My name is Hamilton Lenox, and welcome to my first blog on Bio Careers.
When I was first approached and asked to contribute to the site, I readily agreed, in the hopes that I could potentially offer some insights that will help others who are just starting their careers, or those looking for a career change, so that they may avoid some of the many mistakes that I personally have made over 15 years in the pharmaceutical / biotech industry.
I want to start by sharing a brief bio that will help familiarize you with my background, so you can better understand my perspective in future posts.
I am a chemist, with a BS from DePaul University and my MS from Northwestern University.Recently, I just completed my MBA at Florida International University. I began my career after leaving graduate school as a process chemist at a startup biotech, and since then, I’ve worked in business development and sales and marketing at 5 different Contract Manufacturing Organizations (CMOs), as well as one excipient supplier. I’ve worked for companies in the United States, Europe and India, and have at various times focused on small molecules, biologics, and oligonucleotide therapeutics.
I fell in love with chemistry in high school, and while I no longer work in the lab, I never lost my love for chemistry. When people ask what I do, I still tell them I’m a chemist, but that I now work in business development and sales. Thus, we come to the title of this blog, Scientist or Businessperson?
While it’s a question I’m often asked, I’ve never stopped thinking of myself as a scientist. Yet, there’s nothing that says a single label is what has to define us in life or in our career, so yes, I consider myself both scientist and businessperson.
If you have a passion for something, whether it’s chemistry, baking, computer coding, etc., one of the best ways to stay happy and interested in what you do for a living is to make sure that your career has ties to your passion. Working for CMOs has allowed me to assist companies with over 100 drug development programs over the years, all with different chemistries involved, so while I now juggle contracts instead of beakers and flasks, I still get to stay abreast of current trends in the field.
Transitioning from the Laboratory to the Office
While I began my career as a chemist, and spent the first few years after graduate school working at the bench, I transitioned into a business role after about 2 years. The reason I was able to make this transition was simple: I worked at a 6 person startup biotech that was constantly underfunded and understaffed, so anyone willing to try something new in addition to their regular role was considered a major bonus.
I won’t say the transition was smooth, because it wasn’t. I had no business experience, had never taken a business class in undergraduate or graduate school, and had to learn everything without guidance and under intense pressure. However, if you want to learn something new, having limited staff and funding at a new biotech is a good way to stretch yourself.
The benefit of a small startup biotech is that it encourages you to develop new skills, learn how to handle multiple roles simultaneously, and pressures you to think of alternative solutions to problems you have never encountered before.
I learned to manage and update a website, write promotional literature and governmental grants, present to angel investors and venture capitalists, make sales calls and get products listed with distributors, all while still working part time in the lab.
Again, it was not a smooth transition, and one thing I’m happy to see is that scientific graduate programs are now starting to encourage, and sometimes even require, business courses.
The biggest gap I had in making the transition to business development and sales was that I had no business training, so writing and negotiating contracts, evaluating financial statements, managing direct reports, etc., had to be learned under fire. To be fair, even after going back and achieving my MBA, I still believe there are significant gaps you only fill after putting in time in industry. However, I highly recommend taking business courses both in undergraduate and graduate studies, because if you plan to be successful as a scientist, whether in academia or industry, you likely will need to manage personnel and finances.