I did a bachelor of science in business at the University of New Hampshire in 1993, and now I'm in strategic marketing at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals. After college, I worked for two different companies. One was an electronics manufacturing company; the other was PRTM, a management consulting firm. I was not a consultant but an analyst in business processing and benchmarking, focusing on aerospace and industrial products. It gave me a flavor for all the different functions in a company. There I realized that the better companies, regardless of industry, involved industrial designers and marketers as well as manufacturing and operations people.
The joint MBA and master's of engineering management program at Northwestern appealed because I didn't have an engineering or science undergrad. But the marriage of engineering, science, technology, and business was becoming a passion of mine. Walter Herbst's new product design development class taught us to think like business executives. We brought in examples of great innovative product designs we found in magazines and books or from the news or TV, products like the White-Out Pen. Bic figured out they needed to put the liquid into a pen because the brush always dried out. They coupled this market insight with great design and marketing. After you start thinking holistically about the problem you're trying to solve, you get a much better sense of whether a product will succeed or fail.
In another class, we did a plant tour of a large medical equipment manufacturer making things like ultrasound machines. We talked to production floor guys about the actual manufacturing process. We also talked to the industrial designer who came up with the new console based on interviews with nursing and administrative staff at hospitals. The old machine had been difficult to read and illustrated how critical the customer is in the manufacturing and physical design process. I also realized that great design derives from really thorough customer research.
BRIDGING THE GAP.
This influenced how I looked at my role when I got to J&J. I was drawn to the company because of its patient-centric view of the world, which resonated with me. They also had many high-tier medical device companies between Cincinnati and New Jersey. First off, I worked as a product director at Cordis Endovascular, where I bridged the gap between customers and product design. In the four years I was there, I launched nine different products, a combination of new products and line extensions. The pace of innovation in medical devices is very rapid.
Now I'm a director of strategic marketing for products in development in the pharmaceuticals group, drugs in clinical trials. Strategic marketing is not only about communicating a product's benefits or features: I am also involved early in product ideation, design, and development. I help carry the voice of the customer, the physicians, and practitioners. I work with the scientists in R&D, and I generate new hypotheses and ideas based on current customer needs and insights. And, of course, I also work with the regulators, marketing, and finance people because I have to deliver a sales and profit number to the larger organization.
I realize I've really been having the same type of experience for several years now. I get really jazzed to be working at the intersections of customers, markets, and product development. But I was lacking some of the background for this role. The program at Northwestern forced me, in a good way, to develop skills in operations management, in product design, in organizational behavior, in marketing, and in financial analysis. It was a holistic education that allows me to think like a general manager about multiple functions rather than just my own. Now I'm also able to have the conversations I need to cross those platforms.
By Justine Dube Donnelly as told to Aili McConnon