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Working in pharma: the value of an EMBA

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Three pharmaceutical professionals discuss how the Cambridge EMBA has helped their careers in the sector.

The Cambridge Executive MBA programme attracts talented senior professionals from a variety of professions and industries. For EMBA participants working in the pharmaceutical sector, their motivations for joining the programme are similarly varied. We spoke to three participants working in pharma about their reasons for joining the programme and what they’ve gained from their studies.

Meet our participants

Stefano De Socio Lardani (EMBA 2017)

Stefano De Socio Lardani recently joined biotech firm Takeda Pharmaceutical, formerly Shire, as Global Brand and Launch Marketing Lead, Director. “I’m leading a global launch for a new investigational drug for a rare disease called hereditary angioedema. I’m responsible for understanding the business potential for the drug, generating demand and facilitating access to the marketplace.”


Hitesh Sanganee (EMBA 2016)

Hitesh Sanganee is the Senior Director and Head of Emerging Innovations at AstraZeneca. “My team is involved in Drug Repurposing, partnering with entrepreneurs and academics to come up with new ideas for our deprioritised assets.”


Musaddiq Khan (EMBA 2016)

Musaddiq Khan – also of AstraZeneca – is Associate Director of Clinical Operations and Alliances. “I’m responsible for our operations and alliance strategies, looking at the external vendors that we work with and seeing how best to leverage those relationships.”

Responding to industry challenges with an EMBA

Musaddiq believes that the pharmaceutical sector has a responsibility to engage and respond to global healthcare challenges. “Pharmaceutical companies have been notoriously conservative in the past, but in a world of increasing costs and burdens on healthcare systems, our industry has a societal responsibility to help address this. There’s a real opportunity for those of us with technical expertise to marry our experience with business acumen, so that we can make better decisions that have a positive societal impact.”

Stefano agrees with having this desire for business acumen. He saw an EMBA education as a way to add value to his scientific background. “Most of my colleagues already have some kind of executive education. Though my job sits within the corporate function of the company, my primary training is in pharmacology, not finance. I believe it’s important that I match my scientific background with business training.”

For Hitesh, this understanding of business is key to contributing meaningfully to major decisions. “As a scientist, I was always keen to learn the language of business and not feel under-qualified in situations where business topics are being discussed. Getting a broader perspective on topics like accounting, marketing and corporate finance, for example, would give me a new language and outlook I could use in my day job.”

Cambridge as a biotech hub

Cambridge has a reputation as one of Europe’s largest hubs for life sciences and healthcare. In 2017, the city had 440 companies in the sector, employing over 14,000 people and generating turnover of £4.5bn (Cambridge Cluster Map, 2018). Cambridge Judge’s proximity to these companies – as well as the wider University’s life sciences departments – convinced Stefano that this was the place for him to study.

“We cannot deny that Cambridge is a hub for biotech,” he explains. “Yes, Cambridge is very far from Silicon Valley, but the fact that Cambridge is known as ‘Silicon Fen’ resonates worldwide. When I researched the impact of the wider University and city, after speaking with alumni, it was clear that the city had an incredible mix of theory and practice related to my sector.”

Though Musaddiq was already based in Cambridge at AstraZeneca’s offices, the School gave him the introductions and confidence to become more involved in this ecosystem. “Being part of the School gave me a foot in the door to the Cambridge network. It gave me an understanding of what was going on in the city for my sector, making it easier for me to get involved beyond my job title.”

Career progression in the pharma sector

Stefano, Musaddiq and Hitesh have all experienced career advancement because of their EMBA studies.

“The programme has helped my career in more ways than I’d expected,” says Hitesh. “I’ve been promoted to my current role as Director of Innovation, which happened in part because of the EMBA.”

Musaddiq was promoted to a strategic position, assessing AstraZeneca’s stakeholder relationships. “Before the programme, I was responsible for leading global oncology trials from Phase 1 to 2a. I now hold a more strategic role, understanding how best we can work with its alliance partners.”

Stefano changed companies half-way through his studies, joining Takeda Pharmaceutical from pharma giant Roche earlier this year. “My responsibilities at work increasingly focus on delivering forecasts and steering cross-functional teams to meet strategic objectives.”

What they learnt from the programme

The combination of core courses and practical projects give EMBA participants and understanding of different business disciplines. Crucially, the course content can be applied to participants’ own working environments.

“The programme was not dogmatic, in telling me what I should or shouldn’t do”, says Musaddiq. “Whilst it did give me a set of business and management tools, it was up to me to use them as I saw fit, depending on the scenario.”

Hitesh enjoyed the Team Consulting Project because of the opportunity to work with fellow participants from different sectors in a real-life consultation. “We worked as consultants for a charity that tasked us with adapting their business model”, he explains. “Our team had a banker, a marketing expert and part-time comedian, a technologist and an oil-and-gas man. We pooled our expertise together and came up with ideas that I would never had thought of, given the range of perspectives in our team.”

Stefano was able to apply course materials from the Management Science course into his strategic planning. “Management Science is my favourite subject so far. The tools we learnt about helped me to understand – at work – why my forecasts were deviating from their budgets, which was very important to learn as I prepared for our product launch.

“I also found that learning about Corporate Finance taught me how to speak the same ‘language’ as my finance colleagues, which again helps with responsibilities in my role.”

The value of a global – and friendly – EMBA network

Cambridge EMBA participants can expand their professional networks beyond their own workplaces, and even industries. Participants have access to an interesting and dynamic network of classmates, which Musaddiq found invaluable during his 20 months at Cambridge. “The experience I gained from the class has been invaluable. I’ve learned about negotiation from a senior UN diplomat working in a war-torn part of the globe and leadership from a World-Cup-winning sporting captain.

“My friends and I often asked ourselves why our experience together as fun, as collegiate and collaborative as it was.”

Stefano appreciates the collaborative, supportive nature of his EMBA. “I don’t hesitate to contact the class when I need advice. Many of them have had a lot more experience than me, which they are happy to share with us and provide advice.”

Stefano’s appreciation of this kind of collaboration also extends to the wider University beyond Cambridge Judge, especially given his biotech interests.

“In Cambridge, there’s more networking opportunity than the cohort itself. The entire University of Cambridge is a network waiting to be used. It’s easy for me to knock on the door of different departments outside the Business School, like Pharmacology or Economy, because we are all part of a large Cambridge family with a significant legacy.”

For Hitesh, the classmates he studied with gave him a renewed sense of perspective that he assumed he’d had at AstraZeneca. “I used to think being in a multinational like AstraZeneca gave me a broader understanding of how the world works. Now, I realise that I gained a much greater perspective by learning with people from different industries in the class. I realise now that I wouldn’t get this kind of experience in a purely scientific company.

Opportunities for entrepreneurship

Another way EMBA participants develop their Individual Project (IP), is to explore an entrepreneurship idea. Musaddiq’s own IP soon developed into a potential venture supported by the School’s Entrepreneurship Centre.

“My IP explored ways of improving the efficiency of clinical trials using digital health technologies, which I thought could be turned into a new venture. I met a co-founder on one of the School’s Entrepreneurship programmes – ironically, a colleague at AstraZeneca! – and we were recently accepted into the Accelerate programme at CJBS. I never believed I was capable of being an ‘ideas man’ before joining the School, so pursuing this venture with CJBS support is a great opportunity.”

Final words on the future

When asked about whether they would recommend the programme, Hitesh says “When people ask me if an EMBA would help them achieve their goals, I tell them that it will help them in more ways than they would expect.”

For Stefano, “studying for an EMBA is not a qualification to tick a box on your resume. It’s not an easy journey, but the quality of the return on investment cannot be described. Alumni I’ve spoken to are still experiencing the benefits of the EMBA years after they’ve finished.”