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MBA Graduates Spark Innovation In Biotech And Healthcare

As innovations in healthcare create new solutions with the potential to reduce disease and extend lives, more managers are needed to steer their drive to market.

Wed Dec 10 2014

Aubrey Kelly, a former biology student, used to work at an Olympic training centre in the US. Now she is a healthcare manager, working out of California for her employer Amgen, the world’s largest independent biotechnology company, helping to support the development of treatments for millions of sick patients.

The pharmaceuticals industry has become increasingly reliant on biotech companies to lead its innovation.

Scientific advances in biotech in particular have raised the prospect of a new generation of medical breakthroughs.

As innovations in healthcare create new solutions with the potential to reduce disease and extend lives, more managers are needed to steer their drive to market.

Aubrey is one of a growing number of MBA graduates turning to healthcare, pharmaceuticals and biotech. She illustrates the way a new generation of managers are embracing careers which can create a tangible impact on society.

“It’s incredibility rewarding,” says Aubrey, a graduate of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles. She is speaking at an event organized by Forté Foundation, a women’s advocacy consortium of leading companies and business schools.

“It’s all about the patient and improving clinical care – and if that doesn’t mean something, [then] I don’t know what does,” says Kim Martinez, who earned an MBA at Stanford GSB. As vice president of innovation and new capabilities at DaVita, the Fortune 500 healthcare group, she knows better than most the significant changes sweeping through the industry – from scientific to clinical and from digital to regulatory.

IT and tech are also disrupting healthcare and are helping to speed up innovation. New services are being opened in the storage of patient data and remote monitoring, and new products launched such as improved communication systems and diagnostic testing.

Big data in particular is opening up new career opportunities in management, according to Yehuda Bassok, chair of the data sciences and operations department at USC’s Marshall School of Business, as healthcare groups begin to leverage historic data to predict future developments and influence patient care.

“I can see it as a very important tool in the very near future in global healthcare, and in low income countries. There is a huge need for people that can deal with data,” he says.

By utilizing both general management skills and specialist healthcare electives on an MBA program, students are able to prepare themselves for healthcare roles which are often cross functional.

At UCLA Anderson, for example, Aubrey took a block elective which looked at healthcare in the non-profit sector that got into the “nitty-gritty” of the industry.

“In addition, there are so many extra curricula activities,” she says, such as the opportunity to partner with students at UCLA’s schools of medicine and engineering.

“It’s through all those different experiences that you get to apply the lessons learned… Within your typical coursework,” she adds. “They give you those critical skills that you can take back into the workplace.”

It is important to send this signal of interest to potential employers, according to Sarah Andrews, MBA and campus talent acquisition consultant at Eli Lilly, the US-based global pharmaceutical company.

Where an MBA degree is of real benefit to companies like Eli Lilly is that MBA students are trained to become managers in a wide range of functions – from marketing to logistics to, increasingly, data analytics.

“A healthcare environment requires you to have cross functional interactions to be successful,” says Sarah, who graduated from Chicago’s Booth School of Business MBA before entering Eli Lilly. “It’s an incredibly cross functional type of organization,” she says of the firm.

She is not the only healthcare recruiter to value business school students. There is been a surge in hiring for executive posts in the US in particular, according to a survey of 3,077 hospital and healthcare organizations.

According to the data, compiled by recruitment network Healthecareers, the provision of administrative and executive positions in the industry increased by 33% in the third quarter of 2014 compared the same period in 2013.

“Getting your MBA and demonstrating that you’re looking to build your business skills and develop as a leader [is] huge,” says Sarah, adding that previous experience in healthcare is not a necessity.

She expects MBAs to be the future leaders of Eli Lilly, a listed company with approximately 39,000 global employees and a market cap of about $80 billion.

“We are providing a pretty attractive salary and package, and we hope to get a lot out of those individuals,” says Sarah.

For Kim, leveraging her MBA network was crucial. “I knew it was important, [but] I had no idea how important,” she says.
Kim has risen through the ranks at DaVita after first joining as a regional operations manager in 2007, the same year she graduated from Stanford in California.

One of her early healthcare sector roles was at Align Technology, a product of the business school and one of the fastest growing medical device companies in Silicon Valley.

Having begun her career in chemical engineering, including a stint at listed American manufacturer 3M, Kim illustrates how even those from a highly technical background can prosper in healthcare management.

She loves the opportunity to build and create products. She worked closely with people on the business side of engineering whom were launching new teams and organizations. “I wanted a seat at the table,” she says.

Kim believes that a technical skillset combined with business acumen and leadership is a powerful combination.

“It’s allowed me to progress in my career in ways I would not have been able to had I stayed on the engineering track,” she says.

Business school is also proving beneficial in gearing students up for the collaborative nature of healthcare management.

There is a growing trend for open data sharing, for instance. Like universities and other research centres, drug companies are providing access to their experiments and libraries of compounds in a bid to reduce duplication, which is caused by secrecy.

As a senior product manager at Amgen, Aubrey has to run both a development and a regulatory team. “It [an MBA] gives you an appreciation of how the overarching macroeconomics work, to give you that compass in your day to day interactions,” she says.

Other MBAs find success in global healthcare by moving from the clinical side into management.

More doctors than ever before are turning to MBA programs to move into business functions.

According to data compiled by the Carnegie Foundation, the number of joint MBA and Doctor of Medicine (MD) programs in the US has grown from six to 65 in 20 years.

A background in clinical practice is how Geeta Nayyar, former chief medical information officer at telecoms group AT&T, started her management career.

She joined the MBA at George Washington University School of Business after studying at the Miller School of Medicine in Miami. “My MBA was a very critical turning point in my career,” says Geeta, who is now an assistant professor of medicine at Florida International University.

It has allowed her to launch a career in health tech that has seen her in roles at some of the US’ largest companies. This includes at AT&T and Vangent INC, the global IT services group.

For Geeta, she is attracted by the industry’s opportunities in tech which are becoming increasingly innovative.

Advances in technology and the use of data are opening up opportunities to control costs, detect fraud and improve consumer choice.

“It’s great to innovate and to build things; to come up with things that really are impactful at a population level,” says Geeta.

But commodities such as new drugs, vaccines, medical devices and diagnostic equipment are difficult to launch. There is much innovation in healthcare but implementation is often slow.

“Healthcare is complex… When we try to executive something internally it’s like trying to move a cruise ship rather than a speedboat. It takes time,” says Sarah at Eli Lilly.