Hire Expectations

The challenge of recruiting -- and how top companies are meeting it.
May 31, 2004

What are the industry's current hiring needs? What functions are most challenging to retain? How do misconceptions about working in pharma affect recruiting? These were some of the questions raised at an exclusive roundtable on pharma industry recruiting, co-sponsored by Pharmaceutical Executive and the New York Times Job Market. The discussion was moderated by Mary Cianni of Towers Perrin and included representatives from Wyeth, Johnson & Johnson, Novo Nordisk, Sankyo, and Hoffman–La Roche, as well as the State of New Jersey and Rutgers University. (See "Roundtable Participants.")

What follows is an edited transcript of the discussion.


Roundtable Participants
Mary Cianni, Towers Perrin: Let's start off by talking about your perspective on the current state of the work force in the pharmaceutical industry. Is it expanding? Contracting?

Bradley T. Smith, Hoffman–La Roche: The industry as a whole is very cyclic, but I think the trend has been toward growth. My metric is the difficulty we have competing for talent who have pharmaceutical backgrounds, and the places where I've seen growth have been the commercial areas—marketing particularly—and areas that relate to product development. The rest is flat.

Rebecca Holland-New, Novo Nordisk: There is also a lot of movement from one company to another and a lot of challenges in trying to get the top talent to move. Companies like the one I am with are faced with a challenge of focusing primary care physicians on our products. We need to put a lot of emphasis on increasing sales and increasing our presence in the market. So our growth has been about 20–25 percent this year, particularly in sales.

Howard P. Tuckman, Rutgers University: If I might take an economist's perspective, what we've seen in 2003 is consolidation, some of it out of caution, some of it out of concern for stock prices, and some of it to digest the effects of merger activity in the past. The turnaround we are experiencing now seems in part a reflection of returning confidence to the economy. We probably have more opportunities at the moment than we have people to fill them.

Gerry Johnson Geckle, Wyeth: And the result is poaching from one organization to the other, because no one has the ability to train entry-level employees. At a time when the market is so critical, you need the best as fast as you can. So we are recycling folks from one organization to the other.

Craig Mangean, Sankyo: Everybody projects growth for the industry. Everybody's got a pipeline that's going to be coming to fruition around 2006–2007. So everybody starts looking at how to plan for that growth. The other thing is that with Aventis–Sanofi, and all the potential mergers, we see a lot of people putting out their résumés to test what's out there "in case."

Bill Healey, Healthcare Institute of New Jersey: We just released our annual economic study. Pharmaceutical employment in New Jersey was flat, down by about 700 individuals in 2003. It was interesting to note that the percentage of people in clinical development rose by two percentage points over the previous year, while the percentage of people devoted to corporation administration was down by two points. The sales and marketing category went up by a point.

Cianni: Besides pipeline, what other measures do you use in planning? How do you go about predicting what your hiring needs are going to be?

Holland-New: You need to look at your work force and your succession. What are your key roles? Do you have backups in your organization who can be trained or who have the experience you need?

Marjorie Geller, Johnson & Johnson: Also, strategically, what are your lines of business, what are you going to be getting into, and what are the gaps between the skills you have in your organization and the skills you need? Then how does that play out in terms of experienced hires or college campus hires?

Mangean: The other thing is to make sure we have a diverse work force. We look at gaps and holes in our organization. If we have a position that is available, we may look for a woman or a person of color to fill that role and come in as an overhire and eventually put them into some specific role, moving more toward a diverse work force.


Attracting Talent/Pharma's Image
Geckle: We've found some situations where we are doing just-in-time staffing, particularly in our sales organizations, where a competitor is releasing a product and we realize we're at risk with one of our blockbuster drugs, and we'll quickly put another 500 feet on the street. I know we're not the only ones who do that.

Geller: Something else we haven't talked about: We've recently had experience in crossover between pharmaceuticals and medical devices. That's a trend that is simply going to continue. You are going to find pharmaceutical elements in consumer products as well. So you are not necessarily looking for the same kinds of people with the same kinds of experience that you were before.

Patrick Clinton, Pharmaceutical Executive: You all seem to have a vision of the kind of recruiting you need to do today and the kind you need to do three, four, or five years from now. How does that work? Is it a matter of hiring development people today and looking toward hiring sales force in a few years? Or is it more complex?

Geller: It's really a combination. It's what do you need to hire today so that you can be ready for what you want to be ready for five years from now. What kinds of people do you want to hire today so that you have the leadership that you need five or six years from now? What's the growth period you need to develop those people? You're feeding so many different factors into the mix simultaneously and saying, "How does it work best?"

Smith: And then think of the churn. We have these people moving around the industry. So how do we retain or develop talent as opposed to just sharing it? I've struggled, throughout my career, to do work force planning in this industry. Pharma is very cyclic. We didn't anticipate three years ago that we would be hiring this many people into the development organization—because we weren't making as many deals then, and now we are.

I think in four or five years, there is going to be a tremendous need for commercial, sales and marketing people, and we are going to be up against it. But it's hard to put a stake in the ground today and say, "I'm willing to invest," until we see those products in the pipeline, ready for launch.

• • •

Cianni: How is the image of the industry impacting your recruiting?

Smith: That's a hard question, because you really don't know how many people choose not to apply. Those who choose to apply have already decided that the industry looks attractive. So that's kind of a chicken-and-egg question.


What Students Care About
Mangean: I will say, though, when I was working with some out-placement firms, I had roundtables with people who were either unemployed or "in transition," as they say. They knew I was in the industry, and 99 percent of them said, "I'd love to get into the pharmaceutical industry. How do I get there?"

Jennifer Lacy, New York Times: I can give you a little bit of information from the young candidate's point of view. More than half told us that they think the pharmaceutical industry should make more drugs available for poor countries. But that's balanced on the other hand by the perception that the pharma industry has made major breakthroughs in recent years in developing new drugs to cure diseases. They have a mixed view of the industry.

Cianni: What are some of the misperceptions people have about the industry?

Geller: We're stodgy, not innovative, slow. We're bureaucratic and highly centralized.

Healey: People think that the government does the research, and then we take it and commercialize it and make dramatic profits off of it. I think if you went out on the street here today and asked people, "Who does more drug research—government or pharmaceutical companies?" they would say the government, even though we do 95 percent of the research that results in approved drugs.

Geller: I know that since the recent scandals in industry, on college campuses in particular, we have had many more questions. The level has been something that we can't ignore, asking us, "Are you really ethical? We know you have a credo. Is that just something that's sitting on your wall?" It's a much bigger issue than it used to be.

Smith: There is a perception, particularly among children and young adults, that if you go to work in the pharmaceutical industry, you need a background in science and you are going to be working in a lab somewhere.

That's how our industry is viewed by the talent pool of the future. So we have to start very early on. The Healthcare Institute of New Jersey has had some great partnerships with a number of companies in bringing in high-school children to say this is not what our industry is all about.