When people think of work in a pharmaceutical company, their minds generally jump to images of lab coat-clad scientists hunched over petri dishes and racks of test tubes. The development stage of the pharmaceutical chain is arguably the most well-recognised.
Yet, truly, pharmaceuticals is a complex chain with myriad interlinking, moving parts, all of which are of import. If every step isn’t executed correctly, drugs take longer to reach their patients.
Seán McKeon is a supply relationship manager at BMS External Manufacturing (ExM). ExM is responsible for performance management and operation oversight of a network of contract manufacturers dotted around the globe. As many of BMS’s products are partially or wholly manufactured externally, McKeon’s work with ExM is just one example of a vital link on the chain connecting people with medicines.
We caught up with McKeon to ask about his career path to date and the nature of his work.
What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?
I always had a keen interest in science. After completing university qualifications in chemistry, a move to the pharma sector became a natural evolution after that. My first role was with a small generics manufacturer that employed 40 people in Ireland. Its small family atmosphere made it a great place to learn, but it also meant there was limited opportunity. I was there 18 months before starting with BMS.
Joining BMS, and in particular the External Manufacturing organisation (ExM), has given me exposure to different aspects of a global and innovative business that I would not have gotten if I did not make that move.
What led you to the role you now have?
I completed a PhD in chemistry and did a short postdoctorate in France in the area of cancer research. Moving to work in industry had a couple of advantages for me: I felt its career path was more straightforward; working for an innovative pharma company gives me the opportunity to work with new life saving medicines; and the business-technology mix was also very appealing to me.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path?
Leading a team of people more experienced than I was both my biggest challenge and my biggest learning experience. It was early in my career and was daunting initially, but I was very fortunate that I learned a great deal and had a wonderful experience with the team.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
There are too many to name just one. I have had many managers that I admire and that have led by example. There is a strong mentoring programme in BMS where a senior individual takes time out one-to-one to help you along at different points along your career.
What do you enjoy about your job?
In External Manufacturing, we manage a network of suppliers and strategic relationships responsible for the manufacture of medicine and its delivery to patients. In my role, I lead a cross-functional team that is responsible for managing a portfolio of 17 global suppliers and, ultimately, the delivery of products from these suppliers as efficiently as possible in compliance with health authority requirements and contract terms.
What I enjoy most about this work is the pace, the variety and the people. As the team comprises multiple functions (quality, technical, supply chain, finance, global procurement), and the team members are experts in their own right, I learn something new every day and things tend to move quickly. There’s a real team spirit and sense of achievement upon meeting and/or exceeding our goals.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
I enjoy working in teams and am goal-oriented. I believe very little is achieved on your own.
How did BMS support you on your career path, if at all?
BMS has truly supported me with my development in my seven years with the company. It has provided me with mentors and opportunities to grow and garner experience by taking on different positions. I am currently completing a rotational assignment in global business development with a team primarily based in the US in a group which specialises in mergers, acquisitions and divestitures.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
The pharma sector requires many different roles, types of individuals and qualities to succeed. If you work hard and consider the bigger picture there is a good chance different opportunities will come up that will enable you to find out what you are good at and enjoy.
I have learned a great deal from team members and also moved in my career from technical to more business-oriented roles as a result of some of these learning opportunities. If you are eager to utilise your technical expertise, learn more about the business side of biopharma and drive the execution of a business strategy, External Manufacturing at BMS is a great place to work.
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