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Where Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, GSK Get Their MBA Talent Injections

Big pharma snaps up b-school grads in greater numbers

Sun Jan 24 2016

As innovation and the chance to improve people’s lives lure b-school students to healthcare, the industry’s biggest players have snapped up MBAs in greater numbers.

Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, executive director of careers at Cornell’s Johnson School, says healthcare recruitment doubled in 2015, although the portion is small compared with other sectors. 

Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Bayer, and Genentech have led the charge. “We see large firms and start-ups with hiring needs in supply chain, marketing, and finance,” says Dean Vera, director of career management at Rutgers Business School, whose biggest recruiter is big pharma.

Companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis, GSK, and Pfizer are hiring MBAs.

J&J has been among the most aggressive. Its recruitment of MBAs and undergraduates at schools like IE and Kenan-Flagler surged by 20% in 2014, and the company hired four times as many MBAs as its next closest competitor, Eli Lilly, according to Bloomberg data.

Health providers value MBAs who have a background in the industry. Even clinicians are sought-after to become executives. “A blue chip MBA helps to connect the bedside to the business side,” says Matthew Hanley, chief medical officer for the metro group at Carolinas HealthCare.

He studied on the MBA program at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business after medical school.

One of the big growth drivers has been the advent of digital health. Career opportunities have emerged at big healthcare companies but also tech outfits like Google, Apple and Samsung, which are exploring health-tech. “They have the opportunity to put tremendous pressure on healthcare providers,” says Dr Rainer Sibbel, director of the healthcare management program at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

Steve Rakas, executive director for careers at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, has noticed an increase in healthcare job opportunities in areas like social media and wearables.

“Technology has impacted all sectors, and healthcare is not an exception,” he says.

Digital is poised to have a major impact on the industry, says Kimberly MacPherson, at the Center for Health Technology at Haas School of Business, who points to the potential for reducing costs and using data for trend analysis and predictive modelling. “Here, MBA students can find very interesting opportunities,” says Federico Lega, director of the masters in international healthcare management at SDA Bocconi School of Management.

He says the huge quantity of health data has potential uses in disease prevention and management. But this requires people with deep knowledge of healthcare processes and who can lead multidisciplinary teams. “We call these people e-health managers,” he says.

Eivor Oborn, healthcare management professor at Warwick Business School, says: “Healthcare is increasingly a data-driven sector and new career opportunities exist in the capture, analysis and making sense of the data in practical terms.”

While big data is making headlines, the driver for MBA graduates is often sentimental.

For Carolinas HealthCare’s Matthew, the lure is the chance to meaningfully impact patients’ lives. “It gives me tremendous satisfaction,” the executive says.