Biotech and pharmaceuticals are booming industries. As of 2019, there are over 300,000 people employed in biotech in the U.S. alone, and there are currently 318,280 unique clinical studies taking place across 209 different countries around the globe.
There is a lot of work still to be done in both biotech and pharmaceuticals. We’re still lacking cures for major diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. Plus, there are thousands of rare “orphan diseases”, which affect a small group of people each year, but altogether they impact an estimated 400 million people worldwide.
Careers in biotech are varied, from engineers, technicians, and clinicians to sales, marketing, and finance. However, if you want an executive role — C-level, President, General Manager, VP, or Director — there is more required of you than a basic STEM or business degree.
There are no hard and fast rules about what is required to become a biotech executive. It can be very helpful to have a background in biology or biotechnology so they can speak the language of the industry, but a science background is not always required.
It is often much more important that these executives have the ability to manage people and see the big picture. Executives will need to motivate their teams for the long term. It can take over 10 years to develop a new medicine or piece of medical equipment from start to finish, so leadership must always be thinking ahead.
Lastly, biotech executives need to have business training. Sales and marketing, research, management, and finance are all key for executives, no matter the industry. Earning an MBA, while certainly not a requirement of becoming a biotech executive, will certainly help — especially if you’re aiming to be a CEO.
Of course, you’ll need some biotech experience. One study showed that biotech leaders had spent an average of 96% of their careers in the industry. Top biotech executives are more likely to move upward through the ranks of the industry, rather than laterally from other fields.
It can also help to have international experience. Serving as a part of a team overseas can help future executives to build the skills that they’ll need when they’re in larger leadership roles.
Is There a Shorter Path to Success?
Is there a shortcut to becoming a biotech executive? Maybe you don’t want to wait until you’re 54 — the median age of related biopharma CEOs at the time of their IPOs.
Unfortunately, biotech is one industry where age and experience are often key deciding factors in naming executives. There is so much riding on the results achieved by biotech companies, both financially and medically, hiring managers and board members are unlikely to take a risk on a younger upstart.
A great way to get started is to meet with a few current biotech executives to ask them about their career paths. You never know what great advice or connections you may encounter just by reaching out.
You could also consider starting your career with a pharmaceutical company. Pharma companies tend to be larger and are constantly hiring around the country. If you have a biotech background, you could apply for lab jobs in San Francisco, San Diego or other biotech hubs. If you’re background is in business, you can apply for Pharma Executive Jobs in NYC or Boston.
Even though there may not be a fast track to leadership, biotech is a booming field that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. It’s the perfect time to get started in this exciting, life-saving industry.