Year after year, MBA graduates make a beeline to top jobs in finance, accounting, consulting and high technology. But the pharmaceutical industry is also beckoning freshly minted MBAs by offering challenging opportunities to business school graduates who want to help solve some of the world’s healthcare problems while pursuing compelling careers.
MBAs are needed in the pharmaceutical industry to work in finance, business development, marketing, manufacturing, sales and human resources, in conjunction with scientists and researchers developing new life-saving drugs and medicines by providing high-level business expertise, said Rich Smith, a senior human resources director with Pfizer Inc. in New York. Pfizer, the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical company with more than $48 billion in annual sales, markets a portfolio of medicines including Lipitor (to treat elevated cholesterol levels in the blood), Norvasc (for hypertension) and Caduet (for cardiovascular problems).
“We work in an industry where we are trying to better the health and wellness of people and help them live longer and better lives. There will always be a need for the pharmaceutical industry. The industry can present a long-term career track with lots of career development and excitement,” said Smith, who has an MBA from the University of Oklahoma and a law degree from Quinnipiac College School of Law in Hamden, CT.
The 2006-07 Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. Department of Labor characterizes the pharmaceutical industry as one of the fastest growing manufacturing industries. According to the BLS, more than 6 out of 10 workers have a bachelor’s, master’s, professional or Ph.D. degree, twice the proportion for all industries combined.
The industry employed more than 291,000 people in the United States at 2,500 pharmaceutical offices, manufacturing facilities and laboratories in 2004. Nearly 60 percent of jobs are in large companies with more than 500 workers. About 29 percent of all jobs are in professional and related fields, such as scientists and science technicians, with about 18 percent in management positions.
The BLS projects that the aging baby boomer population and increasing life expectancies will drive demand for pharmaceutical positions through 2014, with 76,000 new jobs being added for a 26.1 percent growth rate. Management, business and financial positions are expected to grow by 31.7 percent through 2014.
MBAs will find career growth and opportunities for innovation, said Linda M. Breed, who works as a senior manager in employment programs for Pfizer Worldwide Pharmaceutical Operations and recruits candidates to the company. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a Washington, DC-based industry association that represents leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, reports that industry research and development investments in new medicines reached a record $51.3 billion in 2005. PhRMA said the investment rate has continued at a steady clip for more than 25 years from $2 billion in 1980.
“With the pharmaceutical industry you’ve got an opportunity to contribute real ideas, real suggestions. We look to MBA campuses to bring in new talent that brings fresh ideas and fresh perspectives to the industry in a different way than someone who has only worked in the pharmaceutical industry,” Breed said.
MBAs can expect pharmaceutical companies to recruit them aggressively. The Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2007 Corporate Recruiters Survey shows that healthcare and pharmaceutical companies are hiring significantly more graduating MBAs and other graduate business students in 2007 than they did in 2006. GMAC, the McLean, VA global association of graduate business schools and provider of the Graduate Management Admission Test, reports in the annual survey that healthcare and pharmaceutical companies are hiring MBAs at a higher percentage rate in 2007 than consulting, finance and accounting and high-technology companies.
Healthcare and healthcare and pharmaceutical firms plan to hire 46.7 percent more new graduate business students in 2007 than the industry did in 2006, according to the survey. Consulting firms are hiring 23.8 percent more MBAs this year and finance and accounting 15.2 more, GMAC says.
Overall, MBA-hiring companies report increasing their numbers of new graduates by 18 percent in 2007. Opportunities are largely spawned by fast growth of the world economy, according to the GMAC survey. This bodes well for MBA demand, as emerging markets and technological advances in information technology are fueling global prosperity. While economic expansions in China and India are key contributors to global growth, advanced economies of the United States and Europe have strong balance sheets and are sustaining moderate and steady growth despite a decelerated housing market and high energy costs.
To attract MBAs to the pharmaceutical industry, companies are recruiting on college campuses and offering key points of entry into their companies. At Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest producer of health-care products including pharmaceuticals, the New Brunswick, NJ company offers internship opportunities for recent MBA graduates and current MBA students that feed into its pharmaceutical affiliate firms. Candidates can find placement in consumer, medical devices and diagnostics, global strategic marketing, brand marketing, business development and global business analytics.
Wyeth in Madison, NJ, whose major divisions include Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, offers an MBA Rotational Program to develop future leaders. The 36-month program recruits MBA graduates and from top universities and business schools and exposes them to all facets of the business, including marketing, strategic product development, marketing analysis & research, and business development.
Pfizer offers MBA summer internship opportunities in research and development, marketing, finance, human resources, procurement, audit and other functions. Pfizer’s rotational programs for newly graduated MBAs offer six-to-eight-month assignments that expose participants to the skills and characteristics the company values in its leaders. Some key attributes for candidates of both programs are the ability to solve problems by thinking strategically, qualitative and quantitative analytical skills, the ability to work in a team environment, and a results-oriented approach.
Candace Howell, Pfizer director U.S. external medical affairs, is a board member of the New York Metro chapter of the National Black MBA Association and interacts closely with potential MBA candidates. Howell, who also develops multicultural programming that aligns with Pfizer community outreach, advises that MBAs interested in the industry have a view of what the industry can offer.
“Candidates who haven’t done their homework on the industry are not as likely to succeed. That’s with any industry and any company. If someone comes to work for Pfizer, they should be interested in making a difference in people’s lives. What ultimately drives us to do our jobs is seeing a patient who is taking a product from our portfolio and seeing how their health has improved as a result,” Howell said.
The pharmaceutical industry also follows starting salaries paid to MBA candidates. Over the five-year period through 2007, the average expected starting annual salary of graduate business students exceeded that of other graduate school students by 27 percent, and by 76 percent over starting salaries for students with business bachelor’s degrees, GMAC said.
The annual starting base salary for MBAs entering pharmaceuticals and healthcare was $82,250, according to GMAC’s MBA Alumni Perspectives Survey from August 2002. This figure rated second only to consulting, which starts at approximately $90,000. Above the base salary, other compensation MBAs received included a benefits package, performance-based bonuses, signing bonuses, moving allowances, stock options and stock purchase plans.
Breed said the prestige of an MBA degree will create opportunities for graduates, but companies in the industry like Pfizer will expect results. Additionally, GMAC’s recruiter survey noted that the three primary factors that determine an employer’s selection of a business graduate student are leadership potential, prior work experience and academic achievements.
“What a person brings once they are in the door is definitely of more value than whether or not they happen to have an MBA,” Breed added.
Each year, the industry tests tens of thousands of new substances that produce about 100 new prescription medicines. The BLS said in its Occupational Outlook report that advances in technology and the knowledge of how cells work will allow pharmaceutical companies to become more efficient in the drug discovery process, allowing scientists to test millions of drug candidates far more rapidly than in the past. For the majority of firms in the industry, the manufacturing and marketing of new drugs represent the last stages of the discovery process.
“One of the exciting things about the pharmaceutical industry is that it is always changing. It is never stagnant. You’re not looking for the traditional day-to-day humdrum. You’re going to get something different. There’s always the need to excel and be at your best. Those are the type of challenges that attract people here and keep them here,” Howell said.
Smith said the segment is not without its challenges, so those coming in need to recognize that it is a changing industry. Smith himself is a relatively new entrant to the field, having joined Pfizer in 2001 from the energy industry at Union Carbide and Mobil.
A report from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, “The Pharmaceutical Industry: A Discussion of Competitive and Antitrust Issues in an Environment of Change,” noted that over the past 15 years, pricing and other competitive strategies of pharmaceutical companies have changed amid rapid developments in information technology, new state drug substitution laws, federal legislation and other market forces.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the industry from a lot of different sources — from the government, from consumers,” Smith said. “The perception is not what it once was. Anyone coming into the industry needs to be cognizant that it is a changing industry. But we work in an industry where we are trying to help people live longer and better lives, and there will always be a need for the pharmaceutical industry and its role in improving patient healthcare.”