A fellow pharmacy school graduate and colleague from early in my career, George Zorich, is writing a book advocating for pharmacy schools to integrate entrepreneurship education into their standard curriculum. A section of the book will contain stories of pharmacy school graduates who leveraged their education in surprising ways, catalyzing non-traditional and interesting career paths. George asked me to share my story. I’m honored to be asked and I found it invaluable to reflect on my own convoluted career path. Are you doing what you originally set out to do in college? If you’re like most people you’ve had to reinvent yourself multiple times over your career. The world of work is changing faster than ever. What’s your from….to story? Here’s mine.
My thought process coming out of high school was no more complicated than, I love science and it would be nice if a college diploma resulted in a job! Pharmacy fit the bill. I wasn’t signing up for a career, just looking for a start. I wanted something I could build on without a clue where it might lead. A pharmacy degree from the University of Rhode Island School of Pharmacy in the 1970’s was the perfect prescription. I knew by my sophomore year I wouldn’t spend my career filling prescriptions but I have always valued the foundation I received at URI. While I couldn’t tell you then how I planned to leverage a pharmacy degree I had confidence it would set me up for a successful career. I have been grateful for my pharmacy education every day since.
I went on to launch a career with many twists and turns as an innovation junkie and strategist. I believe there is always a better way. I have dedicated my career and life to enable those around me to make what’s next easier and safer to manage. My career has followed the simple principle of always staying on a steep learning curve. I have always done my best work when I stretch myself to learn and do something new. I never cared about job titles, how many people reported to me, or how much money I made. I knew those things would come if I kept myself on a steep learning curve, always willing to tackle new challenges.
After pharmacy school, I wanted to learn how business and large organizations work and how emerging technologies change markets. I combined my analytical foundation from pharmacy school with an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the Strategic Management of Technology. From there I leveraged both degrees to work in the pharmaceutical industry for, Eli Lilly & Co, first in sales and then in the home office as a marketing manager. I had the incredible opportunity to work on the US introduction of Prozac. It was a young marketing manager’s dream job. I learned the difference between market making and share taking. Most people and organizations are share takers, competing for market share in a defined industry with known competitors. I became obsessed with market makers, people and organizations that redefine markets. My career has been defined by enabling market makers.
From Lilly I became a road warrior consultant first with Arthur D. Little and then as a Senior Partner at what became Accenture. I’m still learning what I learned during those halcyon days traveling around the world working with pharmaceutical and medical products companies, enabling and leading consulting practices and teams focused on innovation. I became interested in the difference between the innovation rhetoric coming out of the CEO suite and the real work being done at mid-levels in most of the companies I consulted with. The rhetoric was about transformation but the reality was more focused on incremental improvements to the way the companies worked at the time. Nothing wrong with tweaks but it seemed to me that a different approach to innovation was needed if transformation is the goal. Institutions are much better at share taking than market making.
I was fortunate to retire at an early age from Accenture, a few years after its IPO, and my wife wasn’t in the market for an innovation strategist at home to advise on household operations. I made the mistake of raising my hand to the new elected Governor in my home state of Rhode Island and the next thing I knew I was working as the number two at the state’s economic development agency. Soon after I joined the agency its Director went back to Wall Street and I found myself leading the agency. I had become an accidental bureaucrat! It completely changed my world- view and approach to innovation. Instead of seeing innovation through the lens of large institutions I learned to see it through the lens of the citizens, students, and patients they served. In developing the state’s economic development strategy I began to see the state as a real-world sandbox to develop transformational models in government, education, and healthcare.
I created the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) at first as a local program in Rhode Island, and when I left state government, to now serve government, healthcare, and education leaders across the country to explore and test next practices and new business models to help make transformation safer and easier to manage. We live in a time that screams for transformation and the best we seem capable of is tweaking what works today. BIF is trying to change that.
I am proud of my pharmacy background and how I’ve been able to combine and recombine what I’ve learned along the way to take on and create new roles that didn’t exist or that I could never imagine when I was in college. The truth is that none of us can predict what we will be doing in the future. All we can do is learn how to confidently reinvent ourselves, building on our capabilities and experiences. Reinvention is the most important life skill in a rapidly changing world. Any college degree or post-secondary credential, including pharmacy, is a wonderful foundation to open up many new career and life paths if we let it.
What’s your from…to story?