Career Issue 2012: Chutes & Ladders

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Career Issue 2012: Chutes & Ladders
Career Issue 2012: Chutes & Ladders

Seek the next rung. Take the plunge. Most of all, these eight senior healthcare execs advise, enjoy the ride. As told to Marc Iskowitz (click on the names below to read each exec's interview)

 

Bhavesh Ashar, VP, project head of transplant, Sanofi

 

Terrie Curran, SVP, global women's health, Merck

 

Brigitte Fernandes-McAlear, VP of marketing, life sciences, Roche Diagnostics

Keith Hopps, director of consumer marketing, Medtronic

Len Kanavy, VP. commercial business operations, Genentech

Brian Lange, marketing director, GlaxoSmithKline

Lance Longwell, director of communications, Siemens Healthcare

Allan Weber, CEO, Essential Pharmaceuticals

 

Bhavesh Ashar, VP, project head of transplant, Sanofi  

Time in the industry: 14 years

Original career plan: Actuary

Previous roles: Healthcare consulting with McKinsey & Co; at Sanofi, AVP Sales & Marketing, Injectables and Associate VP, Commercial Operations, attaché to US president/CEO, marketing, ­commercial operations, new products/business ­development, commercial head, integration lead

Did your career find you, or did you find it?

I have always had an interest in both healthcare and in business. After college, I chose a career in business and trained as an actuary. My interest in healthcare grew through my actuarial days as I read more about that business model and networked with people in that field. A career in the pharmaceutical industry was the ideal way for me to merge my business background with my interest in healthcare. So I decided to aggressively pursue my goal.  And I have not regretted that move ever since…

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

Too numerous to mention. I have had the fortune to work with and learn from many talented colleagues over the years—co-workers, managers and mentors. Business school and text books can only teach you so much.  I have benefited the most from watching skilled leaders in action, solving tough business problems in real time.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?

Adaptability. As change becomes a constant in our industry, I believe this skill has helped me navigate the ups and downs much more effectively.  I developed these skills through experiencing change in both professional and personal settings.  Professionally, through exposure to many different business situations and personally, by having lived in three different continents—Africa, Europe and North America.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Given the increasing importance of Global Markets, I wish I had spent more time earlier in my pharma career in that setting. In my future roles, I hope to have the opportunity to increase access to life-saving medications in emerging markets.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

Excel with the job at hand. Give every project your best, and demonstrate your value to the organization.   Don't be shy about getting into the details, as often times the magic is in the details. Above all, do what's right.

How important is it to develop a specialty or niche?

It's becoming increasingly important as the industry goes through transformation. While it's necessary to have a very solid and broad base-level understanding of the business from many different vantage points, it is also becoming critical to develop a “spike” in a functional area and/or a therapeutic area. I believe in most cases it is no longer sufficient to be a generalist.

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

The industry will continue to change rapidly, and the pace of change will accelerate. Demonstrating real patient value will become front and center of all that we do. At the core, there are still many areas of unmet need and hence a lot of opportunities for our industry to do what it's good at!

Terrie Curran, SVP, global women's health, Merck

Time in the industry: 21 years

Original career plan: My two favorite subjects in high school were economics and biology—ideal for pharma marketing

Previous roles: Sales rep, Upjohn Australia; women's health product mgr., Novo Aus.; group product mgr., Pharmacia & Upjohn Aus.; sales and marketing dir., Pharmacia Aus.; country president, Pharmacia New Zealand; GM Aus. & NZ, Schering-Plough

How did you get into healthcare/pharma? What did you do before?

I joined the industry as a sales representative selling hormone replacement therapy, an anxiolytic and an injectable for arthritis.  

Did your career find you, or did you find it?

I didn't set out with the goal of being a country managing director or the leader of a global franchise, but in each of my roles, I simply focused on making a difference.

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

Throughout my career, I have had many great mentors. One in particular shaped my early thinking and taught me how to run a business. He taught me to consider the ROI of each investment decision, how to effectively engage and lead people, and to take risks on young talent.

I am also fortunate to have a mother and husband who have always supported and encouraged me.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it

Building strong teams—you can have the best strategy and products, but without the right people, your results will be, at best, mediocre.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes, but it's what you take away from each experience, learn from your past and apply to what's next that truly matters.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

Excel in your current role; seek mentors/advocates; broaden your experience; lead people early on; understand the financial business drivers; don't be afraid to make a lateral move or take a pay cut to get new experiences or skills. Also, gain experience in the future growth markets.

How important is it to develop a specialty or niche?

It is important early in your career to have a specialty as a basis, such as marketing or finance, but to progress into a leadership position you need to broaden your base of experience and capabilities.

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

Every aspect of our business will experience fundamental change in response to market demands and pressures. Nevertheless, I believe that pharmaceutical companies have an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate how their products and solutions can help the world "be well."

Brigitte Fernandes-McAlear, VP of marketing, life sciences, Roche Diagnostics

Time in industry: 17 years (Europe/US)

Original career plan: General ­management

Previous role: I spent five years with Novartis and another five with Eli Lilly. I then joined the molecular diagnostics division of Roche Diagnostics (US). After directing the marketing component of several product launches, I took the lead of the marketing team for Roche's US applied science business

How did you get into healthcare pharma? What did you do before?

I landed my first job in pharma by chance. However, upon completing my MBA and receiving glitzy offers from the fashion industry and investment banking, I came to the realization that working in an industry with a clear connection to improving people's lives is far more fulfilling. Over the years, working in healthcare has become extremely personal. There is so much potential to improve human lives.

Did your career find you or did you find it?

A little bit of both. I had to reorient my career focus from finance to marketing to get where I am today. And some changes on the personal side made a difference, as well. When I first got my MBA, I was very focused on getting ahead. Later, after I started to relax, I became a better leader, more aware of my environment and the people on my team. I think because of that personal growth, I began to get pulled into higher levels of responsibility.

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

There was one mentor in particular who had a profound influence on my development. I had just gone through an exhausting leadership assessment and was preparing myself to receive feedback from this coach, who had been observing me for two days. Like many, I tend to magnify my areas of improvement, and I find feedback painful. This time was different. My coach spent most of the time explaining what I did well. He helped me reflect on why I had not “turned my leadership skills on” right away. I left this experience feeling uplifted and energized to address the opportunities for growth that we also discussed. To this day, I concentrate on finding what others are good at.

What's been your most useful career skill and how did you develop it?

I am good at building teams. I think of myself as the orchestra leader who conducts people with various functions and skill sets. Everyone is needed, and different voices make the performance better. I learned this philosophy by growing up in a very large Portuguese immigrant family. The culture was team-oriented. My uncles helped my mom fix up her roof, and I would help my cousins with homework. As a result, everyone improved their lives—from living in a dirt-floored house in Portugal in the 1950s to having kids who completed higher education in France. This gave me a deep belief in what a team can achieve.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I do not see value in dwelling on the past, but I look at it objectively. I am always working on something I want to improve. The key goal for me is to avoid repeating the same mistakes and to leverage what I have learned.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

Most importantly, do something that you enjoy doing. Once you determine what you enjoy doing, focus on getting the job done, not moving up the ranks. Also, I have found that if you think of your role in its broadest scope and execute it accordingly, you will achieve better results and more exposure than if you operate with tunnel vision.

How important is it to develop a specialty or a niche?

Just as in marketing a brand, having a specialty helps. But if it is too narrow, you will be confined to niche roles.

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

I see a deep transformation of manufacturers, providers and patients. Most therapeutic solutions will be personalized, making medical decisions more complex. Manufacturers and healthcare providers will need to use informatics-based algorithms to make large sets of patient data clinically actionable. Manufacturers will become more solution-driven, well beyond medication, with the best leveraging several converging technologies: bioinformatics, Internet and novel therapeutics. On the provider side, trends like the growth of Accountable Care Organizations and the use of targeted therapies, bioinformatics and cloud technology will improve quality of care, curb waste and result in more efficient healthcare delivery. Finally, with an increasingly open Internet culture, consumers will require more transparency from the industry, better healthcare performance measures, and access to their own medical records. As clinical stem cells make their appearance, patients' expectations will also shift from alleviating symptoms to cure and repair. With these trends converging, the public will challenge the industry and regulatory agencies to expedite the delivery of new technologies to those in need.

Keith Hopps, director of consumer marketing, Medtronic

Time in the industry: 10 years in healthcare marketing, nine in CPG/agency marketing

Original career plan: Ad agency career in client services

Previous roles: Account manager, Leo Burnett; brand manager, SC Johnson; sr. brand manager, Bristol-Myers Squibb; assoc. marketing director, Colgate-Palmolive; assoc. marketing director, Abbott

How did you get into healthcare/pharma? What did you do before?

I2000 a number of CPG marketers were recruited by Bristol-Myers Squibb to lead DTC for the launch of Zelnorm. My ad agency and CPG brand-management experience made me well-suited for the role, which involved planning and executing a TV-based campaign.

Did your career find you, or did you find it?

Healthcare marketing kind of found me. What enticed me was the opportunity to work on a “blockbuster” drug launch for irritable bowel syndrome. For me, this meant the potential for a major media spend...and an opportunity to lay claim to building a billion-dollar brand.

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

Angel Ilagan helped me understand the nuances between DTC and CPG marketing and the importance of deep-level consumer segmentation; Vanessa Broadhurst expanded my consumer background to include physician promotion experience on Prevacid; and Cindy Kent schooled me on personal branding and building an internal network of support.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?

I delight in winning with a team that works well together, learning new things and always looking to do something great. That's what energizes me. One of the fortunate parts of having a varied career across various companies and working with diverse people, from ad agency to CPG brand management to healthcare marketing management, is that I can reflect back on successes and failures and those attributes, circumstances and skills that have helped me out. Knowing most of what has worked and what hasn't, has led me to be far more deliberate in what skills I apply and what circumstances I seek going forward.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Maybe earlier in my career I would have benefited from identifying more people who had already gone down the path I was pursuing and gotten their pearls of wisdom in advance. That might have saved me from some trial and error with picking up the organizational cultural differences in healthcare vs. CPG.  Healthcare marketing is far more relationship intensive and conservative, culturally.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

Get a strong mentor who will provide time with you and will be candid with advice. Focus on learning and being great at what you do. Consider a field rotation early on, even if your interest is in DTC marketing. While I never carried the bag, early experience with handling training responsibilities on Prevacid and Micardis pays back every year since my days at Abbott. And remember, always anticipate and be ready to manage change because it is now a constant.

How important is it to develop a specialty or niche?

It really depends on where you want to go with your career, plus the importance of being a specialist versus a generalist varies by organization.  Great DTC opportunities need experts who are grounded in traditional marketing capabilities and are growing in their digital marketing competencies. That's my chosen specialty.  Within healthcare marketing, medical device in particular, DTC is still newly forming muscle so one has to be a force for organizational change as well as being competent with functional skills. I do find it necessary to have skills and exposures in new product launches, physician promotion, or sales leadership in order to have career flexibility and to be able to advance further up the ladder over time.

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

Winning companies will be more disciplined to align globally on strategy, and they'll structure and resource appropriately to localize strategy as necessary. Physician and consumer marketing will be far more digitally-based, and move beyond awareness and education to engagement, via mobile, social and even offline programs.  Consumer decisions and treatment will occur frequently at retail centers, particularly as advances in automated diagnostics and standardized treatment regimens come more into play.  Folks are living longer, so even more care will take place at their homes with a whole new set of companies launching to deliver home care.  One of the big product or service areas will be new developments in preventive care. Innovations are going to surface to meet the needs of a more demanding consumer base.

Len Kanavy, VP, commercial business operations, Genentech

Time in the industry: Almost 25 years

Original career plan: Sales rep, district manager, sales director, etc.

Previous roles: For Novartis: sales rep (upstate NY), sales analytics, various roles in analysis/operations, head of US business analysis group, then head of commercial operations. For Genentech: head of commercial
business operations

How did you get into healthcare/pharma? What did you do before?

When I was in high school, I started as a part-time employee at a grocery store, staying there for 10 years until I was general manager. It was a fantastic way to learn how to run a business—you learn to market effectively in order to get the most profit from limited space, and it demands great customer service.

Did your career find you, or did you find it?

My father was as pharmaceutical sales representative for many years, and then my brother and two sisters also became reps. So, I decided it was time to leave the grocery store to join the “family business” and took a sales territory in Albany, NY.

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

My parents had a profound impact on my values, and my six brothers and sisters ensured I knew how to work in a team. I learned how to negotiate early! When I entered the workforce, I found many people to guide me: Ian Clark, David Epstein, Kurt Graves, Alex Gorsky, Mark Iwicki, Mark Rose and Chuck Ziakas.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?

Focus on performing at a high level and always do what is best for the business and patient. It's the people who excel in their current role who get new opportunities. Throughout my career people would approach me about new opportunities if they thought I was doing a really good job and if I always had the organization's best interest in mind. As a manager, the most important skill is to hire and develop a strong team.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I have been very fortunate in my career, so there is not much I would change.  One of the most important things I did was to be willing to take a bit of a risk in new opportunities. I was willing to take on new jobs or projects if I thought I would develop and grow.

My criteria for taking a new job are:

• Will I work for a good person that I will learn from? 

• Will I enjoy the job and learn new skills? I think you perform better doing things you enjoy. 

• Is there another career step that I can move to from this position?

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

I think we work in the absolute best industry on the planet because we focus on helping people get well and saving lives. That is enormously gratifying. So if you want to get into this industry, make sure that you have a passion for science, patients and people. These are the most important aspects of our industry and if you are excited by them, this could offer a rewarding and fulfilling career. As you move up the ranks, make sure you are spending time developing your people. At Genentech it is expected that managers are helping their teams grow and developing the next generation of leaders for the organization.

How important is it to develop a specialty or niche?

Early in your career I think it is important to get breadth of experience and learn different aspects of the industry. Be willing to take lateral moves to learn new skills and functions. If you have a broad base of experiences, you are better prepared to compete for future opportunities and will be more successful as take on greater responsibility. At some point I do think it is important to choose your path and then spend time becoming an expert so you can add the greatest value to the company.

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

I am very excited about the future of our industry.  The breakthroughs in science are helping us understand diseases at a whole new level, resulting in exciting new medicines that hold the promise of increased efficacy with less side effects.  There is much work to do.  We is still high unmet need in very complicated disease such as Alzheimer's, cancer, cardiovascular, autoimmune and many other diseases.  Patients are counting on us.

Brian Lange, marketing director, GlaxoSmithKline

Time in the industry: About two years

Original career plan: General manager-style positions

Prior management roles: A series of positions with progressive responsibility at Johnson & Johnson's consumer
business unit

How did you get into healthcare/pharma? What did you do before?

Coming out of my undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, I spent approximately four years working as a strategy consultant at PriceWaterhouseCoopers—during which time I had my first exposure to the health-care and pharmaceutical space working for clients such as Johnson & Johnson, Astra-Zeneca, and Aetna. At that stage, I knew that I was interested in making a career switch that allowed me to gain more responsibility and accountability for the work that I was doing. So, my wife and I moved to North Carolina and I pursued my MBA in the daytime program at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University—with the intention of moving into a product management career path.

Upon enrolling at Fuqua, I knew that the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries were of particular interest to me. Following graduation, I began a series of roles with progressive responsibility with Johnson & Johnson's Consumer business. It was a fantastic opportunity to work across a variety of marketing roles. An opportunity then presented itself for me to join GlaxoSmithKline, working within its Cardiovascular, Metabolic, and Urology business unit, leading up DTC marketing efforts on LOVAZA, as well as for the erectile dysfunction portfolio. Most recently, I've moved into the respiratory business unit, helping to develop launch strategies for future products

Did your career find you, or did you find it?

I think that most careers are a mix of intention and circumstance—and mine is not that different. I look back on every career experience I've had as being incredibly valuable to my development as a marketer and business leader, but I'd also be lying if I could have told you that everything has happened exactly the way I would have drawn it out. To me, each step on the path has been moving me towards the longer-term goals I've always been motivated by in life (personally and professionally), and, honestly, your goals always grow and evolve based on your own life experiences.

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

I've been lucky in that every manager/director I've worked for since business school has always found ways to push me and challenge me differently than the ones prior—from Rebecca Fretty at Unilever, to Crystal Fouchard, Shideh Hashemi, Max Wolf, and Ivy Brown at J&J, and Kellie Boyle & Dave Elder at GSK—each has made me a stronger and better business leader. Of course, there are those organization leaders you're lucky enough to encounter along the way—those that truly inspire you and provide that template for the type of leader you'd like to become. In that space, I have to flag Kathy Widmer (who's now the CMO at Elizabeth Arden) and Debra Sandler (who's now the President of the Chocolate Business at Mars).

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?

I think the most useful career skill I've had has been the ability to never lose sight of the bigger picture—probably something I cultivated a lot during my consulting days, but a skill that comes in handy on a regular basis!

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I can't think of one specific thing that I'd do differently—there are always games of ‘what if?' that we play, of course. For me, life and a career are as much about the journey as they are about the destination.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

Be your full self at work, at home, in every moment of your life. If you are honest with yourself and allow yourself to be honest with others, I'm quite certain you'll wind up in a place that is good for you. Specific to the pharma industry and/or the ability to move up the ranks—the biggest advice I'd offer is to embrace the dramatic change that this industry is going through.  “The way we've always done it” is not going to be the key for success in the future.

How important is it to develop a specialty or niche?

Personally, I think this is a mixed bag. Specialties are great – until they aren't needed and/or special anymore. I'm reminded of a story I heard once from a senior executive at Frito-Lay. When asked how the company defined its competitive space, they didn't say “chips or salty snacks,” but rather “share of stomach.” Be careful of burying yourself into too deep of a specialty—in today's world of rapid change, what would happen if your specialty isn't needed anymore?

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

Reinventing itself again. There are so many external opportunities and headwinds that exist – we refer to it at GSK as ‘being in the whitewater—sometimes the rapids slow down, but even then, they are still rapids. Change will be the new normal. It's the former consultant in me—I can't resist the soundbites!

Lance Longwell, director of communications, Siemens Healthcare

Time in the industry: 13 years

Original career plan: Become a ­physician

Previous roles: Senior manager, corporate communications, IMS Health (from 2004-2008); previous agency roles at Cooney/Waters Group, Euro RSCG and Noonan/Russo Communications; consultant at Pfizer

How did you get into healthcare/pharma? What did you do before?

I was always drawn to the life sciences and making a difference in people's lives but happened into communications early in my career. While doing research, I discovered that I enjoyed writing about the results. From there, my move into corporate communications was a logical step.

Did your career find you, or did you find it?

I found the career, but each role within my career found me.

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

I had two strong mentors in my career. The first was my mentor at the University of Colorado who encouraged me to follow my passion for communications and leave academic research. The second was my manager at Pfizer, who taught me that the unconventional move in your career can be your best choice.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?

My most useful skill has been the ability to synthesize data from different sources and tie it into a cohesive story. The best ideas often come from unusual and unexpected sources, and I deliberately seek those out.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I don't think I would have done anything differently in my career.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

Many people look at their career as a checklist, seeking out the next rung on the ladder. Instead, I would encourage people to look beyond a “job,” and instead look at their careers as a series of challenges and not be afraid to completely step outside of comfort zones into a new role or area. In my career, I went from pharma to agencies to market research before coming to medical technology. This path would not be the obvious one, but it took me from challenge to challenge, while enhancing my skills and knowledge.

How important is it to develop a specialty or niche?

Early on, I think it can be very important to brand yourself as a specialist—for example, a “market research analyst” or “oncology marketer.” However, those labels can often prevent future opportunities. Niches and silos are great for taxonomy, but limiting in the real world because challenges are often bigger than the niche.

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

The life science industry will look dramatically different in 10 years. We're changing the way we look at and treat patients—moving from treating the illness to managing health. Looking back, 10 years ago, we talked of pharma or biotech as separate industries. This convergence will continue—partnerships and innovation will bring about a new generation of products that fuses multiple disciplines into improving health care.

Allan Weber, CEO, Essential Pharmaceuticals

Time in the industry: 23 years

Original career plan: Corporate financial analysis

Previous roles: Financial analyst (Ethicon), sales rep (Carter Wallace), product management (Carter Wallace, Gynetics, Lavipharm), business development (Lavipharm, Odyssey, Essential), general manager/president (Odyssey)

How did you get into healthcare/pharma? What did you do before?

After graduate school, I researched numerous companies. The healthcare industry was of special interest due to its rapid growth, and the high-tech nature of it appealed to me. I have stayed in healthcare since day one.

Did your career find you, or did you find it?

While initially my career found, in the long run I found it. Pharma always provided opportunity and diversity of work, keeping me involved and motivated.  Knowledge gained over time and with experience allowed me to develop and realize a strong career path in the healthcare industry.

Who was instrumental to your growth along the way?

I have been fortunate to have several excellent mentors. My first Controller at Ethicon taught me the value of seeing the company's business as a whole, but through the details of the daily job. Upon entering sales, a great sales manager showed me the difference between a sales rep and a leader of sales. Senior leadership at Odyssey and Pliva (now owned by Teva) provided the opportunity to “walk the walk.” It was here I learned the value and skills of managing and developing people. The trust they instilled in me, and the valuable tools they taught, allowed me the ability to manage a corporation, which is essence is managing and developing people.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?

Business development.  Learning how to manage the overall needs of the company's future, and collaborating with others on achieving this has been invaluable. It is a skill developed only over time through interactions with all departments in the company and the analysis and development of company and market needs and conditions.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I may have stayed at big pharma a little longer before making the jump to smaller companies. While I definitely prefer the smaller company environment, the larger pharma company's formal training and development programs are wonderful.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?

First, you must truly enjoy what you are doing. Without that passion, it is impossible to excel. Second, focus on your current job/assignment and how it contributes to the company. By proving you are excellent at your job, while simultaneously understanding the bigger picture, you will be noticed. Never take the small steps along the way for granted.

How important is it to develop a specialty or niche?

It's not important.  Having the ability to understand a broad scope of business needs and accomplish multiple endeavors is important in today's pharma.

How do you see the industry 10 years from now?

We will see a more collaborative style between companies, research, academia and government but the outcomes will still be personal healthcare innovations with a less regional and more global focus. 

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