What I learned from Pfizer’s Global President

Amidst the many activities competing for Booth students’ time (e.g., recruiting, classwork, student groups, social events), a full classroom of students made it their priority during lunchtime to hear Booth alum Andy Schmeltz, ’97, speak about his career in the pharma space, where he is now the Global President and General Manager of Pfizer Oncology, which has a portfolio of 22 different medicines and is responsible for over $7B in annual revenue.

After graduating from Booth, Andy worked his way up in the pharma world through Abbott and Pfizer, across various teams and projects, such as sales, marketing, consumer healthcare, commercial development, and more. Given his remarkable experience and credentials, I was excited to attend the event, organized by the Kilts Center for Marketing and moderated by Chicago Booth professor Hal Weitzman.

Students came prepared with their questions and curiosity about pharma as we sought Andy’s counsel on how to make an impact in the healthcare industry. I was lucky enough to be a member of the audience and took furious notes on how to change the world through healthcare. Here are some of the well-informed questions asked by the many Boothies in attendance about the state of pharma and healthcare in general.

  • How do you decide when an acquisition is preferred to in-house development? Andy’s answer delved into fascinating detail about biotech startups and the risk involved with each one.
  • How does Pfizer view the opioid epidemic, and what are you doing about it? Andy expressed genuine concern for the crisis and a quick discussion of the different parties responsible, followed by a mention of Pfizer’s upcoming introduction of an alternative pain medicine to help cut down on opioid prescriptions.
  • As a pharma company, who do you consider your primary customers? Andy stressed the importance of identifying several key customer targets for pharma marketing, including healthcare providers, payers, consumers, and consumers’ support networks, among others; the diversity of targeting is something that makes pharma so complex, and therefore interesting and challenging.
  • What do you think about value- or outcome-based pricing? While Andy supported ground-breaking pricing models, he also gave students his insight into the many different challenges keeping pharma companies from implementing them (for now).
  • Where do you see pharma heading in the future? Innovations are coming—most likely related to technology and efficiencies. Andy even likened future healthcare practices to Netflix subscriptions or restaurant Yelp ratings, as he’s looking for opportunities to transform his industry in similar ways.

Overall, the discussions sparked by students’ questions really highlighted what makes pharma unique and why it’s so important to understand it on a deeper level.

One theme that really struck me throughout Andy’s Q&A was the concept of working in a new industry after business school and not having a clear idea yet of which industry is the right one for you as a student.

Andy admitted that he himself didn’t come into Booth focused on healthcare, and that he doesn’t have a science background, but that he has no regrets on his choice to go into pharma. He describes pharma as a dynamic, intellectually-stimulating industry that does important, meaningful work. If that doesn’t get you excited about an industry, I don’t know what will! Andy’s passion for pharma and public health really stood out throughout his interview, conveying a true sense of altruism in his role.

Finally, I found incredible value in Andy’s career advice. He stressed the importance of leadership development programs at Pfizer and across any recruiting opportunities Booth students are exploring. These programs rotate new hires through diverse departments and experiences to prime them for leadership positions.

As a participant of a leadership development program himself, Andy saw the value in networking across a company and understanding different teams. He also highlighted the impact of the marketing function at Pfizer and in pharma; if you want to go into general management in pharma, then joining the marketing team is a great way to truly learn the business and get the experiences you need to lead the company.

Andy’s deep knowledge about and clear passion for pharma made for a captivating, informative Q&A that got students excited about our prospects in recruiting for healthcare roles. As someone who specifically mentioned Pfizer in my Booth application essay, I was totally geeking out during the presentation and honored to get the chance to meet an influential pharma leader. Thank you to Booth and the Kilts Center for the opportunity to interact with Andy.

To learn more about future events from the Kilts Center and to engage with the Chicago Booth marketing community, connect with the Kilts Center on LinkedIn.

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