Career Path: Six Stories to the Top

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Pharma marketers have diverse backgrounds. What they have in common is a desire to help patients and dispel negative images of the industry. Here are six who made it to the pinnacle


Sally Susman, senior vice president & chief communications officer, Pfizer
Time in the industry: Since January 2008
Original career plan: When I was a little girl, my dream was to grow up to be the mayor of my hometown (St. Louis, MO). I studied political science in college and have always been interested in policy-making, governmental affairs and history. Then, when I started working in politics, I realized I didn't want to live in politics, and decided to move into corporate affairs, which for me is the best of both worlds —the intellectually challenges without the life of a public official. I think I've got the balance right now—the challenges of working in corporate affairs within the structure of a global corporation and the private-sector lifestyle.

Previous jobs: EVP, global communications at The Estée Lauder Companies; VP, communications and corporate affairs at American Express Company; deputy assistant secretary, US Department of Commerce; legislative assistant, Senate Commerce Committee


Why did you enter the industry?
I was attracted to Pfizer because our stated purpose: “Working together for a healthier world,” is compelling. It's energizing to work with such talented and committed colleagues, especially now, when the future of the healthcare industry is being decided.

What valuable skills did you pick up from you previous roles?
One key skill is the ability to quickly digest and parse very complex issues and express company views in new and meaningful ways. Another is the need to “campaign for ideas,” internally and externally, and to see an issue from the perspective of all stakeholders.

Ever think you'd be working in healthcare marketing?
No.

What have you gotten out of the industry?
Healthcare is the third industry I have worked in, having also been in financial services and consumer products. Moving across industries is a broadening and deepening experience. Healthcare, in particular, is a great experience.

What about any personal rewards you may have gotten?
I have found it personally very rewarding, as a non-scientist, to work with the researchers at Pfizer.

What has surprised you most about it?
How high the stakes are.

What would you have done differently?
Too many things to mention here!

What advice would you give to others looking to get into the industry?
It's important to understand the business and the science to the best of our ability. It's equally critical to demonstrate your personal commitment to the industry and your willingness to take risk.



Craig A. DeLarge, associate director, eMarketing & relationship marketing, Novo Nordisk
Time in the industry:
21 years
Original career plan: Design, but I switched to marketing when a professor convinced me I could feed a family better as a marketer. Apologies to my designer friends. I was young and impressionable.

Previous jobs: Not counting college, my entire career has been in pharma marketing. I started as a client service analyst at IMS America. Then a marketing systems analyst at McNeil Pharma; media planner/director at CMI; VP, business development, Advanced Clinical Communications; product director, J&J/Merck; eBusiness manager, J&J Worldwide Consumer Pharma; digital communications manager, J&J Global Pharma Communications; integrated communications manager, GSK; and now at Novo Nordisk


Why did you enter the industry?
My dad worked for Johnson & Johnson and so helped me with internships in college which resulted in a pharma resume by age 22. I wanted to go into fashion, publishing or advertising but they were not paying as much as pharma and I was looking to get married right out of college so there you have it.

What valuable skills did you pick up from you previous roles?
Working on product launches in and for world-class firms have been most challenging and most developmental during my career.

Ever think you'd be working in healthcare marketing?
It emerged for me over time that I would have to in order to achieve my personal career goals. Looking back, I am glad I did.

What have you gotten out of the industry?
Wow! That's a long list! Most of all I have gotten a set of experiences that have allowed me to develop and leverage my gifts with an exceptional community of professionals on a set of objectives that benefit society and the world. What a gift!

What has surprised you most about it?
What has surprised me is how the perception of our industry has changed in the public's eye. Such a change from the level of respect we garnered when I entered the community years ago to now.

What would you have done differently?
Most of my career, I have plagued myself with the thought that I ought to be doing something differently but now I realize that everything did and will happen as it was supposed to.

What advice would you give to others looking to get into the industry?
1) Because it takes 20 years to create an overnight success, be patient and persistent; 2) expect opposition and continually recommit to your objectives; 3) offer your value before expecting to get anything; 4) use your network that is connected to the industry; 5) understand your transferable skills; 6) focus on biotech & oncology, they're booming; and 7) be careful of defining the industry too narrowly.



Joan Mikardos, senior director, media, Sanofi-Aventis US
Time in the industry:
2 years
Original career plan: Marketing/advertising

Previous jobs: Media planning strategy at several large NYC advertising agencies

Why did you enter the industry?
To do something more meaningful and to help people.

What valuable skills did you pick up from your previous roles?
Working at an agency teaches you many things and is a good step to opportunities on the client side in any industry. Specifically, working under pressure, delivering results, having a customer service mentality, handling rejection, selling and using a team-based approach.

Ever think you'd be working in healthcare marketing?
Not when I started in the advertising business 20 years ago!

What have you gotten out of the industry?
There are very prominent role models in the pharma industry and here at Sanofi-Aventis, many of them are women.

What about any personal rewards you may have gotten out of the industry?
Knowing that the products we make help save lives is very meaningful and knowing that what I do can have an impact on patients.

What has surprised you most about it?
How misunderstood the industry is and how that has negatively impacted public perceptions.

What would you have done differently?
Every step along my career path has helped develop and define me.

What advice would you give to others looking to get into the industry?
Identify a specific area of focus. Understand what your passions are and pursue opportunities that best suit your interests.




Rich Daly, EVP, Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America
Time in the industry:
20 years. I have been with the Takeda family of companies for 18 years.  
Original career plan: I studied microbiology as an undergrad at Notre Dame. My intent was to go into research. 

Previous jobs: Teacher, coach, public affairs representative, sales representative, managed markets sales, product management, market research/outcomes research, director of marketing, VP of marketing, VP of commercial strategy, VP of integration

How did you enter the industry?
I joined the industry as a sales rep right out of college. At the time it was not a good fit for me so I left to go into teaching and coaching. I coached for seven years and it was through this experience that I developed my approach to management and leadership. I rejoined the industry almost 10 years after I originally left…as a rep and found it to be a much better fit because I had grown significantly.

What valuable skills did you pick up from you previous roles?
All my jobs have provided me with an opportunity to grow professionally. Each position—from managing an aging product with the lowest sales in the company's portfolio to managing the integration of three companies after a merger—offers a rich learning experience.  

Ever think you'd be working in healthcare marketing?
No, my first experience in pharma was not a good one for me. As a result I took a significant amount of time away from the business.

What have you gotten out of the industry?
I have a deep-seated compassion for patient wellbeing by integrating science with patient care. We all have the experience of being a patient and my experience was particularly harrowing. Six years ago I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that was successfully removed. After surgery I continued to experience seizures. The diagnosis was epilepsy, potentially devastating news. I chose to look at having epilepsy as an opportunity to be more focused on my health. I believe this is one of the best professional gifts I have ever received.

What has surprised you most about it?
I believe we have great skills at crafting core messages to our customers. Interestingly, we don't seem to be able to apply these same skills to get the messages out to the public about the good that we do and the value we create for society in general.

What would you have done differently?
I would have developed a core group of advisors—both within and outside the industry—earlier.

What advice would you give to others looking to get into the industry?
Accept the fact that a “career path” is pretty much a myth. You have to be willing to take calculated risks and follow your own path.



Meryl Weinreb, global brand manager, emerging neuroscience, AstraZeneca
Time in the industry: 20+
Original career plan: I was working on a doctorate in American studies. I became aware of a fellowship sponsored by the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation to “retool” academics for a career in business. I was one of 50 people selected for an all-expense paid summer at NYU Graduate School of Business. I then managed to persuade General Mills to hire me, without an MBA, for a marketing job.

Previous jobs: My first assignment at General Mills was with one of its subsidiaries at the time—Kenner Toys. I was put in charge of developing electronic games. I didn't know a thing about the toy industry, and knew even less about electronics. I spent three and a half years in the wild world of toys. Then I had the opportunity to transfer back to General Mill's food business

How did you enter the industry?
A recruiter persuaded me to jump to Schering-Plough's OTC Dr. Scholl's foot care business. I immersed myself in fungus—managing Tinactin, Lotrimin, Dr. Scholl's and Aftate brands. My major contribution to popular culture was having John Madden go, “Boom! Tough Act'n Tinactin.”

Ever think you'd be working in healthcare marketing?
As an academic with a background in history and literature, I had no idea such a career even existed. I realized that marketing was a lot like American Studies—multidisciplinary and challenging.  

What have you gotten out of the industry?
An opportunity to work with extraordinary people who share a vision and passion around making a difference in patient health.

What about any personal rewards you may have gotten out of the industry?
My work in oncology led to my election to the executive board of the Philadelphia affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. It has been a great leadership opportunity as well as another way to extend my commitment to helping patients battle their disease.

What has surprised you most about it?
This industry should be proud of its enormous contributions to patient health, innovation and discovering new medicines that make such a huge difference in people's lives. It still surprises me when I hear negative views and misperceptions about our industry.

What would you have done differently?
I don't think I would have done it differently. A solid liberal arts education is great preparation for a marketing career.

What advice would you give to others looking to get into the industry?
Don't just come looking for a job—instead, figure out what really excites and jazzes you and then find a place that shares your passion and your values. This is a great industry to discover both.



Samuel Trujillo, director, consumer marketing, Bayer HealthCare
Time in the industry:
20+ years
Original career plan: I originally studied biochemistry at the University of New Mexico, then I moved on to study marketing and business at the University of Michigan and received an EMBA. I then attended the Pepperdine School of Business where I entered the MBA program with a focus on business and law.

Previous jobs: Director of respiratory marketing, Schering-Plough; worldwide director of oncology marketing, Novartis; helped start Richwood Pharmaceuticals (bought by Shire); spent almost 14-years at Warner-Lambert in various positions; various positions at Parke-Davis; and spent almost five years at Proctor & Gamble

Why did you enter the industry?
I always liked science—I used to breed mice as a kid and make my own rockets and gun powder—and I liked business but I simply could not decide where to focus. A career counselor recommended that I look at healthcare and Proctor & Gamble was recruiting.

What valuable skills did you pick up from you previous roles?
A lesson I learned at a young age in marketing was to not take the fastest road to the next level, that it was better to gain experience and knowledge along the way. As a result, I've taken many laterals in my career, which has served me quite well.

Ever think you'd be working in healthcare marketing?
As a child I never thought that I would be in pharmaceutical marketing. I didn't even know it existed, but I knew that I would probably run a business, be in marketing and I always liked science.

What about any personal rewards you may have gotten out of the industry?
I was at a late meeting in a manufacturing warehouse as a young marketer, I took a wrong turn and got locked in the production facility late one night, as it was locked down for security. As I walked through the warehouse I realized that essentially, what we do is sell little packages of powder and those little packages of powder and liquids make people's lives better if we get it to them the right way.  

What has surprised you most about it?
Marketing is a very rough environment. It's very competitive. It's not all about just making pretty ads, you have to have a good education and you have to know what you're doing.  

What would you have done differently?
There is a philosopher named Joe Walsh who sums up my experiences in the industry to date: “Life's been good to me so far.”

What advice would you give to others looking to get into the industry?
You can be a good pharma marketing person if you get the right opportunity, have the right contacts and you have some good street sense. However, to be a great pharma marketing person you should take your time and really learn the trade.
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