Is pharma hiring the right people?


  • Older, more experienced employees are being shoved aside in favor of more inexperienced ones.
  • The culture within pharma is driving people away, including new hires.
  • More and more meetings are based on ROI, not the voice of the patient.
  • Don’t hire people who want big salaries; hire people who want to be part of an industry that helps patients.
  • CEOs need to realign their company culture.

In my 20 years within the healthcare industry, I’ve worked with some really talented people at learned from them. As I reviewed my LinkedIn contact list, I found that more than 85% worked for different companies or left the industry altogether. Two days ago, one of the best DTC marketing directors I have ever worked with told me she just resigned. She was consistently rated as a top performer, yet when she resigned, her company didn’t bother to ask “why?” or try and reach out to try and keep her. She wrote that she was in her mid-50s and that people “her age” are being nudged to leave. Despite the fact that older employees are often the most knowledgeable and experienced members of the workforce, they’re all too often overlooked in favor of younger, less experienced workers. Is this what the industry has become?

Age discrimination within pharma is real. An AARP survey found that:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers.
  • About 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
  • 76 percent of these older workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job; another report found that more than half of these older workers are prematurely pushed out of longtime jobs, and 90 percent of them never earn as much again.

With the loss of more experienced people, the pharma industry is losing talent and gaining what? People, who sit in meetings with their mouths shut?

I keep reading that corporations are only as good as the people they employ, and I agree with that, but how does a company like Biogen get so many employees to launch a drug that has so many question marks and costs so much? Any reasonable person surely would have raised the red flag a long time ago and asked for further clinical trials or that it be removed from the market. I think I have, at least, a partial answer. Compensation.

On Quora, there was a discussion about working within pharma s a recent MBA grad wanted the pros and cons. The pros were great salaries; the cons were more about the overall culture of meetings and slow decision-making with an eye always on the bottom line. Some say “it’s like any other big business,” but that’s not true. The products we make help people live the lives they want to live. How can anyone who works in the industry observe a focus group talking about living with cancer and not feel their pain?

My decision to consult and incorporate was based on doing what I love, but it’s been challenging. Today, compared to five or six years ago, I hear the ROI word said more and more. The voice of patients and caregivers is often muted during discussions about the best way to reach people who they see as prospects. I also have seen more people promoted from the salesforce into consumer marketing roles who need to be taught how to market their products. They make bad decisions and often don’t understand the pharma marketing process.

Working in pharma can be very financially rewarding. Salaries are always six figures, but people need to decide just how much of their soul they are willing to trade for a paycheck. When interviewing candidates, the discussion should never center around compensation. Sure, it’s a competitive market out there, but do you want people attracted to your company because of the potential to make a lot of money?

When I joined Eli Lilly, I didn’t do so because of the title or salary. I did it because I wanted to learn ethical pharma marketing. After five years there, I won the top marketing awards along with a lot of recognition. Others used that to leverage new jobs at other companies. I didn’t. I really loved what I was doing, and the passion for helping others was often cited in my reviews as a positive.

Right now, there is a serious shortage of talented marketing people ACROSS all industries. MBA schools teach people to quantify the unquantifiable. The focus has gone from listening to people to using data and spreadsheets to justify new marketing. CEOs shoulder much of the blame. Hiring within pharma is still a long process in which too many good people drop out. There is too much focus on financial statements while patients can’t afford drugs, and way too many employees know how to game the system to consolidate power.

The very future of the pharma industry is in the people who work there. Like Biogen, when a company decides to market a drug because of financials, we all lose. It’s time to look at the passion and integrity of the people we hire first.