Career Path: Advancing with the Stars

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Career Path: Advancing with the Stars
Career Path: Advancing with the Stars

Sometimes it's a lateral move. Other times, advancing takes fancy footwork. The main thing, say these six biopharma execs, is to think on your feet. As told to Marc Iskowitz

 

Bill Abernethy, VP, global market development, Prosensa Therapeutics

Time in the industry: 32 years; I joined Eli Lilly in 1981, after graduating from Auburn University

Original career plan: Sales and sales management

Previous roles: Four years of sales experience, eight years of experience in clinical trial management as a clinical research associate (CRA), Eli Lilly; then 20 years of pharma/biotech marketing experience (13 of that globally), rising up the ranks from assistant product manager to VP while at Boehringer Mannheim, Solvay, Boehringer Ingelheim, Genzyme and now Prosensa, which aims to develop innovative, RNA-based therapeutics to address unmet medical needs for patients with genetic disorders, including Duchenne muscular dystrophy

How did you get into healthcare/pharma?
My Dad gently guided me toward science-based companies with good training programs. Eli Lilly was rapidly expanding in the early 80s and diversifying more toward the pharmaceutical side. I was brought in-house and retrained as a CRA. At the same time, I had Lilly friends that took a more traditional route from sales to market research to marketing associate. I saw the satisfaction they gained and charted a course toward a pharma/biotech marketing career.

What valuable skills did you pick up from your previous roles?
The ability to take complex scientific/clinical data and simplify it to what matters most to the stakeholders.

To whom do you feel you owe your success?
Cari Stevens at Solvay, who hired me onto her marketing team as an assistant product manager.  She was willing to take a chance on someone with a different background, having come from clinical. And Paul Merrigan, who hired me into Genzyme and the world of rare genetic diseases and ultra-orphan drugs.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?
Speak slowly and listen intently! And simplify your messages! One of my favorite Genzyme memories was when I was approached by a Genzyme Brazil marketer who told me I was the only presenter he could understand, because I spoke slowly enough for him to comprehend!

Is there anything you would have done differently?
Let those around me help me meet my career goals. Early on, I wanted to reach one particular career milestone myself and didn't seek help. As a result, it ultimately took longer to achieve that milestone. After the fact, I found out there were senior people I worked with, who would have been more than happy to advocate on my behalf.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?
The opportunity for continuous learning and the ability to periodically reinvent yourself.

How do you help others unleash their potential?
Make myself accessible and again, listen intently and strive to understand. Provide enough guidance/detail that they understand the issue, and then let them work it out on their own. 

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?
Start working on your network early and grow it at every chance. Be willing to take a detour or two on your career path. It will probably provide you with an edge in the future that you're not considering today.

 

Joyce Ercolino, director, eStrategy, global commercial development, CSL Behring

Time in the pharma industry: I've been working in the pharma industry for about 10 years, eight years most recently, and two years previously as a consultant

Original career plan: I started out my career in communications, and was interested in broadcasting.  I majored in radio/television/film, and liked the creative side of the business.  After some college radio experience, I focused on television and worked as a writer/producer/director. I worked on live events as well as post-production, and developed all types of TV programs and videos.

Previous roles: Following my time as a writer/producer/director in broadcast TV with FOX and NBC affiliates, I managed my own consulting business in the same role and with a variety of industries, including pharma, and did work with SmithKline (Beecham). Then I worked for Unisys, a global information technology organization producing and directing. I also held a special projects producer role there and worked on bringing new technologies into the company, as traditional media was evolving into multimedia and interactive marketing. I went on to initiate digital marketing for their consulting services division. Now, I'm director of eStrategy in global commercial development at CSL Behring, a global plasma protein company. I manage the team responsible for digital marketing and governance.

How did you get into healthcare/pharma?
I always liked healthcare and was interested in a role in pharma. I transferred my leadership, communication and online expertise to head up global digital marketing at CSL Behring as an associate director.

What valuable skills did you pick up from your previous roles?
I majored in radio/television/film and liked the creative side of the business. After some college radio experience, I focused on TV and worked as a writer/producer/director. I worked on live events as well as post-production, and developed all types of TV programs and videos. I learned how to be a quick study on many topics and industries, so that I could effectively write and communicate about them, whether in long-form or short form. Good communication skills are so valuable.

To whom do you feel you owe your success?
My parents taught me to work hard, and to earn my own way.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?
Being a lifelong learner has helped me to grow, to seek out new opportunities, and to move into new career areas.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have taken more business courses in college.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?
There are so many passionate and talented people that really care about the patients we serve. I feel fortunate to work with such knowledgeable peers.

How do you help others unleash their potential?
It's important to help people see what they are good at, to help them believe in themselves, and to expose them to opportunities that can tap their potential. It's better to get something done, and to learn from an experience, than to spend too much time on every project and worry about perfection.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?
Find what you are most passionate about and learn to embrace change. It's the only constant we have. Take on new opportunities, especially outside of your area of expertise so that you can stretch and grow.

 

Pete Feldman, executive director, global marketing, Amgen

Time in the industry:18 years

Original career plan: Corporate finance

Previous roles: Financial analyst, IR (Applied Magnetics Corp.), assist. treasurer; exec. director, pricing/contracting; wholesaler management; corporate accounts sales management; strategic planning for US markets; US brand marketing lead, Amgen

How did you get into healthcare/pharma?
I took an internship while getting my MBA and I was excited about being able to work in an industry that had a direct impact on people's lives.

What valuable skills did you pick up from your previous roles?
Adapt and be flexible. Every new role has been very different and being willing to take on responsibilities where I have had no prior experience has been invaluable.

To whom do you feel you owe your success?
My first manager was the CFO. She gave me opportunities to do many things knowing I had no prior industry experience. I had the latitude to make decisions, make mistakes and figure things out on my own. Although it was daunting, it was also tremendously rewarding to have such accountability for my work. 

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?
The ability to make the complex, simple. Being objective with all the information we have and distilling it into the essence of the situation. Early on in my career I presented frequently to senior level executives and I was forced to get to the point quickly and provide strategic choices and recommendations. 

Is there anything you would have done differently?
Take on an international/global role early in my career.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?
The pace of change. Long product development cycles do not translate into a static business landscape. The science, competition, regulatory and global environment does not stand still, so we are challenged daily to adapt and innovative so we can bring our products to patients. This all adds up to a tremendously dynamic space that keeps me motivated.

How do you help others unleash their potential?
Give individuals and teams clarity on the goal and the problem they are empowered to solve. Then get out of their way! People can do the extraordinary when given the opportunity to think independently and take ownership their work.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?
Have a passion for what you choose to pursue. This industry can be tremendously rewarding when we make a difference for even a single patient. Passion is what helps you persevere when the inevitable challenges make our goal seem more difficult to achieve. Don't be focused on moving up, focus on being the best at what you are doing right now.  Everything else will take care of itself.

Mary Pietrowski, senior director, digital strategy & marketing, Hologic

Time in industry:

11 years

Original career plan: With a psychology undergraduate major, my focus initially was on social work. My goal was realized with my first job as a social worker for the MA Department of Social Services

Previous roles: Director, patient marketing, and director, e-marketing, Hologic (these responsibilities included overseeing direct-to-consumer and e-marketing for key Hologic products); marketing consultant, GTC Biotherapeutics and Stethographics

How did you get into healthcare/pharma?
The week after 9/11, the high tech company I had been working for closed. It was then that I decided to focus on the medical field. I wanted what I did for a career to truly matter and specifically, to make a difference to women. So I did extensive networking, took relevant college coursework, and became a medical device and biopharmaceutical consultant. In 2005, I was hired as the director of patient marketing at Hologic, where I have been able to live out my passion to enhance women's health.

What valuable skills did you pick up from your previous roles?
My high-tech experience taught me invaluable project management and product-marketing skills. In addition, I was CEO of my own online business, womanspirit.com (the first online women's bookstore), during which time I developed life-long skills in leadership, entrepreneurship and digital strategy execution.

To whom do you feel you owe your success?
I owe my success to several senior executives throughout my career who looked beyond the fact that I didn't have specific biotech/medical device experience, but recognized I had the skill set they needed. 

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?
Being self-motivated and taking the initiative to continually learn has enabled me to find emerging digital trends and to capitalize on those trends. For example, while director of marketing at Hologic, my team and I launched some of the industry's earliest direct-to-consumer e-marketing and social media campaigns.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
The simple answer is no—from my perspective, I believe all of the paths I have chosen culminated in the career I have now. My early experiences in social work and high tech helped enormously in understanding how the human psyche influences thought, behavior and personality and ultimately impacts how one chooses to market new technologies. They enabled me to open womanspirit.com and provided the background I needed for the position I have now with Hologic.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?
Transferring my marketing and digital skills from the high tech/consumer industries was surprisingly easy. The only significant difference has been the added layers of legal and regulatory requirements.

How do you help others unleash their potential?
Just as senior management did for me, I strive to help my team members see capabilities within themselves that might not be apparent and encourage them to develop their skills through ongoing education and on-the-job training.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?
Be persistent. Network. Become a subject-matter expert. Show initiative—take on stretch projects. The rewards—both professionally and personally—are amazing when you are willing to challenge yourself!

 

David Stern, SVP, head, global business franchise, fertility, EMD Serono

Time in the industry: 20 years

Original career plan: I have a biology and economics degree, and always wanted to combine the two. I was an emergency medical technician during college and really enjoyed the challenge of thinking on your feet, and getting patients treated quickly and getting them out of danger and to a hospital. My friends in college told me to go to medical school, but I didn't want to invest all the time in med school, residency, fellowship, so I decided to go into the biopharmaceutical Industry.

Previous roles: Sales representative, Organon (1 year); reproductive health specialist (field based), Organon (2 years); district manager, Organon (2.5 yrs); group product manager, women's health, Organon (2 years); marketing director, US women's health, Organon (4 years); vice president of marketing, metabolic endocrinology, EMD Serono (2 years); executive vice president, head of US commercial operations for endocrinology, EMD Serono (7 years)

How did you get into healthcare/pharma?
Always loved the business side of healthcare and wanted to be able to use my medical background and combine it with business. I started as a sales rep to "learn the business" and always wanted to move into management.

What valuable skills did you pick up from your previous roles?
Working in sales gave me an appreciation to listen to what the customer needs. When I moved into marketing, I always saw my customer, not as the patient or physician, but sales team that was utilizing the programs I was creating on a day-to-day basis. As a sales representative, if you  don't have confidence in the sales materials, you won't use them, and a lot of time and money will go to waste. As a Sales Manager, I learned how to build a strong team and to motivate people with different personalities. My biggest lesson was to help develop each person according to their strengths, not what my strengths were. The skills I learned in running the US Business Team was how to lead a large cross-functional team (including medical) and manage a P&L. Having flexibility to move investment to different areas to maximize return was critical to the success of the business.

To whom do you feel you owe your success?
As most people will say, I've been very lucky to have excellent mentors throughout my career. My initial Sales Manager taught me how to ask open ended questions and really listen to the response- rather than have a prepared sales call. My first VP of Marketing allowed me a lot of flexibility to build a non-conventional marketing plan based on the needs of the physicians and show that I could drive results while taking on a leadership role (as a junior marketer with a fresh MBA). The 2 most important mentors were the ones that brought me to EMD Serono (Serono at the time). The EVP of Metabolic Endocrinology took me under his wing and taught me how to not just run a marketing team, but how to lead a business unit. The President of Serono had faith in me to promote me from Marketing to EVP and placed his trust in me to run the business unit and turn the business around. He helped me to structure my vision based on a combination of business analysis and the passion I had for the therapeutic area.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?
Leading people through a shared vision. Teamwork is so critical to business success, and the best way to be successful is to build a team of people that are passionate about what they are doing and enjoy winning.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
There are always things that could be done differently. Learning from mistakes is something that helps to improve how you manager, so in that sense, I wouldn't change things. I spent 18 years of my career focused on the US. I would probably have tried to move into a Global position sooner to get broader experience.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?
The number of passionate people there are. We get a bad rap in public relations. Our industry is made of people that are committed to improving patient's lives, and bring new treatment to people around the world. We do some great things as an industry overall, and don't get enough credit for it.

How do you help others unleash their potential? Build a level of trust and allow people to make mistakes. Understand when to step in and when to let people fail— so they can learn for the future.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?
It takes time—it's not something that happens overnight. I've always told people that it is more important to gain experiences—not look at titles. I have taken lateral moves (sometimes taking a cut in pay or benefits) in order to get experience to be able to move up within organizations. People hire or promote people based on what experiences they have, not based on titles or degrees.

Kristin Vitanza, brand director, marketing, Endo Pharmaceuticals

Time in the industry: 16 years

Original career plan: I planned to be a doctor

Previous roles: Healthcare agency roles: MCS Public Relations (account representative, account executive), ApotheCom Associates (client services director, project manager); industry roles: sanofi-aventis (product manager, manager scientific communications, Endo Pharmaceuticals (brand manager, senior brand manager)

How did you get into healthcare/pharma?
I joined the healthcare industry when I graduated from college. My first job was in a healthcare public relations agency and I haven't left the industry since.

What valuable skills did you pick up from your previous roles?
Two of the most critical skills in any role are communication and perseverance. Everything we do circles around effective communication and the ability to clearly articulate to others. And in our ever-changing industry perseverance is critical—being able to be flexible and adapt quickly to change.

To whom do you feel you owe your success?
My grandmother; she taught me the value of hard work and dedication from a very young age. Her work ethic was so impressive, and I strive for that each and every day.

What's been your most useful career skill, and how did you develop it?
Cross-functional leadership has been critical. Successfully leading a team of colleagues toward a common goal is a skill and an art. I developed this through observing role models over the years and learning what works and what doesn't work. At the end of the day, it comes down to respecting everyone's contributions and leveraging everyone's strengths for the greater good of patients, customers and stakeholders.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
I have had the opportunity to work with dynamic people at innovative organizations and have had some truly rewarding professional experiences, so I don't think there is anything I would like to change.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?
This industry is so heavily regulated. If you can successfully market a brand and bring value to customers then I think you could market any brand beyond healthcare.

How do you help others unleash their potential?
You have to find out what motivates each team member and find out their strengths. Then give them the opportunity to shine with a mix of what they do well along with new opportunities to be challenged, learn, and grow.

What advice would you give others looking to get into the industry or move up the ranks?
Be present in your current role. Yes, you have to think about the next step but be present where you are today or you may miss great learning opportunities. Learn as much as you can and prove yourself.  That is the best way to get recognized and advance in your career.

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