Pharmaceutical director

 

“The most exciting phrase to hear in Science, the one that heralds new discoveries , is not “ Eureka ” but , “that’s funny?”
(Scientists at GSK discover the on/off switch of genes affecting Heart Disease while looking for something completely different!) Picture of DNA Helix.
 
 

What do you do for a living?

My last job was Regional Director for an International Pharmaceutical ( Medicine) Company.

         

How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?

Interestingly it was via my University Careers department. I graduated in life sciences and had a post graduate teaching qualification too. They told me about this whacky thing I actually couldn’t pronounce properly or had ever heard of! Both I and a friend decided to give it a go!

 

What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?

Medicine companies usually look for a Science degree or medical, pharmacy background but not always. There are lots of different roles in the industry e.g. Finance, Engineering, HR, IT, Secretarial too and everyone gets great terms whatever your job. However. For my particular role Science is important and luckily that is what I studied.

My post graduate teaching course was a big help as it gave me confidence in communication and taught me skills in education which were a big help later on when managing people. Although I did my teaching practice I didn’t teach full time but I am so glad to this day I did it. (I also earned some dosh tutoring in holidays when I was broke!)

Find a company that is very interested in training and developing people, I was lucky both Beecham (now merged with Glaxo) and GlaxoSmithKline had very high expectations. Don’t be afraid of that -you will stretch along with it if you try your best.

There was lots of medical training, later lots of  training in Management ( e.g. we did external courses at Cranfield University) working with external consultancies in “change management” ( e.g. when we merged or acquired a new company and we had to redesign the business) Examples might be Boston Consultancy Group ( for you business studies folks – the famous Boston grid guys!) or McKinsey – they really challenged me to rethink how I worked and I used to genuinely hope if I stood close to these clever people some of their brains would jump into my head!

I also studied for a post graduate diploma in Marketing at Uni the year before I got the Directors job as I had never worked in a pure marketing role and my career progression relied on me knowing marketing science. This course also teaches you about International Business which ended up being handy too as we increasingly worked closely with our European colleagues. I did this course in the evenings.

 

How the job progressed-first of all I entered in the sales organisation and during that time I was trained over a few months in classroom environment on a residential course. Once out calling on customers which I did for 18 months (Hospitals, GPs and pharmacists) you then need to study in your own free time for the professional standards exam. (ABPI)- done within 2 years of coming into the industry. It wasn’t hard to pass as you know it already from your company training but it was hard to get a “distinction” which is was what a good company asks for and tough  as you are working during the day.

Career progressed from Medical Sales (18 months) to working with only Teaching Hospitals (about 2 years) and then I was able to become a Manager in charge of 8 staff in Nottingham. After that I moved company and became a Business Manager (in charge of 30 people) and the whole of Scotland. Lastly I became Regional Business Director with about 195 staff responsible for Scotland, Ireland and Northern England but based in London at head Office. The business was about £200 million in turnover. In addition the role put you in charge of a speciality across the UK (this is called Matrix management) in my case this was Health Policy (i.e. all the political issues affecting health) which was good as I was able to go to political party conferences which I enjoyed.

 

Talk me through a day in your life... what sorts of things would it involve?

Long days and lots of travelling. I loved the fact that very few days were the same but hope you like the inside of hotel rooms as you will see lots of them!

In my last role it involved (when in Head office) lots of meetings to design how we are going to do our very best for our customers who are medical professionals trying to make people well.  People might have you believe business is all about money, THINK AGAIN most people are doing this job to make people well otherwise they would work in another industry.

There were lots of visits to see customers (out in my Region) listening to what they wanted us to do more of or get better at. I had lots of meetings with my team and helping them manage their business. We did lots of business planning, lots of number crunching and lots of brainstorming /new ideas and creativity in our marketing planning. No day passed without learning something new. There was a lot of “paperwork /admin stuff” too but what job doesn’t? - Boring! By the end of a day your head usually hurts as your hard drive is full!

 

Was it your planned career when you were 18?

I was advised at school to be a Science teacher.

 

What did your mum and dad want you to do?

My Mum and Dad wanted me to get a good education as they always felt you enjoy life when you understand the world around you. I wanted to go to teacher training college but my Dad thought best to go to University as it would give me more options later then go on and do teaching as a post grad and he was right- isn’t it annoying when adults are right?  I look back now and realise it was the best thing.

 

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Get a good all round education – if you want to work in the Medicines business then life sciences are a good bet. (Biological subjects/chemistry or physics). Find someone who works in the industry and ask them all about it. Then you can apply direct to the company or via a recruitment agent who specialises in the sector. Get any work experience you can working with people in any business or working in the sector. I had a job one summer in a wholesale pharmacy- whew all I did was lug about great boxes of medicines but it was a good insight.

Here’s one website to have a look at one UK company and get a feel for it:

http://www.gsk.com/

 

What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?

Business Management, Project Management, Marketing and People management are very transferrable skills. Interestingly after a while the knowledge of a sector is the quickest thing to learn, it is the skills of how to do things that take the longest. Also many people worked all over the world for short or long spells. If you have worked for a great company- in this case Britain is a world leader -then you can open doors all over the place.

 

If there is anything you have not covered about your area of expertise, please feel free to add here.

At school take the opportunity to learn as much in IT, it makes your job easier and quicker .You will find, particularly in a job where often you are dealing with people far away, these skills will be worth their weight in gold.

In addition the competencies looked for can be learned in lots of settings e.g. During the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, volunteer work or summer jobs e.g.:

Teamwork

Personal Accountability (i.e. do you need to be told to work or do you do it on your own)

Leadership

Communication skills

Planning

Personal Organisation etc