such as the Laureus Sports for Good foundation; his main passion, however, is reserved for the mechanical movements manufactured by IWC Schaffhausen.
In pursuing his extracurricular passions, Thomas’ approach has always been one of meticulous care and attention to details, putting his “brain and soul” into all he does. Naturally introverted, he actively listens, while telling stories that cast a spell on the listener when he chooses to tell them. In essence, he is a champion of making the best use of his time. “I plan for long days so can always prioritize time” he adds. Then quickly adds: “Waste of time is waste of life.”
Following his undergraduate studies in the Scottish golfing paradise of St. Andrews, where Thomas – an avid golfer – played on the famous Old Course at least twice a week, he won a place at Cambridge University, where he found a great mentor in Professor Steven Ley. “Exceed your expectations!” – Ley demanded of his students. Andrew Thomas took it to heart.
There was nothing in his background to suggest that Thomas was destined for a career in medical sciences. Being born in the far north of Scotland, a more obvious choice was to follow his family into the fishing industry. But from an early age, he wanted to be a scientist. During school holidays on fishing trips, gazing up at the night sky from the boat, he would visualize connections between the stars to create the backbone structure of novel chemical entities. Already as a child, he dreamt of designing molecules that would reverse disease biology.
Joining Roche straight after university, Thomas found the perfect corporate environment to execute his dreams, working in Basel, New Jersey, Palo Alto or Shanghai – as a dedicated researcher devoted to the discovery of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism and down syndrome. And, it was within his profession and chosen company that he has also been able to pursue another passion – as a keen footballer – playing in the company team. For many years, Thomas even served as team captain, later as player-coach, and now, he is focused on coaching.
Today, Andrew leads a 40-strong team of some of the world’s best researchers – and mentors about the same number of the most talented students in his laboratories who compete from all over Europe to join his team. In his practice, Thomas is constantly striving to innovate healthcare and to exceed expectations for patient benefit. In recent months, he has been recognized with two significant awards for his creative work captured through sixty patented inventions. Thomas takes great pride in these achievements, and says: “we are the only team in the world capable of building disease models and then, in the reverse direction, from the millions of chemical possibilities we can combat disease at the molecular level in neuroscience.”
It was this keen interest in the microscopic world of the body’s cells which led the Scot to become a watch enthusiast: “I was intrigued – where does the tick-tock come from?” recounts Thomas. His grandfather, who served in the Royal Navy, owned an IWC Mark XI, which Andrew hoped to inherit. He was in for a disappointment – when the time came for him to receive the timepiece, Andrew Thomas found the watch box empty, save only for a brief note saying: “Sold to repair the boat.”
In the end, it was his partner, growing tired of seeing him linger in front of every shop window displaying IWC watches, who gave him his first IWC Pilot’s Watch as a gift for his 35th birthday. That watch converted the Roche researcher into an avid IWC collector. He was determined to find out everything worth knowing about IWC-manufactured movements, and within a short time, owned more than two dozen IWC watches – including most of the vintage icons epitomized by the classic ingenieur reference 866. Andrew Thomas fondly and knowingly calls the line “a true icon of IWC.”
Right now, after passing his Master Maserati driving course, a 40th-birthday gift, Thomas is eagerly awaiting the delivery of his new Maserati. It goes without saying that he has iteratively taken it apart and put it back together again in his thoughts many times.
Kevin J. Devine used to run marathons – in what he laughingly calls “the Clydesdale class.” Clydesdales are large Scottish draft horses, and the description alludes to heavier runners who carry more than 200 pounds (about 90 kilos) of their own weight.
Giovanni Zonzini is a racing driver and watch collector from San Marino. For him, it is an article of belief that cars and watches have to be reliable