As the Pharma World Turns

Pharmaceutical Manufacturing’s readers continue to find career satisfaction despite the industry’s day-to-day drama

By Steven E. Kuehn, Contributing Editor

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A career in pharma is no soap opera, but it can often feel like one. Managing a career, especially one that often requires advanced degrees and intensive and sustained professional focus, is tough enough without the added drama of the ups and downs of the commercial marketplace. And so it goes for many working on the pharmaceutical industry stage who are toiling diligently to meet their employer’s business goals as well as their own career aspirations. Each year since the magazine began publishing in 2002, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing has surveyed its readership to gain a sense of how folks are doing career-wise, as well as to get an idea of how their attitude reflects current and future trends.

Response to this year’s study was relatively strong with 268 completing surveys and 240 readers offering a response to every one of the questions (because readers were not required to answer each question).


There should be little doubt that pharma is moving in some new and interesting directions. While there is no need to recite the industry’s current catechism of looming patent cliffs, diminished blockbuster opportunities and more direct regulatory oversight of manufacturing operations, pharma and life science companies are reacting to market forces in a variety of familiar ways. Chief among them is the way companies, by necessity, are arranging themselves to be competitive and successful. Asked “How have market and competitive forces affected your company recently?” 43.5 percent chose “Major business unit or operations restructuring.” The response, similar to last year, points to a dynamic that has the ability to either kill or launch one’s career in pharma. Mergers or acquisitions came in second place at 36.6 percent, which is not surprising; in 2015, some of the largest M&A deals were in the pharmaceutical sector. According to analysts at PwC, “transformational deals” (transactions valued at $10 billion and above) accounted for 58 percent of total deal value in the first half of the year. Huge pharmaceutical “megadeals” including AbbVie’s $21 billion deal for Pharmacyclis and Pfizer’s $17 billion deal for Hospira, garnered 17 percent of total M&A deal value - some $150 billion says Forbes Magazine - for the first five months of 2015.

These upheavals can cause a lot of angst among employees. In a flip from last year, 52.5 percent (as opposed to 48 percent in 2015) indicated they were more concerned with job security than last year. What are they concerned with? Top of mind for most (55.5 percent) was the fear that internal cost-cutting (often the familiar outcome of mergers and/or acquisitions) may soon have a negative impact on their careers. Others (25.6 percent) identified “External financial pressure on my company due to expiring patents or circumstances surrounding failed product development or regulatory approval.” Again, business circumstances and other events that trigger organizational moves to manage costs, trim redundant functions, lop off idle capacity, etc., have always been identified as a job security pain point for PhM’s readers. Here’s one reader’s appraisal: “I was satisfied with the variety and the assignments - when it was held by a major company. My site was independently run but was still overall controlled by a larger company. Pay was adequate, even though the work was hard and there was a lot of it! Job security was assured. Opportunities for growth were great - afraid things will change drastically under new ownership!”

Through their answers, we gather a pretty clear picture of the demographic profile of those responding. Not surprisingly, respondents are mostly male; gender was split in their favor 80 to 20 percent (of 240 total responding) and maturing, with some 42.7 percent 55 older, followed by those 40-54 holding down the fort. Yes, there are younger professionals out there, but at 2.9 percent for 20-29 year-olds and 13.8 percent for 30-39 year-olds, it’s clear that the industry is graying. PhM’s readers are by most measures pretty smart. Nearly 20 percent of those responding indicated they have a Doctorate, another 23 percent a Masters in something other than Business, and most remaining (38.6) possessing a Bachelor’s degree. We did catch a few responses from those in the trades and those (perhaps) working the line with high-school degrees. Of those with degrees, most have either a Chemical Engineering, Pharmaceutics or Chemistry degree, with the rest possessing Business, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Bio Chemistry and similar technical or science-oriented educational backgrounds.

One of the great things about PhM’s 2016 Reader Survey is that we tap into the ethos of operational types. This year, most (70.9 percent) fill operational roles (sum of operational categories) with nearly a quarter (23.2 percent) specifying involvement in quality assessment and quality control, and 17.4 percent identifying themselves with manufacturing operations. Research and development types were represented as well, with 16.6 percent. In single digits are the rest, with PhM readers working in plant engineering and design, IT and facility management to round out the occupational orientation of those responding. Regardless, PhM is reaching the veterans, with 49 percent indicating they’ve been in the industry more than 20 years. The next largest group (30.7 percent) have 11-20 years experience, with the remainder ranging from one to ten years running their “lines” on the pharma stage.

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