What five different pharma marketing careers look like

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Sierra Towers

Executive director, respiratory marketing, Boehringer Ingelheim

More than seven years in the industry

What was your original career goal, as a youngster or when you got out of school?

To open, develop menus for, and run high-end restaurants.

What were your previous jobs?

All of them were in hospitality, either running established restaurants or opening and running my own.

How did you get into healthcare?

I switched careers, went back to school, and started in pharma after I graduated. BI found me at the MIT Sloan School of Management. I met with the leadership team, visited the campus, and knew I wanted to work there. It reminded me of what I loved about Sloan: The environment was completely collaborative. No egos, no hierarchy — just working together to get the job done.

What were some of the challenges you faced along the way — and how did you get past them?

I struggled with people who did not take me seriously. I had to work hard to earn respect or to get that first meeting. I had to prove I deserved the job.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?

I did not appreciate all the complexities of pharma: the science, medicine, regulation, payers, health systems and contracting, the competition and impact of politics and healthcare reform.

To whom do you owe success? 

While I want to give myself some credit, I have to say I am where I am because of a man I met who told me I could do anything. Eighteen years, a couple of kids, and 14 years of marriage later, he is still my biggest supporter.

What do you consider to be your most useful career skill or greatest professional strength, and how did you develop it?

I am not afraid to ask for what I deserve. I am my own advocate. I read years ago about how women are paid less than men for the same jobs and thought about the people I have hired. Men always negotiated; women, rarely. I wondered how often a woman's pay could have been higher had she asked.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently? 

Yes and no. Yes, I can think of a dozen things I could have done differently, but I am not sure I would have. My greatest failure was selling my restaurant to pay off secured creditors, but I would do it again. But in pharma, I don't think I would change much.

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

Be your own advocate. Have confidence you can do the job and deserve the opportunity to grow and develop. Ask for new responsibilities to round yourself out and never be afraid to negotiate.

Kelly Page

VP, strategic planning, Takeda Oncology

20 years in the industry 

How did you get into healthcare and pharma? 

I earned my bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from Providence College and accepted a position in a Ph.D. program. I had second thoughts and went to work in the pharmaceutical industry until I decided what I wanted to do. I started as an analytical chemist and found I enjoyed the work. Over time I had opportunities in a variety of roles and eventually moved into drug-development management and global commercial roles.

What valuable skill did you pick up from your previous roles?

I learned how to work with a diverse group of people. As a team leader, you need to listen, collaborate, and bring the best out of team members to meet goals.

Do you remember your eureka moment?

In 2003 I worked on a team developing one of the earliest immuno-oncology agents. For the first time in my career, a patient came in and spoke to us about the impact we had on his life and how lucky he felt to participate in the study. I knew at that point that what I was doing was the right thing.

To whom do you owe your success? 

No doubt my parents. They sacrificed a lot to ensure we had opportunities, instilled in us strong morals, and taught us the importance of education, family, and generosity.

Who were your inspirations and mentors?

A former executive at Takeda Oncology, Karen Ferrante, was an incredible influence. She showed me how to do the right thing.

What advice would you offer others?

One of my favorite ways to give back is to visit colleges and speak to students. Looking back, I never knew how many different career options were out there for someone with a chemistry degree or with an MBA. I enjoy opening students' eyes up to the possibilities. You need to love what you do to make some of the needed trade-offs.

Matthew Shaulis

President, North America oncology, Pfizer

19 years in the industry

What were some of your previous jobs?

VP, U.S. oncology, Pfizer; VP, global multiple sclerosis, Teva; head of oncology sales, Teva; head of oncology marketing, Cephalon; and various roles at Johnson & Johnson.

How did you get into healthcare and pharma? 

I started in finance, working in audit for Ernst & Young in U.S. and international banking and investment companies. I was recruited by J&J to work on global treasury centers and various life sciences. I then completed an MBA at Duke University before moving into global commercial roles at J&J.

What valuable skill did you pick up from your previous roles?

Marketing and global roles provided analytic, strategic, and commercial skills, while sales-management experiences provided large-group people management, development, and leadership.

What were some of the challenges along the way — and how did you get past them?

My biggest challenge was to strike the right balance of being a committed leader at work while being a good husband and father. My wife, Sheila, has great energy and is a phenomenal partner.

What has surprised you most about working in the industry?

The value of relationships and reputation both within the industry and with customers, thought leaders, and stakeholders cannot be underestimated.

To whom do you owe your success?

Numerous previous managers provided constructive feedback. This included developing strong listening skills, succinct communication, and the ability to focus time, effort, and execution on the things that matter the most.

What do you consider to be your most useful skill or professional strength? 

I try to find a way to deliver results consistently — on business performance, strategic initiatives, and people and organizational development. Honoring commitments consistently is the best networking opportunity.

What advice would you give to others?

Deliver results and opportunities will come to you.

Mary Michael

VP, patient advocacy and stakeholder management, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical

28 years in the industry

What was your first career goal?

I had numerous interests — all in the sciences. In high school and college, it was medicine and forensic pathology.

What were your previous jobs? 

Interning for the U.S. Navy throughout college and working at a nonprofit, the Virginia Head Injury Foundation.

How did you get into healthcare? 

The best man in our wedding was a sales representative for Mead Johnson Nutritionals, and he suggested I might enjoy pharmaceutical sales.

What valuable skill did you pick up from previous roles?

In marketing, the most valuable skill is curiosity and the passion to learn more from various customers and stakeholders. In my early career, I learned selling skills, messaging, marketing strategies, appreciation for cultural diversity, and adult learning principles — sales training. At my current company, I have had such a broad range of experiences: digital medicine, health IT/population health, social listening, cause marketing, and disease landscape analytics.

What was your eureka moment? 

I joined a launch team in marketing in what was called a “whiteboard” position, which turned out to be a hybrid position. It was the start to a career path I have enjoyed since. It filled me with excitement and a sense of adventure.

What were some of the challenges you faced along the way — and how did you get past them?

The greatest challenges were to demonstrate value to individuals who had never been exposed to a similar position or workstream. Peers and leaders are exposed to traditional commercial or marketing roles, which may have some overlap of responsibilities. The greatest challenges have been to overcome preconceived notions of roles, responsibilities, and value and impact to the business and the organization.

What do you consider to be your most useful career skill or greatest professional strength, and how did you develop it?

Connectivity and creativity. I am not quite sure if they are developed skills or if they are simply innate abilities. Somehow I can see connections in concepts and match them with individuals who may be able to help drive ideas, concepts, or initiatives to fruition.

What advice would you share?

First and foremost, find your passion. Be excited to take on opportunities that are beyond your area of comfort or expertise. Above all else, stay curious and challenge conventional thinking. We are in the most exciting time for healthcare, one in which AI, the Internet of Things, robotics, a vocal social universe, and other technological advances are transforming how we manage our health.

Eva Jack

Chief business officer, Mersana Therapeutics

10 years in the industry 

What was your original career goal?

Lawyer or professor.

What were some of your previous jobs?

I was initially a lobbyist for Intel, so I moved from high tech to biotech.

What valuable skill did you pick up from your previous roles?

The importance of listening to others. It's important to take a step back and think about the goal you want or need to accomplish.

What was your eureka moment?

We had a patient come in and speak about his daily routine — the amount of medicine taken every day and daily physical therapy requirements. It made me want to be part of an industry that could one day help this person and others live without illness or make their lives more manageable.

To whom do you owe your success?

Too many people to count. I have received a lot of encouragement and mentorship.

Who were your inspirations and mentors?

My parents. Both were immigrants to the U.S. They worked hard, emphasized the importance of education, and always encouraged us.

What do you consider to be your most useful skill or professional strength? 

Networking. I've met a lot of people in the industry over the course of my career. It's a great way to learn about different kinds of jobs and areas within the industry. Never be afraid to ask people about what they do or how they got into the industry.

What advice would you offer someone?

Career-growth opportunities present themselves in different ways. If an oppor­tunity presents itself, even if you only have a remote interest in it, it is worth having a conversation about it. You never know where it might lead. With the exception of my first job out of college, I've made all of my job changes based upon someone I know reaching out to me.

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