“A PhD is like having a private chauffeur……”

Guestblog written by Pingling Zeng

Juhana Heinonen is currently a global marketing director at AstraZeneca based in Cambridge UK.  He builds strategies that lead to global commercialization of new medicines. He works with colleagues from different parts of the world to understand specific market needs or problems and to give recommendations on how to address these needs and problems.

He graduated from Karolinska Institutet 10 years ago with a PhD in immunology/gene therapy.

Juhana sees himself contributing to healthcare by leading a pharmaceutical group with a couple hundred people in a mid-sized country in 5 or 10 years.


“I hope I will be leading a pharmaceutical organization in a mid-sized country, because I not only want to build global strategies in head quarter, but also like to work closer to where the actual need is, with regards to improving patient life’s through innovative medicine”, explains Juhana.

 Is a 5 years PhD study experience worth it?

Juhana’s first job after his PhD study was key account manager at Roche Diagnostics. Later, he became a product manager at Roche and contributed to the marketing of a biological drug. How did he advanced rapidly in his career ladder and became global marketing director at AstraZeneca within 8 years after his PhD study?

“First of all I am very passionate and competitive on what I am doing. You need to have a hunger to learn more to stay ahead in the game. In addition to that, I think my PhD gave me many competences that are valued in the pharmaceutical business.  After my Master’s thesis, I could have jumped directly to pharmaceutical industry and do exactly the same thing. But in that case, I perhaps would not have progress that fast, because I would have missed the “door opened”. When I was a key account manager, the doors were open from the professors because they knew that it was not only a sales person, but also someone who really understood how lab experiments were done. Similarly, when I worked for Roche pharma, I was able to talk more about immunology. I was a few steps ahead in discussions. A PhD is like having a private chauffeur, it helps you getting to places that you would not reach by foot.

What are the pros and cons when working in pharmaceutical industry?

“I moved to industry because I wanted to speed up a bit. I really wanted to see how we can concretely improve patient lives with innovative medicines. It feels good when I see myself having achieved what I planned to do. It is no longer about producing abstract results, which may or may not have a positive impact on patients in the distant future.”

“I am happy where I am in terms of work-life balance. I am a family man, I have time to see my kids and to be home as well.”

“Pharmaceutical industry is tightly regulated, which is sometimes a drawback. We cannot do many things that we would like to do. Everything needs to go by the ‘pharma code’. In contrast, there are relatively fewer restrictions for customer engagements in other industries such as banking.”

What are the valuable skills for a global marketing team?

  1. Strong interpersonal skills.

“I need to get the feeling that the person is easy to work with, because it is team work”, explained Juhana. 

  1. Ability to pick up the needle from haystack.

“This means the ability to figure out the main/key things to build a strategy. You need to be able to think analytically and land the ‘big picture’ in your mind to see if it is really meaningful”.

  1. Ability to deliver results.

“I need to be confident that the person has done things in the past which had resulted to good outcomes. Building strategy is one thing, but you need to actually make it happen as well.”.

Juhana’s career advice for PhDs students,

  1. Mingle and network.

“It is always good to share your thoughts and make more friends in your work environment. The people you are working with now, you never know where they will be in the next five or ten years. Many things are about interpersonal relationships in this world. For example, I actually found my first job after my PhD study, because the recruiter knew me.”

  1. Never be afraid to ask questions.

“Whenever you attend lectures or talks, just raise your hand and ask a question. There is no stupid question, just think about the question before you say it.”

  1. Plan where you want to be in 5 or 10 years.

 “If you mingle with people and if you are open to learn more and ask questions, then it will be easier for you to know where you want to be in 5 or 10 years. Even though it is difficult to imagine, because things happen, but just think about it base on the knowledge and feelings that you have now. Know where you would like to be in 10 years and then just try to map what it would take to go there. If you do not know what it would take to go there, then ask for advices. If you are really enthusiastic and passionate about something, there is always a place for you. It’s just a matter of finding the right place.“


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s