Pharmaceutical companies are downsizing, but one UK company keeps getting bigger. Ashfield In2Focus shows how its commitment to personal and professional development is providing a rare commodity for pharmaceutical sales professionals: a secure career.
Security, an international watchword in the modern era, has long been good friends with the pharmaceutical industry.Traditionally, a job in pharma has always been regarded as a secure one, providing stability for the hard-working, and opportunity for the ambitious.And a job at one of the big guns was indeed a job for life. But times they are a-changing. Escalating drug development costs,weakened product pipelines and growing pressure on the global healthcare economy have forced pharma to re-engineer. Some of the industry’s biggest players are downsizing, and as workforces reduce, sales professionals are among the casualties. Security and the pharmaceutical industry, it would seem, are no longer on speaking terms.
The Ashfield In2Focus portfolio
•Syndicated & dedicated teams
But reports of the death of the ‘job for life’ in pharma are grossly exaggerated. Opportunities for a long and varied career in the sector still exist, but individuals need to look beyond traditional options and towards newer, more innovative models, to find them.The rapid growth of outsourcing in the past two decades has meant that contract sales organisations (CSOs) – once regarded as a nursery for talent for the pharmaceutical industry – have emerged as genuine providers of security and opportunity for professionals with long-term career aspirations.And nowhere is this more evident than at Ashfield In2Focus, the UK’s leading CSO.
New era,new opportunity
The summer merger of two of the top three CSOs in the UK market heralded a new era for pharmaceutical outsourcing.The formation of Ashfield In2Focus has created a powerful company, offering the most comprehensive outsourcing solutions for the industry, with the additional security of backing from its €1.9b parent, United Drug plc. Crucially, the latest move underlines a commitment to the professional development of talent that is unrivalled elsewhere in the industry.
“This place is all about opportunity,” explains Andy Holgate, Business Development Director at Ashfield In2Focus.“Ashfield’s merger with In2Focus not only gives us an unparalleled breadth of service, but it provides a platform for stability and security that is rare in the current environment.”
|“If you want to have a long-term career, the best company to go to in the whole industry is Ashfield In2Focus.”|
|“If people are dedicated, committed and of high quality, this company will develop them. Our philosophy is to promote from within.”|
|“Once you are in Ashfield In2Focus, the opportunities and prospects to develop a long-term career are about as good as it gets.”|
Ashfield In2Focus believes it is now the biggest CSO in the UK market – with over 1,200 field-based personnel, including 1,000 representatives and a high number of nurse advisors and managers.
Such critical mass, along with a client-base that encompasses most of the UK’s major pharmaceutical companies, means that there is enormous opportunity for the right calibre of person.“With that opportunity comes security,” says Andy Holgate.“The industry is downsizing. If you lose your job in a pharma company, you lose your job.
It’s as simple as that. At Ashfield In2Focus, if your contract comes to an end here,with such a wide range of client work, there are almost always opportunities to redeploy people.What’s more, with such variety on offer, you won’t go stale.”
Progression and promotion
Ashfield In2Focus is committed to attracting, developing and retaining talent. Its philosophy is to promote from within, meaning that if you’re good enough, you’ll get the job. If you’re not quite ready, you’ll be offered support and training to help take you to the next level.
The focus on training and developing staff is prominent. It is spearheaded by a magnificent Head Office in Ashby-de-la-Zouch that provides 15,000 square feet of training and meeting facilities.With a main lecture theatre that holds 100 people, two further rooms that can each host 50 people or be opened out to fit 100, and nine break-out rooms for groups of 10, an impressive infrastructure for dynamic interaction is already in place for employees.
To complement this, Ashfield In2Focus has developed a robust range of training programmes to cater for sales professionals at every stage of a career in pharma – from the inexperienced representative in the early stages of their career, to the seasoned and experienced professional looking for a move into senior management.There are three major programmes in place; the Achievers Programme, the Academy and the Emerging Leaders Programme (ELP).
The Achievers Programme provides basic training and development of skills and can be accessed immediately by all employees. It has evolved hugely since it was first introduced in 2001, reflecting the changing demands of the selling environment.
The current programme addresses the essential areas of Key Account Management, Business Planning, Running Effective Meetings and Advanced Selling Skills.
The Academy is a two-year programme for individuals that aspire to join management. It has accreditation from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), which means that one year into the programme, participants will have reached the prestigious ILM level five status.The second year focuses on the further development of management skills on a practical basis.“In essence,we are training the managers of the future – hopefully for a long career with Ashfield In2Focus,” says Jane Edwards, Head of Training and Development at Ashfield In2Focus.“We run an Assessment Centre to find people of the right calibre to enter the Academy, and for those that miss out,we give them a comprehensive personal development plan so they know where they need to improve in the future and what they need to develop.”
The Emerging Leaders Programme
The Emerging Leaders Programme (ELP) is an innovative four-module programme that seeks to identify individuals who may be capable of leading Ashfield In2Focus in the future. It is a hugely challenging programme and participants must be prepared to relocate anywhere around the country and overseas to take part.The first two modules are classroom-based, but include a high degree of practical work. If candidates are successful they will progress to an overseas module, once again with an emphasis on overcoming practical challenges.
“The ELP is exciting but also very demanding,” says Jane Edwards.“It encompasses psychometric profiling, emotional intelligence and strategic business planning. It’s a touch of the Alan Sugar stuff, but nobody gets fired!”
Ashfield In2Focus has a broad and evolving portfolio of services. Currently it has a spread across all the major sales functions, providing both syndicated and dedicated teams in primary and secondary care, dispensing teams, PCT teams, specialist teams and nurse advisors.
Another important aspect of the business is Vacancy Management.
The company’s significant growth in this area reflects the changing environment for pharma.The days when pharmaceutical companies had huge field forces that could cope with short-term vacancies are all but over. In the modern era, incidence of maternity/paternity leave, long-term sick and absenteeism is increasing, but companies cannot afford to lose critical share of voice with unfilled vacancies.
“If you lose your job in a pharma company, you lose your job. It’s as simple as that. At Ashfield In2Focus, if your contract comes to an end here, with such a wide range of client work, there are almost always opportunities to redeploy people.”
“Vacancy Management has grown in significance,” says Denise Abbott, Head of Resourcing at Ashfield In2Focus.“There is a constant demand to fill these positions, and as such,we are always seeking high calibre professionals to fulfil this requirement.These positions are ideal for experienced individuals looking to come back into the industry.”
In the past, people have often viewed Vacancy Management positions as being fixed-term contracts and, therefore, unsecure. In fact, at Ashfield In2Focus, this is not the case.“We are a responsible employer, and always give people full-time contracts, so they are protected from an employment rights point of view. If people are good,we will almost always find them a position should their contract end.”
In addition to the standard sales services Ashfield In2Focus provides, it also offers more innovative solutions. A good example of this is the Regional Account Director (RAD) programme it implemented for Takeda, which was regarded as a revolutionary concept when it was first introduced four years ago.“The RADs are the most specialised people on the road.They are a strategic sales force, and no-one else offers anything like that at all,” says Andy Holgate.
The Career opportunity
The opportunity for long-term career development at Ashfield In2Focus is highlighted by its current Director of Resourcing, Denise Abbott, who first joined the organisation over eight years ago as a medical representative.
From there,Denise became a Field Trainer before being promoted to a Regional Business Manager in the North West. Upon graduating from the Academy she became a Project Manager (second-line) managing syndicated and dedicated teams, before becoming Head of Operations (third-line) whilst the incumbent took maternity leave.
This put Denise in touch with the Exec Team and the Board of Directors. She then became Head of Training before more recently settling into her position as Director of Resourcing.
At the moment the company is developing additional services, such as the provision of nursing services direct to the NHS, and also further expansion in major international markets.
Clearly, Ashfield In2Focus is intent on designing a revolution in pharmaceutical outsourcing. Its growth has seen it emerge as the leading CSO in the UK, during which time it has developed a breadth of service and a quality of delivery that is the envy of the industry. Moreover, in a volatile market where mainstream pharma is being forced to downsize, Ashfield In2Focus is bucking the trend and getting bigger. If you’re good enough, a career at Ashfield In2Focus promises opportunity, security, personal growth and success. Currently, how many employers can promise you a career?