Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alternative careers in chemistry: business development

This week's chapter in "Nontraditional Careers in Chemistry"* is on business development. I've never been quite sure what that means, so I'm glad Lisa Balbes has provided a description:
Business development focuses on implementing a strategic business plan through equity financing; acquisition or divestiture of technologies, products and companies, and establishment of strategic partnerships where appropriate.
I enjoyed reading about Jennifer, a director of corporate development who started out as a Ph.D. computational chemist and slowly moved into the business side of the company:
Jennifer ended up approaching Amphora's management with a proposal. They wanted to extend her part-time contract, and she agreed, on the conditions that they let her volunteer time in their business-development department, thus allowing her to learn the ropes and make the lateral move. The plan got off to a slow start because the company is headquartered in Research Triangle Park, NC, and she worked in the satellite office in California  but her responsibilities grew, and she eventually joined the company full-time as the executive director of corporate development.  
Jennifer sums up her job, saying, "I facilitate the progression of partnering and licensing discussions from beginning to end, with the goal of bringing revenue into the company. My scientific skills continue to serve me well every day. For one thing, I have a good relationship with the scientists in the company and can act as a liaison between them and our business people. I'm also able to provide more technical evaluation of external opportunities that come our way." 
It strikes me, reading this chapter, that business development is probably one of the stronger careers for mid-career chemists to consider. It also strikes me that these positions require many of the 'soft skills' that are somewhat less emphasized in the science world.

The take home message for those who want to consider business development? "The most important personality trait needed is the ability to form relationships -- this is crucial. People want to work with people they like and trust, and the bigger the deal, the more important this becomes."

*As always, CJ's copy of the book helpfully provided by the author, Dr. Lisa Balbes.

13 comments:

  1. I made a similar move into market/business development (albeit to a more junior position earlier in my career) and have never looked back. Much like Jennifer in the example you site, I still use my scientific 'brain' on a day-to-day basis, but dressed in a suit rather than a white coat.

    The idea of this will, of course, horrify many die-hard scientists. However, I love what I do now, moreso than the white-coat stuff. However, the last paragraph is the most important by some margin. The whole role relies on networking, building relationships and the challenge of working with non-technical people. To be frank, these are traits which do not always come easy to scientists, and something I struggled with at first.

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  2. anyone who can with a straight face utter a sentence "I facilitate the progression of partnering and licensing discussions from beginning to end, with the goal of bringing revenue into the company" (rather than " I direct the licensing and outside collaborations) is already a hopeless case, probably with permanent changes to the orbitofrontal cortex.
    (A friend who is more religious than me likes to say that the executive people are souls too - but they cannot be saved)

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  3. Anon 7:46,
    I am considering making a similar change. Any tips on how to approach or manage the transition?

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  4. A7:46a: Thanks for your on-topic comment -- are you willing to expound further anonymously? E-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmaildotcom. Confidentiality is assured.

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  5. Sorry, it's juvenile, but Milkshake is dead-on here: "I'm a super-awesome specialist in buzzword managerial mumbo-jumbo!"

    That said, I think chemists in general lose many opportunities by not being able to speak management-double-speak when necessary.

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  6. A7:46 here - I'd be happy to speak CJ, and I will drop you a line soon.

    A4:22. Likewise, I would be happy to speak. Maybe CJ can put us in contact. In the meantime, what I would suggest is you take a look at the posts of Eka and Milkshaken, and if you find yourself huffing and puffing in irritation and agreement, this type of job is not for you. Whilst I wouldn't argue about the management-speak thing (it's irritating and everywhere), I feel frustrated at the tone of these posts. Eka - come on - chemists lose out on opportunities because of this?! Please. 99% of the time chemists lose out on opportunites because of attitude, and I believe your post exemplifies this perfectly. And Milkshaken, to suggest this successful woman is a 'hopeless case' because of how she structures a sentence is as amusing as some of the management speak. Sorry.

    No doubt I'm in for a hosing now.

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  7. A4:22 here.

    Thank you anon 7:46. I very much like to discuss, and will contact CJ. Maybe CJ can put us in contact. I very much agree with your assessment of the posts of Eka and Milkshaken.

    Milkshaken, your critique of Jennifer's comment shows that you do not understand what business development is all about.

    Jennifer: "facilitate the progression of partnering and licensing discussions from beginning to end, with the goal of bringing revenue into the company"

    milkshaken:" I direct the licensing and outside collaborations) "

    In milkshaken's "translation", he focuses the emphasis on I. Furthermore, it is an I with power, since it is followed with "direct". This is not correct. The focus is on the 'we' and 'patnerships' not 'I' and 'power'. He then goes on to mention "outside collaboration". This forgets an important factor. The business development chemist is also a key part of the collaboration. They have to understand all the science of the projects they are collaborating on to 1. recognize opportunity 2. get the right people involved.

    In Jennifer's words, "facilitate the progression" is used. This is something which is not trivial to do. To mock these words means you do not understand the depth of the scientific and people skills needed to do this properly. Facilitate again emphasizes the importance of the others in the group.

    Also Jennifer emphasizes "bringing revenue to the company". This is also an aspect which requires skill and a lot of self control. You must look past what is interesting, and look at what is good for the company.

    To address Eka's comment, chemists may lose opportunities, but as A746 points out it would be more likely their attitudes versus 'business speak'. 'Business speak' actually is not that difficult if one can think past 'I' for the good of 'we'.

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  8. Personally, I think it's very important to get someone with a solid scientific background into business positions like this. I feel our country is suffering because science is not appreciated for its importance. Putting scientists in more positions of prominence and power is a good thing to do.

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  9. @Unstable Isotope - Personally, I agree with you, and I'd argue the opposite: it would be nice to get business types in the lab for a few days.

    It might be a good exercise in seeing where their widgets and prototypes actually come from (i.e., from people, working...we're not just numbers!)

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  10. @A4:27
    " 'Business speak' actually is not that difficult if one can think past 'I' for the good of 'we'."


    The last line reads like a sentence in a sophomore college level paper on the greatness of Marxism. Terseness is something that seems to have fallen out of use in the business world. Just because your spoken words include "I" does not necessarily mean you are full of yourself or a narcissist, it may just be the easiest way to explain it to a layperson or colleague. The excessive flowery language only serves to distance the listener from the intuitive meaning of whatever is being said. Business can do fine communicating most of their ideas through colloquial prose, at least when dealing with the public. Businessmen and women do not need to recite pages of a thesaurus to clearly get their meaning across.

    I agree with Unstable Isotope in that the business world needs more scientists to represent and lead the financial sector in areas relevant to science, but it does not need the excessive flowery language in all facets of use.

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  11. I've always thought the biggest part of the disconnect with communication between science & business is that scientists really care about HOW you arrive at the answer. Business doesn't care much about how but what the answer is.

    I certainly don't disagree that it would be nice for more business types in the lab but it takes more than that for business types to understand how science works and how scientists think.

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  12. "I think chemists in general lose many opportunities by not being able to speak management-double-speak when necessary."

    Likely true. Happily, in the course of MBA (Mediocre But Arrogant) "studies" I did take a course in management-speak (it was right after pie chart class), that helped me tremendously in reprioritizing my deliverables vis-a-vis enabling a lean six sigma implementation paradigm that synergizes with empowering the citizen owners of the organization.

    The worst part, as I see it, is that there is a cadre of C level executives who buy into this crap. These tend to be the ones for whom establishing a 4 letter acronym and a mission statement are more important than, say, coming up with something clever in the lab. Sadly, biotech is full of these.

    People can have fun with this, though, for example: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120301945499169247.html

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  13. while some lucky people are already facilitating and aligning, re-prioritizing and deemphasizing, others still have to some actual work for living

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