Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Considerations for Management

In talking with my "mentor", and soon to be boss, about my choice of next steps up the ladder (see last post for the decision), we talked about a lot of things that you "need".

To get to the top, he declared you needed the following:

1. The "Vision" thing.
2. People management/logistics
3. "Portfolio" management
4. Technical ability

To explain these further, and in reverse order

4. Technical ability. This referred to a technical understanding of the science in the marketplace in question. For me, my Ph.D. takes care of this. Staying current is required. This was the least interesting for me, as the order was basically "Make sure you know the science you are trying to sell or figure out or move in to". Translated really loosely - make sure you understand your problem/customer. I wanted to say "no duh!" - but that seemed a bit impolite. I guess some people don't get this, but I don't know how they do it.

3. "Portfolio" management. This refers to making trade offs between A and B, where both A and B are important. Made up example - You have $2M to spend on R+D. Group A supports your current projects, and spending that money will over the next 3 years return you $5M, with a 95% probability. However, these are your current products and don't move you in to any new areas. Group B is in a brand new area where you, as a company, should be. The $2M spend will return you $5M over the next 3 years, but there are a lot of chances for things to go wrong. You may get nothing, you may get more than $5M, or it may cost more to get in so the $2M number might go up. You have to decide. This, in his view, was portfolio management.

2. People Management / Logistics. I have managed a smallish group for awhile. There are a fleet of little things that come from that. The next step for me is to manage a much bigger group where I have layers of managers below me. As put, there is no real way to do this other than to do it. HR has little guides to help you. There are management training classes. There are mentors to ask. There are many things.... At the end of the day you just have to do it and try to learn faster than you screw up. I am petrified/excited about this for when I get to it.

1. The "Vision" thing. A strong drive to go somewhere. To lead a group in a growing market, the person in charge needs to have some idea of what the end goal looks like. They have to have a vision of where the group is headed. This, from his point of view, wasn't something that could really be taught. You either had the ability to look ahead and try and drive.... or you didn't.

These were the items that he said you had to have all of in order to get to the upper levels of management at a "large" company. Small companies were different and we didn't get in to that.


Daniel said...

I've enjoyed catching up on your blog while watching the Colts game. Since I haven't taken the plunge and started my own blog yet, I feel inclined to share a few of my own thoughts here--I hope you don't mind.

I posted a question a while back asking for your opinion about a FAS position versus enrollment in an MBA program. To follow up on my situation, I am on track to defend in the next 3 months but still have no idea where my January paycheck will come from or where I will be. I've been agressive in my graduate career and feel good about pushing to EARN (the academics around here like to talk about "gifting" PhDs, but I don't believe I am included in that group) the sheepskin in 3.5 years. Since my pre-doctoral grant from a US non-profit interested in cardiovascular health runs through summer 08 and I do not yet have any definitive plans for the next step, I am begining to listen to the suggestion of remaining a student for an additional 6 months. My boss/mentor of course loves the idea of me hanging around, training new people, and pumping out more papers. I know I'm ready to leave but can't seem to find a way out.

I definately relate to the bias against "customer service" positions. I recall informing my chairman (in front of my mentor) a few months ago that maybe I would take a sales job after graduation. The chair proceeded to ask me if I was on crack -- a comment that he reserves for issues that really irritate him.

I find your last few entrys encouraging to such a direction, and you've acknowledged in the past the fear that's involved in making the jump out of academics. I guess what I want to know is -- Do you think it DANGEROUS to leave? In other wards, do you know of anyone that left academics and ended up (3 years down the road) in worse position versus someone who bit the bullet and did an academic postdoc?

I don't have any great entreprenurial ideas (although I spend too much time each day seeking), so I figure that my best bet at a comfortable life and wage is in somehow working my way into the realm of "management." My latest great hope is in applying for a few "management fellowships" -- several in the government sector and a few in the private sector. I sure hope something pans out.

Back to the disseration/football -- just wanted to say that someone reads your blog and appreciates it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Daniel,

I think I'm in a good position to address your question about postdoc'ing. Like Dr. Yes before me, as I was finishing my PhD I was dead set against staying in academia. I wanted to get out, post haste, and start making money. I was advised to start looking for a job months before graduation, so I did. I got a few bites, but basically every hiring person I spoke to was looking for someone with postdoc experience. Even the non-lab positions, like Medical Science Liason, wanted this. So, I bit the bullet and went for my postdoc. Been here 2+ years now, and I do think I'm in a much better position to get a job than I was as a newly minted PhD. I will say, there were some students in my program who graduated behind me and got jobs right out of the PhD, which surprised me because none of them are what I'd consider "good" (i.e. they took 7 years to graduate, had very few if any publications, and just were unmotivated in general). I will say, they relocated, while I am not willing to do that, so that might be the caveat here. Also, I live in a city that is great for biotech, but job market is extremely competitive because there are thousands of postdocs bailing on academia here.

As for whether or not you'll get screwed by leaving academia, I don't know. I do know of people who got jobs right out of the PhD, were ok for a while and probably made tons of cash, but then ended up losing their jobs. One of them I ran into the other day, and guess what, he's doing an academic postdoc.

Sorry this is really long, but my take home message here is, doing a postdoc will probably help you in the long run, and open up opportunities that you won't otherwise have. But if you have a job offer in industry, I say go for it. You can always go back and do a postdoc if you lose your job in the future

yes said...


I totally agree with poster #2. A lot of the "not so good folks" have made the jump to industry and made it there. BUT - many not so good folks have also stayed in academia, so I don't think this means much.

Daniel - Congrats on getting close to the end. Football is more interesting than writing....

Go 49ers.