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Jasmin Patel of a-Connect provides insight on how to navigate the ebbs and flows of employment.
For decades, how many of you have read resumes with people proudly mentioning how they are fortunate of being able to work “at the intersection of technology and life sciences/healthcare?” With 2023’s accelerating layoffs across Fortune 500s, including Verily Life Sciences’ (an arm of Google's parent company, Alphabet) recent 15% staff reduction, these are challenging times for our readership. To learn more about potential practical steps for your career sustainability, please see Jasmin Patel’s (Senior Partner at a-Connect) thoughts in this latest Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association Q&A.
Michael Wong: Although we are only days into the New Year, massive layoff announcements—including Amazon’s 18,000 targeted reduction and Salesforce’s 10% restructuring—have created angst across Fortune 500 workforces given how these firms had successfully performed over recent years. With many of my bio-pharma colleagues still recalling their respective firms’ pipeline droughts and associated downsizings in the past decade, what do you see on the career landscape for them in the next 11 months?
Jasmin Patel: Firms have had a rough year—Roivant announcing laying off 12% of their employees and Novartis plans to lay off more than 7% of their global workforce, to name a few. Given my conversations with industry executives, candidly, 2023 will most likely be a challenging year with the spread of cost constraints and more headwinds across other pharma and biopharma. Of relevance to your US-based readers, global employers have become increasingly comfortable with shifting operations from North American and European locations to Asia Pacific (APAC) countries. As global workforces engaged remotely quite effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic, past C-suite assumptions around tapping into emerging economies for highly skilled workers at lower costs have changed.
With these factors in play, your friends should make sure that their 2023 efforts have a clear line of sight towards creating tangible value and impact via their upcoming projects/initiatives. While achieving timelines and crossing stage-gates are important, each initiative should also craft upfront an aspirational Amazon-style Future Press Release summary that includes the pain points, solutions, and benefits that the project team seeks to secure; once the initiative is completed such communications should be conveyed internally (eg., via Slack, Teams, company newsletter). Of equal importance is the ability to build personal connections in a workplace that continues to change. Per some of a-connect’s research, “…We have experienced, across the board, that the challenges of wherever, whenever and however seem to be easier to overcome than those of whoever, as building new relationships remains a key area of concern.”1
Given your years working directly for Novartis, what three career advice recommendations would you share with co-workers of the past as well as clients of the present day?
First, always expect the unexpected. While the past months of massive reorgs occurring across several Fortune 500s including bio-pharmas, can be stressful, I would encourage the readership to view such changes as opportunities masquerading as challenges. For instance, not too long ago, if you were a hiring manager, you were likely stressed about attracting and retaining top talent during the Great Resignation. In 2023, the current upheaval represents a unique opportunity to hire top tech talent into your firms. Just as I never imagined some 20 years ago when I was studying at Wharton that I would one day commence a decade-long journey working abroad across Switzerland and Asia; your readership should adopt an agile mindset to embrace changes that they cannot visualize today.
Second, similar to the “ABC” adage of “Always Be Closing,” I would recommend that your readership “ABN,” that is “Always Be Networking.” Especially if you’re in the enviable position of being gainfully employed, invest ahead of the cycles to help others, including colleagues in your current network, as well as contacts of the past from schools and prior jobs. It’s not only the right thing to do, but is a good way to build and maintain relationships which in turn may create future opportunities.
Finally, recognize that careers are no longer the straight path that was the norm for the Baby Boomer generation when someone may have journeyed along a 35+ year playbook of roles at Merck or J&J. Crossing sectors, like I did, starting in strategy consulting, then to Big Pharma, followed by Private Equity and now back in consulting, not only provided terrific learning and personal development, it was also a lot of fun. And so, for those bio-pharma readers who work side by side with consultants and always wondered about this career path, do scan the materials that I had co-presented at the 2018 HBS Healthcare Alumni Association panel event which are still relevant.2 You may very well decide that becoming an independent consultant is how you navigate through your next set of career moves!
Jasmin Patel is a Senior Partner at a-connect, the consultancy that pioneered the networked consulting model, engaging with 600+ independent consultants in the US and 2,400 across the world to advise and support a broad range of clients on some of their most pressing business challenges. Jasmin’s prior experience includes roles as Managing Director for Fidelity Growth Partners India, Chief Operating Officer of Novartis India, and Engagement Manager at McKinsey. Jasmin received a PhD from Duquesne University and an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Michael Wong is an emeritus board member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.