Topgrading is the stealth bomber of the business world. It gives us a talent advantage which we believe is far superior to our competitors, and enables DPT Laboratories to provide a level of quality and service that is unparalleled in pharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing. Since we adopted Topgrading at DPT, we have developed and successfully implemented a strategic approach to the DPT business that includes a “people strategy” of hiring, developing, and retaining top talent. Over the past eight years we have averaged double-digit growth year over year. It’s clear to me that we couldn’t possibly have accomplished so much in such a short period of time without continuously Topgrading our talent.
- Paul Johnson, President and Chief Operating Officer

Company: DPT Laboratories

No. of Employees: 1,000

Industry: Pharmaceutical Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization (in semisolid, liquid, and sterile dosage forms)


  • Improvement from 17% to 80% A Players hired, total company, with Topgrading.
  • Improvement from 20% to 80% A Players promoted with Topgrading.
  • Internal certification of hiring managers to use Topgrading methods.

Company History: Based in San Antonio, Texas and Lakewood, New Jersey, and with approximately 1,000 employees, DPT is a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) that specializes in semi-solid, liquid and sterile dosage forms.

Topgrading Methods: Paul Johnson rolled out Topgrading with greater emphasis every year since 2003.  He and other executive attended a public Topgrading Workshop, and an internal workshop was conducted for DPT executives.  Since then, all managers attend an internal workshop and are certified internally to hire people using Topgrading methods.  Heads of HR in San Antonio (Ernie Serrato) and in Lakewood (Jack Nester) oversee follow through on Topgrading methods.

At present all exempt employees from entry level scientists to top executives are screened with Topgrading methods, and Tograding methods are used when people are promoted.

To receive an official company certification to conduct Topgrading interviews managers must read the latest version of Topgrading, attend a Topgrading Workshop, observe a competency interview, and then observe one or more tandem Topgrading Interviews.  When the interviewers are confident that the observer can be an effective tandem interviewer, the certificate is awarded.

Topgrading Results: Percent A Player/A Potential hires has increased from 17% (2003) to 80% (2012). For promotions the improvement has been from an estimated 20% to 80%.

These statistics were generated by studying every hire and every promotion since Topgrading was introduced in 2003; all hiring managers and human resources professionals familiar with each individual agreed on the ratings of A Player, A Potential, B, or C.

Ratings are routinely given 6 months and 12 months after someone is hired, with a survey sent to the hiring manager and to people who have worked closely with the new hire.

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Hiring from Networks:  Approximately 40 percent of our hires this year came from internal referrals.  We’ll probably increase the $500 incentive.

Topgrading Career History Form/Topgrading Snapshot:  The career history form is the DPT Labs application form in one location, and supplements a different application form in another location.

Telephone Screening Interview:  Used.

In-Person Interviewing Process:  There is a full day process, beginning with the tandem Topgrading Interview, then 1 hour interviews by a team of up to 5 interviewers.  Each interviewer asks questions about various competencies.

Feedback to Interviewers:  As part of the internal certification of managers to use Topgrading methods, feedback is provided to interviewers following their first Topgrading Interview.

Reports:  Within a day of the in-person day, all interviewers submit reports in writing and are on a conference call discussing their opinions.

Candidate-Arranged Reference Calls:  Candidate provides three to five references.

Coaching New Hires:  There is a thorough onboarding process, connected to an ongoing developmental planning process with Individual Development Plans.

Annual Measurement:  Annually, as part of the succession planning process, talent meetings are held in which people are put in a 9-box model.

Best Advice

Topgrading is a key component of our Human Resources strategic objective to hire, develop, and retain top talent. - Ernie Serrato, HR Director

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