Prescription For Career Success

Skilled marketing leaders and researchers are making headway in the pharmaceutical industry

It’s 8:00 A.M. and Bonnie Mumford, a Sales Rep for Pfizer Inc., is meeting with a hospital psychiatrist. Next, she makes a few cold calls and has lunch with doctors in her Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, territory. As friendly reminders of her visit, Mumford leaves behind pens and pads etched with the name of the sole drug she markets, Zoloft, which is the nation’s most prescribed anti- depressant. By 7 p.m., Mumford is at an educational symposium on depression, which she helped organize for an audience of psychiatrists. A hectic schedule indeed but real life for a pharmaceutical sales representative.

A summer internship with Merck Inc., during her sophomore year at Florida A & M University School of Business and Industry in Tallahassee, started her on this career path. She joined Pfizer after receiving an M.B.A. in marketing from FAMU in 1993. “I saw pharmaceuticals as the most professional industry for a sales career, where I’d work with experts in the medical community and be trained as an expert in my field.”

Mumford, 26, had the foresight to adapt her skills to the needs of the pharmaceutical industry, which is projected to be one of the fastest growing businesses by the next century. Like a fish to water, she quickly proved that she could grow her market by courting managed health care facilities, teaching hospitals and private practice psychiatrists in her territory. And to the victor go the spoils: For two years running, Mumford has exceeded her annual sales quota of $3 million by at least 25%-30%, becoming Pfizer’s No. 1 sales rep for Zoloft.

Despite the presence of Mumford and a few other path breakers in the industry, African Americans have not really seized the career opportunities available in the booming pharmaceutical business. According to IMS America, a market research firm, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry generated $87.9 billion in sales in 1995.

“The goal of most companies is to keep new and better drugs in the pipeline and improve old ones,” says Louella Williams, managing director of HR Strategies, an executive search firm in Atlanta specializing in pharmaceutical industry placements. “When a company discovers a drug that will generate $100 million a year in sales, it’s worth the price of all the failures. As a result companies increase hiring in key areas such as human resources, finance, sales and, especially, research.”

For most sales reps, like Mumford, lofty expense accounts, company cars, base salaries between $40,000-$70,000, and bonuses of up to $30,000 don’t come without a price. Meeting stringent quotas in the evolving health care arena can get extremely competitive.
“Managed health care has changed the dynamics of the marketplace, and it becomes even more challenging for reps to sell drugs because there are so many restrictions,” admits Mumford. “Many times a doctor may really like the drug I sell, but if that doctor is affiliated with a certain managed care group, my drug may not be on their list.”

While perks seduce some to the sales end, there are other careers

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