The Business of Biotechnology


I was already thinking about studying either biology or business administration even as I finished school. I had found biology courses very interesting, but during the mid-1980s, when I was starting my studies, it was often said that there was no work in biology as so many biologists were unemployed. Nevertheless, my interest in biology won out. But while studying biology, I did not forget the importance of knowledge about business administration in general and for my own possible future career options in particular. Therefore, I took additional courses in this discipline.

During the practical work for my diploma thesis--which I completed in a pharmaceutical company's research laboratory focused on genetic engineering--I had the opportunity to see what a future work place could look like. I observed that the head of the laboratory (which would have been my most probable job) spent a lot of his time behind his desk doing paper work. His time in the laboratory doing practical work like experiments was reduced as these were mainly the tasks of the lab technicians. The head's job was to discuss the lab results and to decide on changes in the experiments.

This insight led to my decision not to complete a doctoral thesis in biology, which I could have done in the same laboratory where I accomplished the diploma thesis. Instead, I looked for the opportunity to take some postgraduate studies in business administration as this was always my second interest and seemed to be important to work in industry, even in a science-based company. There was no opportunity to do postgraduate studies in business administration at my home university. But I did find a department that permitted me--after taking some courses--to do a doctoral thesis combining business administration with a focus on industry and biology. My thesis was about strategic technology management within the biotech industry. This was the starting point in my analyzing the biotech industry--which I have done now for more than 10 years.

Already during this period one company was continuously mentioned in articles about the biotech industry: Ernst & Young. This company seemed to be the perfect place to work given my interdisciplinary background. Their annual analyses of the U.S. and European biotech industry and consulting services seemed to be exactly the kind of work I was looking for. So it was a logical consequence that at the end of my doctoral work I should apply for a job at Ernst & Young.

My qualification made it rather easy to achieve an interview with the member of the board responsible for Ernst & Young's life sciences activities. The job tasks encompassed the first German Biotechnology Report as well as developing a concept for regional participation in a BioRegio contest initiated by the minister of research and technology in 1995. Unfortunately, personal reasons prevented me from taking up this opportunity. But I continued to observe the company's activities and to stay in touch with people then working in the newly created Life Sciences team of Ernst & Young.

My first opportunity to use my theoretical knowledge in professional practice was while doing freelance work for the Basel-based PROGNOS Institute for Economic Research. The institute's main projects were industry and market analysis within the biotech industry. The daily work included drafting questionnaires and written surveys, personal and telephone interviews, research using the Internet and databases, analyzing information, and writing reports. Later I gained experience within a biotech company itself as it was going through its initial public offering (IPO). This was a very exciting time, and my responsibilities included tasks in public relations as well as in business development. For instance, I organized press conferences, gave information about the company's technology to interested people, provided content for the company's Web page, and carried out competitor/potential client analysis. For all of this work, my understanding of the underlying technologies was essential--without it I would not have been able to do reasonable analyses or give understandable information.

But back to Ernst & Young. Approximately 2 years ago, I received my second chance. I had moved to Mannheim with my family. At the same time, some structural changes within the company occurred: The former Life Sciences team of Ernst & Young (based in Stuttgart) was integrated into Ernst & Young Consulting GmbH, which was then sold to Cap Gemini to form Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. The consequence was that Ernst & Young itself had the need to build up a new Life Sciences team (based in Mannheim) that would publish biotech reports and support colleagues with scientific knowledge. With my professional experience in analyzing the biotech industry and my previous contact with Ernst & Young's head of Life Sciences, it was no problem to get the industry specialist's job within the new team. It was really the right time, right place, right qualification, and right firm!

Today, I am responsible for all marketing and thought leadership activities of Ernst & Young's Health Sciences/Biotech team in Germany. This encompasses the project leadership of the third German Biotech Report, support for the first Global Biotechnology Report of Ernst & Young, launching the reports during press conferences, and presenting the reports during a self-organized event series. To write the report, I needed to collect information from the Internet research, and I had to analyze two surveys sent to biotech companies and biotech investors. Marketing activities such as participating in industry conferences (as a speaker or with a poster) as well as preparing marketing brochures are further examples of my work activities. I am sometimes involved in the corporate finance or consulting projects of my colleagues who need industry knowledge and knowledge about technology.

Personally, I find no disadvantages (besides maybe a high workload) in this job. There are many advantages: I have an overview of the whole industry with its different technologies, contact to high-level people and international colleagues, and there is no need for stock or financial analysis (as this in my point of view is a difficult task).

The need for biologists with additional qualifications in business administration (whether via MBA or distance learning or other courses) will increase as biotech companies, banks, and consultants look for people who understand both--the technology and the business. The situation at the moment might be not the best as the industry is in a period of consolidation, but better times for interdisciplinary people will come back and then you will have to be prepared!

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