Mehrnaz Campbell shares her experience of running a UK business from the US developing strategies to align pharma and the NHS.
What’s your career background?
I started my career as a nurse and then a Nurse Adviser selling medical equipment. I joined the pharmaceutical industry as a hospital representative in 1992. It appealed to me as I had a hunger for learning and had heard pharma invested in people development.
When I joined, my manager encouraged me to undertake a post-graduate diploma in Management. Working full time with a young family was quite challenging. I remember working evenings and weekends with my son in the bouncer on the office doorframe. In 1997, we moved to Scotland and I took a year out but continued studying and obtained a post-graduate diploma in Marketing.
I worked various hands-on and leadership roles in sales and marketing with a significant period in account management. I was invited to enrol on Parke-Davis and Pfizer’s leadership development programme which gave me theoretical knowledge and supported me to complete my MBA at Manchester Business School. It also offered me job rotation and secondments to experience a variety of roles. In 2008 I left Pfizer and joined Takeda as a regional account director in Scotland.
I had a huge amount of autonomy at local level with responsibility for P&L, marketing and budget. It was like running your own business. This was the best training ground because it forced me out of my comfort zone to make decisions, mistakes and learn from them. I applied my theoretical knowledge and understanding of running sales and marketing to refine my skills. I was Multichannel Strategy Director when I left and founded Cheemia Limited in 2017.
“Consider the question ‘Am I just busy? Or am I adding value?’ seriously. The answer can drive you to abandon things that don’t add value and focus on what really matters”
What do you do now?
I am the Founding Director of Cheemia. We have a team of specialists that work across the UK providing expert advice to pharma on the NHS in devolved nations. We also develop tailor-made sales and marketing strategies and multichannel marketing mix to accelerate sales growth. I am passionate about developing innovative strategies that align NHS and pharma. When it comes to implementation, some clients want us to use their own sales team, creative agencies and media suppliers and ask us to lead the process and coordinate it, whilst other clients ask us to lead and manage their sales operation.
Our strategies have led us to triple our clients’ sales in a brief period, whilst simultaneously saving NHS valuable resources and benefitting patient care.
What made you set up your own company?
In 2017, I joined my husband in the USA and initially looked at pharma jobs, but none worked geographically. I always wanted my own business and was aware that my experience and understanding of NHS Scotland could offer value to many UK pharma companies. So, I decided to set up a Scottish company based in the UK and work remotely.
What are the challenges of running a UK business from the US?
It is less of a tangible challenge, than a ‘perception’. In the early years, some clients were sceptical, but the arrangement worked as we consistently over delivered on our promises in a timely fashion. We embrace digital technology and the time zone difference allows me to schedule client meetings, NHS interactions and team catch-ups in the morning and frees up my afternoons to focus on projects and service development. Furthermore, the rest of Cheemia employees and contractors operate from the UK.
I understand you were a Pf Awards winner, what was that like?
I won the 2015 Account Manager Pf Award. I was also a top finalist in the same category and the Ethical Leadership in Sales category in 2010. Winning the Pf Award had a positive impact on my career but not in a way I’d anticipated. At that time, I was preparing to move to the US and because the Pf Awards are a benchmark and demonstrate my capabilities, I thought winning would help me secure a position in the US job market.
However, preparing for a strong submission forced me to dissect and re-examine my skills and achievements to distil the key success factors. I also searched out what the judges determined worthy of winning. This led me to realise that sustainable sales growth comes as a result of strategic alignment between NHS, patients and the brand agendas. This changed the way I approached the Pf Awards Assessment Day, and fundamentally changed the way I managed accounts from that day onward. I developed a more effective commercial strategy for Scotland that saved NHS Scotland significant sums of money and rapidly tripled my employer’s brand market share.
At the Pf Awards Assessment Day everyone was given the same case study to solve based on NHS England. Although I had limited knowledge of England in 2015, I applied common sense and basic principles to assess the accounts and make recommendations. It taught me that common sense and the fundamentals of account management work well even if you don’t know the market in detail.
Winning the Pf Award gave me confidence to apply these principles and the belief that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and take on new challenges.
What’s it like being a Pf Awards’ independent judge?
Speaking to Melanie Hamer at the Pf Awards Winners Club I mentioned the value I’d gained from Pf. I offered my support and she invited me to join the judging panel. I think Melanie is doing a fantastic job and it’s important we support her work.
As a Pf Awards judge I enjoy meeting candidates at the Pf Awards Assessment Day. They are top performers and have excelled in their jobs to get to this stage. It is a rich experience to see and hear the candidates’ initiatives and the creative ways they approach their challenges. I am inspired by their fresh perspective. Standards are increasing and it can be very difficult to select only one winner. There is always healthy competition and genuine camaraderie.
What’s the best career advice you were given?
To focus on adding value, especially when you are busy. Consider the question ‘Am I just busy? Or am I adding value?’ seriously. The answer can drive you to abandon things that don’t add value and focus on what really matters.
What motivates you in work and life?
Interacting with people and intense curiosity in finding creative solutions to problems are common motivators for me. The belief that a solution is always within reach and the sense of achievement from coming up with a practical solution that is meaningful energises and drives me.
What does the future hold?
I love what I do, I love the team I work with. I anticipate our team will grow and may expand into America. Right now, I am developing a Software as a Solution (SaaP) to address an unmet need and add value to individuals and organisations. It’s very exciting and will increase our client service capability leading to other digital tools.
We are also investing in local Scottish projects that promote and address health and social inequality. We support a charity that repairs donated bikes and provides kit for refugees, giving them a means of transport. They also support women who have never ridden a bike due to religious or social restrictions.