Hire Expectations

June 1, 2004
Patrick Clinton
Patrick Clinton

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-06-01-2004,

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.

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.

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?

Roundtable Participants

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.

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.

Attracting Talent/Pharma's Image

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.

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?"

What Students Care About

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.

Tuckman: Let me build a little bit on that. When Rutgers put in our pharmaceutical MBA program, we discovered that the typical MBA student simply didn't think about pharma, even though it is a major industry in New Jersey. And part of the reason was the misconception that you need a degree in biology, chemistry, or medicine. I think that remains a big issue.

Off the Radar

Second, even if students understand the pharmaceutical industry, they don't see clear career ladders for nonscientists. They say to themselves, "Okay, they'll give me an entry job. Maybe I'll go into sales. If I'm luckier, I'll go into marketing. But where do I go from there?"

The last piece is the perception of compensation. The average pharma salary here in New Jersey is, give or take, $85,000 a year. But if you look at what top talents can get at a consulting firm, there's no comparison.

Geller: Two years ago that was not an issue. One year ago that was not an issue. It's going to be an issue this year.

Tuckman: The truth is that there are career paths one can follow that do lead to large amounts of money. But I don't think they are widely understood by the talent you want to attract.

• • •

Cianni: We have been talking a lot about recruiting. What about retention? What challenges do you face in keeping top talent?

Geckle: One issue is internal transfers. We've had to shut down posting because certain growing departments have raided other areas that are critical to getting product out the door.

Geller: We've recently embarked on a program to build internal movement within the company. It has the downsides that Gerry [Geckle] just mentioned. But at the same time, we need to think of ourselves as one, large enterprise and ultimately realize that we benefit when people move around. What is the alternative? To lose them to a competitor.

Smith: At the end of the day, retention is driven by the manager. It's the relationship the employee has with that person. Do they have coaching skills? Can they have a career-interest dialog with an employee, and will that employee be comfortable in being open with them? Is it okay to look outside the department, or is that a breach of loyalty?

Years ago, there was an issue around loyalty-people who left a company could never come back. That's obviously gone. People move four or five companies in their career and end up where they started. But it is that relationship with the manager that really drives it. You need a manager who is open and wants to help people develop and provides them with opportunities to try new things, different things.

• • •

Cianni: What expectations do you have of universities in terms of the training or development they are doing to ensure that talent comes into your industry? Is there a pattern of things missing?

Holland-New: I think so. St. Joe's [in Philadelphia] and Rutgers have started to focus more on their marketing programs, specifically on how to market or advertise to a diverse population and how to target specific groups. Most universities don't have that. Vanderbilt and Harvard are now looking at training for clinical trials and setting up clinical design. There are still some gaps when you look at electronic filing, regulatory training, and all of the nuances that go behind that.

Mangean: What I see missing is the whole sociology and psychology of working with people. Students go to school to learn a particular function and come out with a lack of understanding of what it's like to work with a diverse work force. Who am I, and what does that bring to the game, and how do I interact with other people? How effective can I be? The diverse work force-people who are different, who may come from a different country-I see that missing.

Cianni: The pharmaceutical industry is very important for the state of New Jersey, where we're holding this meeting. What does the state do to help companies find the employees they need?

Dan Levine, State of New Jersey: Pretty much every leading pharmaceutical company in New Jersey is a recipient of a work force training grant that lets companies design their own training needs. Very often county colleges can administer those programs, and they are very active in working with us.

The beauty of those programs from a company's perspective is that nobody comes in and says, "This is what you need." They say, "What are your training needs?" And a portion of them are reimbursed.

We recently revised the Business Employment Incentives Program. With BEIP grants, basically the more new people you hire, the larger your grant becomes. I think something like 30 or 40 percent of all BEIP grants go to the life sciences industry.

Tuckman: Let me be a little cautionary. You can view the market for Big Pharma and biotech as a casino. Every state in the union is betting. And every governor is all fired up. They have religion. You end up with bidding wars.

I think the real challenge is tech transfer. Some university cultures are very amenable to this kind of transfer, and the researchers are very willing to give up their patents and discoveries for a price. Others are not. Changing the culture of the "nots" is really the issue, because the ones that are willing to pretty much have already.

Levine: I would differentiate New Jersey from anywhere else in the world outside of a small center in Europe. And that is because we have what every other governor wants. We're not trying to recruit new, Big Pharma companies-we'd love it if we could. We are a mature market with the pre-eminent companies in the world already here.

It's easy for a small, Midwestern state that has no other Big Pharma company to say, "Here is $50 million. Open up a little plant." We can't do that here. We have different issues we need to react to.

Geller: Pharma jobs are very sophisticated. And there are many, many people in this state who can't work for us. I wonder what government's role is in helping to ensure that we have the skills we need with the population base here in our state.

Geckle: And in our industry, we don't have entry-level jobs in many cases. So that restricts what we are able to do in terms of partnerships with schools. Every one of us has robust intern programs in the summers, not just for MBAs but for undergraduates. These folks are not going to be able to turn that internship into a job upon graduation. And that's disappointing.

• • •

Cianni: We've been talking a lot about recruiting from colleges and universities. What are the challenges of recruiting career professionals into the pharmaceutical industries?

Mangean: One of our greatest examples is in our development group. We have a guy who heads it up, Dr. John Alexander, and people come to the organization because he works there. I think if you look at a lot of R&D organizations, that's why a lot of people come. There are a couple of well-known scientists, and when we have an opening, it's an opportunity to come work with Dr. John. And people come. It makes it very simple for us. So that's one aspect.

Cianni: That's R&D. What about other parts of the industry, other functions?

Smith: When you're looking at specialty-care salespeople, traditionally a lot of companies said, "Let's hire a biologist and train him to be a salesperson." Then there was a trend a few years ago to say, "Let's steal everybody else's sales reps. We want somebody who's got the sales background." With more specialty products, I am seeing more willingness to go back to that other model and get somebody in the clinical arena and train them to promote our products.

Geckle: I have a commitment from the top to do that. But when you get to the level of the hiring manager, resistance is significant. They have a certain model in place that they are comfortable with. Then all of a sudden you put a rehab nurse or an occupational therapist in front of them...

Geller: It's actually a diversity issue in the very broadest sense. If I'm talking to very senior people about talent they need to bring in, they will say, "I have to have somebody with FDA experience. It's absolutely critical." And my favorite question is, "If you could steal someone tomorrow, what company would you steal them from?" And very often, I don't hear a pharma company. And that helps us get into the conversation of "What are you looking for?"

Cianni: Thinking about your work force for the future, how are you training people to be able to move into a broader set of job functions?

Mangean: A lot of the things we are doing are not necessarily providing formalized training but providing people with experiences that will further things down the line. We try to define what type of experiences you would need to be a marketing executive in the organization, for example, and figure out how we can provide you with those types of opportunities in your current position.

Geckle: We have development plans. That's how we model what we're going to do with a particular individual. Individual employees are responsible for their careers, and the company facilitates development either internally or through tuition reimbursement.

Smith: We have a leadership development program, which we specifically designed as cross-functional, because we think that knowledge of the broader business is so important. We hired an engineer into this program who spent a first rotation in a technical area and wanted to do a sales rotation.

You can imagine how resistant the sales force was. Not only was it a sales job, but it was for the product we were putting the most effort behind, and he had no background. To make a long story short, in his first full-year cycle, he blew away everyone-he was second or third in the country. That really helped spread the idea that it's not so much your background, it's who you are and what you bring to the job.

Geller: It's important to make employees and hiring managers understand that any experience should result in change. "I'm going to give somebody an assignment." What do you expect to happen when that is over? "I gave so-and-so a development experience." So what now? Employees find it hard to think that way. But we have to get them thinking in a slightly different direction. There should be a result of those experiences.

Mangean: Your managers don't have to think of too many things for them to do, because your top talent will be pushing you, as a manager, saying, "Here is what I want to do, and here is why. Because my goal is up there, and I know how to get there." We can provide them with the resources. We can provide them with the experiences. But your top talent will get there.

Smith: But at the end of the day, it's those who are called the "B players" that do the work. And if that's the group that's working along, then the company is moving with them. You hate to think that they get forgotten.

Our leadership development program is a top talent program. There's no question about it. We're recruiting out of the MBA schools, and they get special treatment. But we make sure that the entire work force is being provided with development opportunity, being pushed, and given some resources so that they can take initiative.

I think tuition reimbursement has been a great, great benefit to the business. I can think of 30 or 40 different people who started in the company here, went to school-the company paid for it-and are now in very senior positions in the company. As an industry, I think we always...

Geller: We do great stuff.

Smith: Because we put a lot of stock in education.

Related Content:

News