Goodbye Bristol-Myers Squibb

Thanks for the memories BMS…

Pinnacle Trip to Mexico with Bristol-Myers Squibb – 2005

Last week represented the end of an era for me.  I said goodbye to the company and job that I have had for the majority of my adult life.  I started working for Bristol-Myers Squibb in the summer of 2002.  Les and I were married in June of that summer and moved to Orlando, Florida so that he could begin his residency training.  We packed up our belongings in a U-Haul and made the long drive to Florida, moving into our first apartment together.  I started working as a sales rep in the Cardiovascular/Metabolic sales division of BMS on July 1st, 2002.  I came to pharmaceutical sales after spending my first two years out of college in another sales job.  I knew that I was getting into an innovative and exciting industry and profession, and I felt lucky to land this job at a relatively young age.

After only two years, I was promoted to a specialty position in the Neuroscience division, representing a great product that was making a big impact on the mental health community.  I was a Psychology major at the University of Virginia and was very familiar with the consequences of mental illness, through my academic studies and through personal experiences (loved ones, whom shall remain nameless).   The Neuroscience division felt like home.  I was a Neuroscience representative in Orlando for two years, and was lucky enough to transition to the Virginia Beach BMS Neuroscience team when we moved back here in 2006.

Although I don’t like that my job is coming to an end and that Bristol-Myers is essentially getting out of Neuroscience for the time being, I understand that they have business reasons that led them to this decision.  Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka have worked together to launch and promote Abilify and that partnership is drawing to a close.  The timing was right for Otsuka, the company that discovered Abilify, to take over the sales and marketing of the product from BMS.  Otsuka remains committed to Neuroscience and Abilify, and luckily they have decided to expand their sales force to compensate for the loss of the entire BMS sales team.  As a matter of fact, I recently accepted a position to go over to Otsuka and continue promoting Abilify.  Basically I am going to continue doing my exact same job, only for a different employer (more on the how and the why behind this decision in future posts).  As my time with Bristol-Myers draws to a close, I need to say thanks for a wonderful 10+ years.  BMS has been good to me, and I am truly appreciative for all they ways they have helped me.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with so many wonderful, talented people (cliché, but true).  I have been fortunate to have some really great managers during my time at BMS.  I continue to view three of my last four managers as friends, coaches, and mentors.  I have always worked with terrific partners that I have learned so much from, not only about the industry and the business, but about myself as a teammate and professional.  I count many of my current and previous partners and colleagues as personal friends.  Their friendship and support has helped me during the good times and the bad.

Thank you Bristol-Myers for helping to bring to market a truly revolutionary product like Abilify.  It has been an honor and a privilege to promote such a remarkable product for the past eight years.  I am passionate about mental healthcare – the amazing physicians, NP’s, PA’s, Social Workers, Nurses, and Psychologists – and the resilient patients that too often suffer silently among us.  I don’t think I would have stayed in the pharmaceutical industry as long as I have if it weren’t for the opportunity to sell such a great product.  I sold other good products for diabetes, high blood pressure, and antibiotics, but none of those products had the tremendous impact on individuals and families like I have seen Abilify have.  Mental illness can devastate a person’s life – I have seen this too many times.  Seeing a medicine like Abilify help a person return to functioning and get back to being a mom, sister, Uncle, husband, or child is a beautiful thing.  If I have been able to play even the tiniest role in making that happen, I feel good about my work.  Thank you for the research, marketing, and vision that went into the development and promotion of this drug for the last 10 years.

Thank you Bristol-Myers for making medicines that really do extend and enhance human life – a corporate mission that I got to live through my work, but more importantly through my personal experience.  My husband’s life was literally saved by the miracle of medicine – an amazing doctor, a clinical trial at Sloan-Kettering, and four Bristol-Myers Squibb cancer drugs.  When the standard treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma did not work for Les, we ended up at Sloan-Kettering in New York City hoping and praying for a cure – something that would make the cancer disappear and stay away forever (God willing).  I will never forget sitting down with the best Oncologist in the world (yep, anyone that cures my husband of cancer gets that title – and he really might be the best in the world) as he described the clinical trial protocol that Les would be undergoing.  I felt tremendous pride and hope seeing the name of the company I worked for next to the names of the drugs that would soon be used to try to kill the cancer cells that had rocked our world.  It felt like we were meant to be at Sloan-Kettering, with this doctor that developed the treatment protocol with these drugs that my company made.  It had to work and thankfully it did.  I will be forever grateful to our incredible doctor, nurses, and to Bristol-Myers Squibb for giving my husband his life and his health back.  That is truly living the mission.

Thank you Bristol-Myers Squibb for your generous benefits.  As I described in my previous post, I have worked in some hard jobs for not very much money in the past.  I know how frustrating it can be to work in a physically and/or mentally demanding job and still not be able to pay the bills.  It sucks.  One of the reasons I got into sales, and have stayed in for as long as I have, is that I feel like I am compensated fairly and the benefits are good.  Many times, when sales are good and the job seems easy and fun, I honestly can’t believe that they pay me to do it.  I think back on  some of my work days in high school and college where I would work on my feet all day at a hotel front desk job and do an overnight waitressing job at a truck stop for only slightly more than minimum wage.  THAT was hard work.  This job has been challenging (in a good way), enjoyable, interesting, and rewarding with decent pay AND benefits.  I am beyond grateful and blessed, and I have not taken my job for granted.  I know that I had a good thing going.

One of the things I have been most thankful for is amazing health insurance.  If you have ever had a serious medical problem, you know that health insurance can be the biggest blessing (if it is good insurance) or your life can be ruined if you are uninsured or under insured.  We had great health insurance that paid for the majority of Les’ cancer treatments and know the importance of being adequately insured.  Now that Les has a pre-existing condition, we also know how expensive it can be to get a good, affordable health insurance plan as an individual (if you don’t work for a big company).  Hopefully the Affordable Care Act will help other people in America get good coverage at affordable prices, but we may be years away from the realization of this goal.  One of the reasons I have continued to work, even after the births of our three kids, is for great medical insurance.  In fact, our kids might not even be here if it were not for the incredible health insurance that I had access to through Bristol-Myers Squibb.

As a result of the cancer treatments that saved Les’ life, we were unable to get pregnant on our own.  We knew that this would probably happen and made preparations before he underwent treatment to make sure we could have children one day, with the help of IVF.  Infertility and our journey to become parents will likely be the subject of another post one day, but let’s just say that it was not an easy road to parenthood.  Infertility treatments, especially IVF, are very expensive.  I don’t know if we could have handled the financial and emotional stress of three rounds of IVF (to get two of our children) without the very comprehensive medical insurance provided by BMS.  All of the shots, drugs, ultrasounds, lab work, office visits, and procedures would have been that much more difficult if  I was constantly worried about paying the total cost for each item.  Most companies do not include infertility coverage in medical benefits, so I know just how fortunate I was that this was covered.  This is yet another reason why I continued to work after having children.  I have to thank a really gifted infertility doctor and Bristol-Myers Squibb for helping to give me two of life’s greatest miracles – Isabella and Jacob.

Last, but not least, I have to thank Bristol-Myers Squibb for giving me the opportunity to job share and work part-time for the past three years.  There are very few pharmaceutical companies that offer this benefit anymore and too few working moms that get to take advantage of any kind of flexible work arrangement when they have babies at home.  After Jacob was born, I was not sure if I could handle going back full-time.  I wanted to continue working, for all of the reasons above and so many more, but I did not think I could be away from my two very young children five days a week.  My supportive boss offered me a chance to apply to job share and work only three days a week (with a partner working the other two days of the week).  I jumped at the opportunity.  The job share position had its share of challenges, but I would not have traded it for anything.  I did not know when I started job sharing that I would have a third baby (no IVF – a surprise miracle), and it made coming back to work after Noah was born a no-brainer.  I was able to be home more days than I was at work when the boys were babies.  I was able to be there when Jacob needed me the most, as we figured out how to help him with all of his delays.  I would have loved to work part-time forever, or at least one more year until Noah was three, but I knew that it would probably not be a permanent thing.  It was almost too good to be true.  I am thankful I was able to job share as long as I did.  I thank Bristol-Myers Squibb for giving me that extra time with my kids, to really be able to have some work-life balance when it was needed most.

I say goodbye to Bristol-Myers and welcome the next chapter of my professional career.  Thank you for a great 10 years!  I can only hope that the next 10 or 20 years can be as fun and rewarding as my time with BMS.  Bristol-Myers is not perfect, but in my experience they lived their mission with patients, customers, and employees.  I hope my next experience with Otsuka will be as positive as my experience with Bristol-Myers Squibb.  Best of luck to you BMS and all my colleagues that remain!

Work History and Resumes

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I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Some kids grow up dreaming of being a doctor, a journalist, or an artist.  Very few actually grow up to fulfill their childhood career dreams.  I went through phases where I dreamt of being a teacher, an astronaut, a ballerina, actress, singer, television host, writer, lawyer, and psychologist.  Some of those dreams were more realistic than others.  I did not have a lot of guidance regarding career choices when I was growing up.  My parents just wanted to me to go to college and get a good job one day, never really pushing me or directing me into specific career paths.  I don’t feel like the schools helped provide any sort of direction either.  The message was basically that if you did well in school and went to college, you would get a job and do well.  That advice is partially correct, but a bit simplistic and naïve, especially in today’s job market.  It takes a lot more than good grades and a college degree to get a good job and succeed.

Since getting laid off, I have been busy preparing my resume, references, cover letters, and “brag book” (a compilation of your career accomplishments – practically required in the medical/pharmaceutical sales world).  It had been six years since I last updated all of this stuff and it felt like starting over since so much time had passed.  On the plus side, I had a chance to  reflect on my history of work – during my time with Bristol-Myers Squibb and all the years before.  This walk down memory lane helped me realize a few things about myself and what I am looking for in my next job.

I have always been a hard worker.  I started babysitting for my sisters at the age of 10 and for neighborhood kids shortly thereafter.  I lied about my age to get my first real job at the age of 14 (4 months shy of the required age of 15) at a gift shop at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel.  We were not poor, but money was tight growing up.  My dad was in the Navy and my mom ran a home daycare, and they were doing the best they could to support 4 kids.  There wasn’t extra money for new school clothes, trips to the movies on the weekends, or even school activities like debate or cheerleading.  There was not going to be a car to drive or gas money for me when I turned 16, and I knew I would be on my own for college.  I realized from a young age that if I wanted certain things, I would need to work to earn the money to buy those things myself.

I loved the independence and financial security that work gave me.  I learned a lot about myself, about money, and the workplace through these high school and college jobs.  I worked 3 jobs in the summer of 1994 to buy my first car.  Similarly, I worked 2-3 jobs at a time while at the University of Virginia, all while maintaining a very high GPA.  By the time I graduated from college in 2000, I had worked in gift shops, the Gap, Abercrombie, worked at the front desk of a hotel, waited tables at a truck stop, waited tables at a fine dining restaurant, been a hostess, bused tables, worked as a secretary, worked in the library, and worked in catering.  The lessons I learned through working have shaped me in countless ways.

I learned the value of work.  When I was 17, I was awarded Employee of the Month at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel, possibly the youngest person to receive that honor.  During that summer I would work a double or even a triple shift, most days of the week.  I was working at the front desk in the morning and working in the nice restaurant of the hotel busing tables or working as a hostess in the evening.  If they needed someone to pick up a shift in catering or fill-in at the gift shop I was eager to volunteer.  More hours meant more money, which meant more freedom and security to me.  I took great pride in doing a good job.  I thrived on praise and appreciation from my bosses and loved being part of a team with a tangible goal (even if that goal was keeping tables clean or making a guests check-in process as pleasant as possible).  I was hard-working and reliable.  I only missed work once, because of a bad case of food poisoning.  All of these things made me a valuable employee, and I liked being valued.  I realized at a young age that no matter what I did in life, if I showed up, worked hard, and did a good job – and did that job with a smile – I could succeed and eventually move up in almost any job.

I also learned the value of a dollar.   I was never the best math student, but I could do the simple arithmetic to figure out how much money would be needed to pay for new brakes on my old car, go to a concert with my friends, or pay my share of the rent and bills in college.  Since no one was giving me money for my expenses, I could only count on my student loans and money I earned to pay for necessities and extras.  I knew how much free time I had and how much money I needed to make to take care of my expenses.  It was frustrating to work at my library job during the day for $7/hour, when I could make $10/hour + tips at my catering job on the weekends.  I prioritized the higher paying jobs, but I had to fill as much of my free time with work as possible at whatever pay I could get.

When I was waiting tables, I would sometimes work incredibly hard with less-than-pleasant customers, for $30-$40 at the end of a shift.  There were other busy nights with great customers where I could walk away with $150 a night.  As a waitress, your hourly wage is primarily determined by how many customers you can see and on the generosity of those people whom you take care of.  Waiting tables is hard work and you really do earn every dollar you make.  You can make a living waiting tables, but I figured out after one summer that I never wanted to depend on that as my primary source of income.  I took comfort in knowing that I could support myself by waiting tables if I needed to, but that I would hopefully not have to do that job again after college.

When it came time to choose a profession, there were several things I considered doing.  I am passionate about education and pursued the teaching path for a while, but quickly realized that I would not be able to support myself on a teacher’s salary.  I would be coming out of college with piles of student loan debt and the math just did not add up.  There was no way I could pay rent for my own place, a car payment, my large student loan bills, and basic living expenses on a teacher’s salary.  I guess I could have made it work if I had roommates to share the rent and expenses, or taken a summer job teaching or waiting tables (see previous paragraph), or if I took 30 years to pay back all my loans instead of 10, but I knew there had to be a better way.  I thought about grad school to become a psychologist or law school, but many of my friends were getting good paying jobs in the business world, and that seemed to be a good way to go.

After graduating from UVA, I took a job in sales that was filled with risk and promise.  The risk was that it was 100% commission – I would only really make money if I made sales.  The promise was that there was no limit on my earning potential.  If I worked hard and was good at my job, I could make a lot of money.  This sounded perfect for me.  I did well those first two years and learned that I liked many aspects of working in sales.

I loved the idea of upward mobility – that your income could be tied to your productivity and your skills – in salary and/or in bonus.  I never questioned if I would make money in a sales job, because I have a good work ethic and a personality well suited for sales.  I liked flexibility, especially as I thought about having a family.  I did not want to have to be at a desk at a specific time every day and have to stay in the same place all day.  I love working with people and talking to people for most of the workday, and this is an essential aspect of any sales job.  I could not be happy in an office or cubicle all day staring at spreadsheets or a computer screen.  I decided to look for other sales jobs that would afford me the opportunity to work with great people, make decent money, and have an independent and flexible schedule conducive to having a good work-life balance.  Pharmaceutical sales offered all of this and so much more.  I quickly realized that I could have all of the benefits of other sales jobs, while getting to talk to smart and interesting people about the science and medicine behind products that really could extend and enhance people’s lives.

Since I did not really know what I wanted to be when I grew up – this sounded like the best possible job –  given my background, skills, and interests.  I started with Bristol-Myers Squibb in the summer of 2002 and it has been a terrific 10+ years.  I have been through promotions, a move, a spouse’s cancer battle, IVF, and the birth of my three children in those 10 years.  No job is perfect, but this job has been pretty darn good through it all.  I still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up (thirty-four is not grown-up, right?).  Maybe it is ok to just have a good job and a full, meaningful life as a mom, wife, and part-time blogger.  Maybe that IS what I always wanted when I grew up – and now I have it and am losing it.  Hopefully the lessons of my past will help guide and inform me as I take these next steps toward my future.