What is it like to work in the finance department of one of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies? Ian Buggs is Pfizer’s financial reporting and analysis manager for Africa and the Middle East. In this interview, Buggs discusses his internship dos and don’ts, Pfizer’s MBA rotational program and how he ended up working in Dubai.
Which business school did you attend and what (if applicable) was your specialization?
I'm an extremely proud alumnus of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. I finished in 2011. While I was there, the curriculum had very much of a general management approach, but I was focused primarily on finance and accounting. I also had some additional concentrations in economics and marketing. I was also a member of the Consortium for the Graduate Study of Management. That’s how I got involved specifically with the Tepper School.
Why did you decide to intern at Pfizer?
I had a background in finance prior to getting my MBA. When I came back into business school, I took the opportunity to kick all the tires in all the industries. I figured at that point, I owed it to myself to explore all of the various industries.
As I went through the process and had a couple of offers in different industries, it all came back to healthcare. That was my motivation for looking at my post-MBA experience and what I wanted long term. Going from there to Pfizer, I think that the potential for its two-year post-MBA rotational program was very attractive to me. In addition, Pfizer’s status as the one of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical manufacturers made the company very appealing to me. I saw that they had the global reach.
I often told people (and still tell people) that I really wanted to be a small fish in an ocean. Pfizer's a very large company that provides a lot of different points of exposure and opportunity. I felt that was a strong selling point for me as well as the international prospects. After meeting people that had done international assignments during the interview process as well as my internship, I was able to be connected with folks who were currently doing international assignments. That was always very important for me. So, seeing that as an opportunity and that it was encouraged within the finance organization was something that certainly drew me to the organization. I said to myself, "this is a place where I can get the industry experience, the technical experience," as well as that global and international feel that I was really looking for.
How did the application process work?
I applied online. I had made some prior connections at various other conferences with the MBA recruiting staff. I was contacted for a phone interview by one of the finance leaders.
After having the phone interview, I was recommended to come into Pfizer for the in-person, face-to-face interviews. I was able to have three different interviews that day. It was nice to be able to tour the facility and meet the people. After that, they made their decision and sent out offer letters for the internship. All that happened fairly quickly. I think we had those offers in hand by late January or early February.
Which department of Pfizer did you intern in and what kind of projects did you work on?
Within the last six years, Pfizer has undergone quite a few changes in its structure, but at the time I was working to help support its North American established products business. I was working in the finance team in order to support them on their gross-to-net analysis and returns analysis. The work I did involved looking at the revenue piece to understand where we have our pluses and minuses. The work incorporated lot of complex data analysis - which my origination within the Tepper program helped with – but my primary focus there was supporting the North America leadership team in receiving proper analytics that would enable them to make decisions around their growth activity, including where there are opportunities and how they could better leverage how their products were going to market.
I also delivered finance training to non-finance managers. I built and gave a presentation to the commercial team in order to help them really understand the finance drivers of the business and how they could best utilize the types of reporting and output we were giving them. I was able to deliver that to the entire leadership team.
Outside of the normal day-to-day work of supporting the North America team, Pfizer MBA interns are also given a summer project. Every summer, the second-year rotational employees pick a topic and then the interns do a case study. The case study I did at the time was to develop an emerging market strategy for Pfizer. Every intern was partnered with another intern. You do analysis to provide a proposal whether it’s through acquisitions, divestitures, specific assets, companies, and so on. Then, we presented those findings to the individual who was running the program as well as the other interns and their managers for the summer.
What were your impressions of Pfizer's corporate culture?
You'll hear a lot of people who intern at different companies say that they're surrounded by a lot of smart people, but I really felt that was the case. Not only was I surrounded by smart people, but I was surrounded by people who cared about my development and my learning.
With any internship, there's the joke that you'll be making coffee or copies for folks. At Pfizer, however, I felt that I was really able to get into the work. People trusted me to take on large-scale projects. I didn’t just hand work over to someone else who would take credit for it. Instead, I was able to present the work that I did and answer questions.
I was very also happy with the how willing my Pfizer colleagues were to meet with me not only within the finance organization but also the commercial organization. Even the global president of the business unit that I was supporting hosted me in his office for a breakfast one morning as an opportunity to chat with me and get to learn more about my interests. Those types of experiences where you get one-on-one contact – not just within your function but throughout the company – were very important. It showed me that they were investing in the development and getting to know the people coming into the organization, even those coming in as interns.
What did you enjoy most about your internship?
There were two things. On the personal level, it was living and working in Manhattan. I had certainly visited and come to see friends there, but it was different to live there for a summer and experience it. Having the exposure to NYC, especially because the office is located in the heart of midtown, was excellent. Even just walking to the office in the morning or walking home, you'd find yourself in the middle of the Big Apple. For me, that was a lot of fun.
From the work perspective, the highlight was learning how Pfizer was impacting the lives of millions of people around the world through all the therapies they provide to doctors and patients. You get to see some tangible aspects of the work you're doing and how you can influence that. Even as a finance person who is not selling or marketing Pfizer’s products, I feel as though I'm part of what the vision and mission of the company is. That was something that was very enjoyable for me. I didn't feel as though I was just there for summer work. I felt as though I was brought in as a true Pfizer colleague.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your internship?
The major challenge is navigating the very large organization that Pfizer is. Learning more about the company as well as the people and processes, makes it easier. When you're only there for three months, however, you have to learn that very quickly.
While that certainly was a challenge, to some degree, I knew what I was getting into. Getting the answers you need in order to navigate the organization happens through open communication with your manager as well as with the folks that are helping to run the internship program.
Of all the things that you accomplished during your internship, what's the one thing you're the proudest of?
I'd say the offer letter in the end. That's one of the things that I was working towards, because I was very much keen on getting the offer and coming in for the rotational program. In the end, that's what MBA interns work towards – that's the feather in the cap. When I got that call saying that I was given a full-time offer, that capped it all off.
I'd also say the work leading up to it. For example, when my boss commented on my work, she said that she'd never seen someone so analytical. The fact that she was very happy with the amount of effort and time that I put in to provide some coherent analytics that she and her team could use even after I was gone was certainly something I was happy to hear by the time I left.
You mentioned Pfizer’s rotational program. Was that your next step after the internship?
Yes. While there have been occasional exceptions where someone has come in as a direct hire, the primary purpose of the internship is to hire into the rotational program. It's a two-year rotational program with four different rotations. That opportunity was certainly one of the main draws as to why Pfizer's internship program was so interesting and compelling for me.
How did you end up working in Dubai?
I would say the stars aligned. When you come out of the rotational program, Pfizer doesn't place you in a job. One of the things I really appreciated was that through the course of the two years rotating through the company and doing your own form of networking, they give you the flexibility to really build what that next step in your career will be.
As I came to the end of the rotational program, I was looking at opportunities within the organization. I decided to extend that internal look internationally. I went through the job boards and saw that there was a job posting that matched my level coming out of the program. I applied and got the job. About a month after accepting, I was on a one-way plane trip to Dubai.
I've always had an interest in living and working abroad. I didn't think that the opportunity would come as quickly as it did. I figured I'd probably have to put in anywhere from five to 10 years before someone would say, "yes, Ian needs to get that international exposure." The right timing, the right place and this was a part of the world I'd traveled to before on my own, so it wasn't entirely foreign to me. I thought that this would be a really great place to live and extend my career, and support the company. That's why I ended up here. I started in Dubai in July, 2013. I've been here for three years now.
What advice do you have for MBAs who are interested in interning at Pfizer?
I have had the opportunity to coach and network with a lot of students. The main thing I advise them to do is to figure out what you want and what you don't want to do. Sometimes that's just as important as saying you specifically want Pfizer, or that you specifically want (to work in) healthcare.
What makes a candidate successful in expressing their interest in Pfizer is the ability to demonstrate, from a finance perspective that you do have some analytical and technical capability. That doesn't mean that you have to have been a finance person in the past, but showing that you are somewhat numerate does help.
Communication skills are certainly important. You'll see communication skills emphasized on any job requirement or job spec. Communication is important when you're dealing with international teams, matrix organizations, and even people who are on your team but not in the same office. Communication is key, both how you communicate and what you communicate.
Of course, you also need to have an understanding of Pfizer; its products, its position and its marketplace. I would advise internship candidates to develop a one-page cheat sheet for any company they are interviewing with. Who's in the executive leadership team? What's the stock price? What are some recent news tidbits that would be interesting either to ask questions about or discuss? How does the company develop its talent? Showing those levels of interest while going through a recruiting process shows any company that you're interested not just in quick soundbites, but you're looking one level deeper into how the company operates, what the company is trying to accomplish and how you can be a part of that.
Were you expected to know what was going on in the healthcare industry with regulations and trends in addition to having that company information?
Not necessarily. Especially in a finance role, it's good to understand or at least know about the high level. No one was grilling me on the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as Obamacare) or anything of that nature, mainly because while the United States is certainly a large portion of Pfizer's business, it’s not the entire business. As you can see, I'm living and working in Dubai. The business that we do here has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. While it's good to understand those rules and regulations, once you get into the broader healthcare world, things that are of importance in the US may have no impact or bearing on the types of business we do in the part of the world in which I work.
Based on your experience, what are some dos and don’ts for interning at Pfizer?
The ‘dos’ kind of go hand-in-hand with the ‘don'ts’; for example, do show up to events that Pfizer sponsors. They have various social events, volunteer events and also speeches that senior leaders give to the interns. It's very important to take a step away from the day job that you're doing to continue to engage the broader Pfizer community.
Do take the time to utilize what I call ‘intern privilege’ where a lot of folks are very interested to speak with you, and to give you insight and input. That's something I found to be very beneficial throughout the course of my internship. It's not just about your function. You can speak to people in other groups to get a better, broader understanding of the organization. Get involved in Pfizer. What was also important for me was that I was also able to get involved in some of the affinity groups, specifically our Pfizer African American Leadership Network where I could build some additional bonds and connections with the company.
From the work standpoint, do check in with your manager at least once a day. I sat on a different floor from my boss, but I made sure to check in with her at least twice a day just to check in on what needed to get done and also show the output of my work. I wanted to make sure that by the time I got to the end of my internship, there weren't any surprises about my performance. I was able to get real-time feedback. If there were some things I needed to correct, I could do that quickly. If you let things float until you get to the end of the assignment, then you get sideswiped by unexpected news. Develop a new, meaningful relationship with your manager just to understand what they expect of you as well as what you're expecting to get out of the assignment. That can help you build skills that will make you that much stronger when you get to your permanent position.
The ‘don'ts’ are the inverse of some of the dos. In line with the ‘do’ show up to things, don't pass on those opportunities to network. Don't treat the internship as though it's truly a summer vacation. Make sure you show up on time. Show up earlier than your manager. Leave after your manager.
Don't leave anything on the table. Give the full effort, because people need to see that you're willing to put in the time and the work in a variety of places. As I mentioned, you'll have the Pfizer internship. You'll have your day job. But you'll also have that side project and case study that you need to work on. You have to be able to manage. Don't leave things until the last minute. Speak up if you're running into any issues or problems that are not allowing you to get your work done. It could be that you don't understand something or there's a system or process that may be hampering your productivity. So, my list is more concentrated on the dos but the dos could also become don'ts if you flip it in the other way.