Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders

Pharmaceutical Executive


HIV: A Window on Health Care's Future


Brandon Kotaniemi, Director of HIV Marketing, Gilead Sciences
At the tail end of Lewis and Clark's trail that tamed a wilderness, is the town of Astoria, Oregon where Brandon Kotaniemi grew up. Settled by émigrés from Finland and Scandinavia, Astoria's small town ambience marked the beginning of an equally long journey for him. Transcending that community while remaining true to his core has given this year's Emerging Leader from Gilead the adaptive skills to forge a career with broad geographical reach, exposure to many different parts of the business, and a personal commitment to diversity and inclusion that extends to a high-profile advocacy in the struggle for marriage equality.

Early on, at age 15, Kotaniemi was selected to be a Rotary Exchange Student studying for 12 months in Brazil. At University and beyond, Kotaniemi spent two years total studying and working in Mexico. His first professional job after graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in International Studies and Spanish Literature was in Mexico City, where he worked as a marketing consultant. "Travelling and living in the developing world," he said, "gave me a unique perspective that still keeps me grounded in my daily decisions and in life."

Kotaniemi broke into pharma as a sales representative for AstraZeneca, where he learned the philosophy of "leaving things better than you found them." Without his experience detailing physicians, he recognizes he wouldn't have become a successful marketer in the industry. "I wouldn't have known how providers prefer to receive information, or how to incorporate their perspective into promotional campaigns," he said.

Over time, Kotaniemi has worked across a broad range of roles and has been a part of 18 new product or indication launches for major brands in several different disease states including Oncology, Immunology, Rheumatology, Cardiovascular, CNS, Respiratory, and HIV. While at AstraZeneca at age 25, he became an Oncology District sales manager, leading his Midwest crew through five launches in three years, from the bottom of the pile his first year to top sales team for the remaining two.

From there, Kotaniemi moved to Genentech in 2003 to work on the breakthrough oncologic Herceptin, leading adjuvant launch efforts for patient and professional promotions. Last year, he joined Gilead Sciences, where he now enjoys working with the HIV community, with specific responsibility for developing initiatives with key opinion leaders that support the franchise. "My team is working on initiatives to leverage newer technologies into our business model, such as virtual scientific advisory boards. There are many different issues including testing and linkage to care that are important considerations in serving this market." The reward, according to Kotaniemi, is having a window seat on the future of healthcare. "Nowhere is the pace of change in healthcare more evident than in the fight against HIV, where we have long had to learn how to work with providers, payers, and patients in a different way. I get to interact and work with people that truly have made an impact on the course of this global pandemic. Being part of this mission motivates me every day," he said. Kotaniemi is also moved by the strength of a friend with hemophilia, who, in the '80s was infected with Hepatitis C and HIV at a young age. With the help of advances in medicine, his friend has beaten HIV and continues to seek treatment for Hep C. "He is one of the main reasons I have stayed with the industry. When I have a bad day I think of him and I hope for the best for his future."

His passion extends beyond the realms of disease states and experiencing new cultures. Kotaniemi is an advocate for gay rights and marriage equality, having tied the knot with his partner of 13 years in California when it was legal in 2008. The pharmaceutical industry, in his eyes, is "more open than most" in accepting differences in sexual orientation. With 16 years in the business and much of that time spent managing others, Kotaniemi has learned to acknowledge the strength of the integrity that comes from being yourself—self awareness is key.

It is with this sense of humility that Kotaniemi offers his advice on how to make a difference in the business: "The three most important skills for tomorrow's pharma manager is to think strategically, execute within and beyond the strategy, and connect emotionally to those you work with. Learn from everyone around you, but always keep the perspective of the patient in the front of your mind. If you keep looking at things with that lens and learning from what other people have done, being open to feedback and adjusting as you go along, you'll do well."

—Clark Herman


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