This post has been adapted from the seminar, Industry: The Organization of Business, presented by Brad Fackler at NIH, Bethesda, MD. Brad Fackler is the Senior Director of Biohealth and Life Science at The Maryland Department of Commerce since April 2016. He has been a leader and innovator in the life sciences industry for more than 30 years.
Deciding your career plan and starting your job search can be a confusing process, especially if you have a lot of options such as industry, government or academia. For those like me who are interested in an industry position, you may have noticed that every company is different in its own way, in terms of goals, products and perhaps most importantly, business structure. To make it simple, biotech companies can be divided into three different groups: Big Companies, Medium Size Companies, and Start-ups. Regardless, of the specific group, all successful biotech companies have four different tasks:
- Creating the Product- Research and Development
- Making the Product- Operations
- Selling the Product-Commercial
- Cash Inflow/Outflow- Finance
Research and Development is the section that hires the most scientists in different career levels. The research section is very similar to the laboratories that Ph.D.’s and postdocs work in, because this area is in charge of product discovery. The development section manufacture and troubleshoot the discovered product. They make it ready for the market and prepares everything that goes with it, such as approval, regulations, product handling, and quality. Operations is mainly divided into two main sections: 1) Manufacturing, which is in charge of product production; and, 2) Quality Assurance, which is in charge of standards compliance.
The commercial is divided into three work groups:1) Marketing, which is in charge of product strategy; 2) Sales, which is in charge of product promotion; and, 3) Business Development, which works with product acquisition to make the business grow. Commercial operation is crucial for the company’s success since they “bring the medicine to those in need” in terms of introducing novel treatment options. They work directly with healthcare providers and stakeholders about the benefits of the product. They are involved in product promotion, sales strategy, education, branding, and strategic marketing.
These four tasks that each company has can be systematized in 3 different organization approaches:
- Flat- Small Companies/ Start-ups
- Hierarchical- The Big Ones
- Matrix- Medium Size Companies
In a flat company, all the employees report to the executive management. There, people have a wide variety of duties that may or may not be related to your scientific specialty. For example, employees may be running experiments one day, and then working in finances or looking for investors on the next day.
In a hierarchical organization, they have assigned managers and directors to each function. It is normal for one person to manage 8-10 people. The advantage of this system is that it promotes functional effectiveness and efficiency. It encourages effective supervision and more controlled functions. However, the pitfall of this organization is that it inhibits cross-functional collaborations.
In a matrix organization, people report to two areas. For example, in Business Development, there may be business employees who also reporting to R&D. The pitfalls of this area are that it can create functional inefficiencies and can result in difficulty on individual performance management. In other words, individual performance manager empowers the employees to use the skills in a productive manner. Having two supervisors and several tasks can be overwhelming and difficult to meet both goals. It is important to take a look and find out how each company that you apply to is organized. By doing this, you will have an idea about how your future work environment will be like.
Example of a hierarchical organization and job positions in a pharmaceutical company
Job responsibilities is another aspect that varies greatly among start-ups, medium and large size companies. For example, at start-ups, it is normal to have multiple tasks and roles, versus at big companies, where positions and tasks are well-defined. When looking for positions at start-ups, instead of looking at your roles, you should look towards future promotions and what is required for you to reach the company’s next milestone and yours too. Working at a start-up is a huge responsibility because very often, the success of the company depends on you. As I mentioned before, medium and large companies tend to have more defined job duties, however, with start-ups, you can always ask for new responsibilities and never be afraid to negotiate your duties.
If you want to explore a specific job position, we recommend the book Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development by Toby Freedman. This book offers detailed information of over a hundred careers in the biotech industry. The book includes: job descriptions, the requirements, availability, explanation of a day-to-day role, and responsibilities required for that specific position. It includes information on how to prepare yourself for that career, the educational requirements, and insight into how people landed their first job positions. In addition to these recommendations, you can always conduct informational interviews and network to learn more about your area of interest. Career exploration and job hunting is an exciting and crucial step, I hope that you enjoy it!