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Overview of the Industry: A World of Opportunities


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-07-01-2001
Volume 0
Issue 0

The time is ripe to further a pharmaceutical career in the United States. The industry is full of promising opportunities for people eager to contribute and advance.

According to IMS Health forecasts, the industry will continue to outperform the economy for the next several years, keeping the demand for sales and marketing talent high. At the same time, companies recognize the need to identify potential leaders and to develop them internally. That spells opportunity for those who choose pharmaceutical careers.

When they see the array of career options before them, people entering the industry or seeking to advance their careers may ask, like Alice in Wonderland, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go?" Their answer is the same one Alice received: "That depends a good deal on where you want to go."

This article reviews important considerations for plotting a pharmaceutical career, explores traditional and nontraditional career paths in sales and marketing, presents some prerequisites for selected positions, and offers tips for jump-starting the career-planning process.

Essential Worth

People feel most fulfilled and successful at work when their responsibilities and expectations align with their value systems.

Dr. David McClelland, a Harvard psychologist whose pioneering work in competency research and development is widely recognized, classifies values and motives into three categories: the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power. Individuals have varying combinations of each.

Both values and motives are related to behavior but each in a different way. Values frequently influence people's choices about where to invest their time and energy; motives reflect how much satisfaction people get out of particular activities. This article focuses on values rather than motives, because they are easier to identify.

People who place a high value on having an impact on others are most comfortable in managment positions. People who value close, friendly relationships are more likely to choose sales positions that provide the opportunity to develop friendships in the course of the job.

When people are expected to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their values, they experience conflict and frustration and are unlikely to perform at their best. Employees who have a clear sense of their own values can more easily make career decisions because they know what goals are important to them and whether a particular job or job family is their cup of tea. Often, people need help examining their value systems to think through career decisions. Tools are available to help clarify whether an individual most values achievement, affiliation, or power. (See "What Really Matters?")

Competencies of Choice

More and more pharma companies are creating competency models to define measurable characteristics of outstanding performers.

Although the Hay Group's 2000 Sales Force Effectiveness Study found that companies still use competency models more often to manage performance than to make staffing decisions, those models are nonetheless an excellent source of information for people aspiring to the next position. (See "Sales Force Effectiveness in Europe," PE April 2000.) There is no better definition of what it takes to excel at a particular level, in a specific function, or within an individual company than a well crafted competency model.

Not only do people need to understand the requirements for the positions they want, they need to know how their own competencies stack up. That way, they can create a plan that will help bridge the gap. Unfortunately, most people can't accurately assess themselves. They need objective feedback. Behavioral event interviews entail self-describing employee behavior in specific work situations.

Another option is the 360-degree feedback mechanisms with coworkers and supervisors. The good news is that many pharma companies offer those types of feedback to their sales and marketing employees.

Distinguishing Competencies

The Hay Group analyzed its database of behavioral event interviews conducted with people at varying levels and industries. The findings show substantial differences in the competencies of sales reps, midlevel managers, and executives.

Predictably, the higher the job level, the greater the repertoire and frequency of competencies observed. And the higher the job level, the more sophisticated and complex the competency. For instance, individual sales reps rarely demonstrate team leadership, defined as the intention to lead a team or other group. Mid-level managers exhibit that competency when they keep others informed. In turn, senior executives are most likely to promote team effectiveness by enabling the team to function at its best and creating team spirit.

Specific competencies distinguish one job level from another and provide clues to the types of development needed for progressing to the next level.

Ability to develop others.The greatest difference between individual sales reps and midlevel managers is that the latter are more likely to be competent in assisting others to develop skills and exhibit team leadership. They represent a major shift in mindset from concern only about one's own performance to concern about that of others.

Competence in several areas of leadership. Senior executives stand apart from midlevel managers by their competence in influencing others, initiative, interpersonal understanding, organizational awareness, self-confidence, and team leadership. Those competencies are related to how leaders set the agenda, how they take others with them, and how they present themselves. The leap from the competencies of a midlevel manager to those of an executive is broad, both in terms of the mindset���������leading as opposed to managing���������and the sophistication of the behaviors necessary for success.

Paths Most Traveled

In 2000, senior executives from several leading US pharma companies were interviewed about the career paths available within their sales and marketing organizations.

Using the sales rep position as the starting point, the two most common career tracks are

- sales positions with increasing levels of responsibility, either by virtue of the product line or the customer base (see "Sales Track")

- a senior management role achieved through jobs of increasing responsibility in sales or marketing. Many people find their final career destination somewhere along the management path. (See "Sales Management Track.")

- sales positions with increasing levels of responsibility, either by virtue of the product line or the customer base (see "Sales Track")

Those who are well adapted to sales and enjoy the lifestyle and benefits it offers, need not move away from a direct sales position into another function. The sales rep job family has growth potential. Recognizing career reps value as proficient salespeople who have established lasting relationships with customers, nearly 60 percent of the companies participating in the Sales Force Effectiveness Study developed special programs to retain and continually challenge reps who wish to remain in sales. According to the study, approximately 10 percent of all sales reps in the United States hold senior level sales rep positions and may, therefore, be considered to be making a career of it.

Most senior sales and marketing executives within the industry trace their start back to a stint in sales. Perhaps as a result, a strong bias remains toward selecting management candidates who began by "carrying a bag." But that attitude is more common in some companies than others. For people who wish to move on to other positions from sales, many options exist, once they have had enough experience. People often move from a more senior sales position into a field trainer role or a special rotational assignment at corporate or regional headquarters. Those positions are designed to teach new skills and provide insight into the inner workings of the company. After spending time as an associate marketing manager or in sales training, an employee can then choose to manage sales representatives or manage products and marketing resources.

Bernie Tyrrell, senior vice-president of marketing and sales for BioTechnology General, is a textbook example of a senior executive whose career has followed the ideal model so often sought by executive recruiters. He began with a degree in pharmacy and was a sales rep for several years while earning his MBA. He then had various field assignments in new product planning, market research, and sales training and development before moving into sales management positions. "Companies are consciously looking for managers who are generalists, who have had multiple experiences within the industry, and who have demonstrated that they are not afraid to change and learn," he says.

If there has been any hitch in Tyrrell's career path, he says it was the length of his tenure as a sales rep. He began going to graduate school at night after his second year as a sales rep in pursuit of a goal that took him six years. During his tenure as a sales rep, he became very experienced and attained a high level of responsibility. As a result, he was pigeonholed as a rep. It was hard for his employer to view him in another light, and Tyrrell had to be very assertive to win an opportunity to attend the company's management training program.

Many Roads to Success

Although there are some clear prerequisites to various management positions, more routes than one lead to the top. Talking to people about their own career histories reveals many interesting variations on the theme of "becoming a generalist."

Carrie Cox, the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association's Woman of the Year, rose to her present position as executive vice-president and president of global business management at Pharmacia through a relatively unconventional route. A registered pharmacist, Cox began her career in R&D, then moved to various positions in marketing research, sales, and product management. (See PE "Executive Profile," May 2001.)

Gary Noon was promoted to general manager of Bristol Myers Squibb in the United Kingdom at the remarkably young age of 35. He went on to become a general manager for GlaxoWellcome, then founded his own information systems business. He later served as vice-president of global marketing for Pfizer/Warner Lambert before joining IMS Health as its president in North America. His formative years in the industry began with a masters of science degree in molecular biology, followed by experience as a sales rep and an assignment in clinical research.

"I was a scientist until I got my MBA," he says. "That's when I was converted into a marketer."

Noon strongly recommends that anyone looking to build a career in the industry use sales experience for honing presentation skills. "You never stop selling during your whole career," he says. "Even if you're not selling products, you're selling ideas. Selling skills are human skills." He also urges people to spend time in market research to develop ana-lytical skills, to learn how to use data, and to learn how the market works.

Sample Requirements

Listing the prerequisite education and work experience associated with each position in the industry would fill volumes. But people whose sights are set on specific positions must decide as early as possible where their careers are headed and must direct their developmental experiences accordingly.

Those pursuing a career in pharmaceuticals are in for an adventure. Choosing a path is an entirely individual decision that should not be left to serendipity or default. People can, by learning about the options and knowing their own values and competencies, map out a future that's right for them.

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