Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pharma's 'Four Horsemen' - Small Companies Benefit

As the economy struggles to escape recession, many incentives of the "stable corporate job" once taken for granted have disappeared. Eight-hour work day? Nope. Full benefits, perhaps with retirement? Nowhere I've worked. Flexible work hours, or the ability to vacation without checking email? Don't even think about turning off that cell phone!

Yeah, some days. Only, with a lab coat.
Source: SciAm Blogs / istockphoto
I'll admit, I had spent some time in pharma when it seemed to have no upper limit: company parties, annual bonuses, guest lecturers, the whole enchilada. But nowadays, with news of mass layoffs at every major chemistry firm, and certain sites closing altogether, I've had the discussion several times about whether we'll ever see salad days again.

One of my ex-'Big Pharma' contacts forwarded along a cheery little document from Cliff Ennico, a lawyer who appears to specialize in small business and entrepreneurship. He had visited their campus to suggest potential career routes for laid-off employees. The tract essentially advocates for self-reliance through small business ownership, skill development, and networking. But his ideology caught me off guard: he compares current corporate practice to the Apocalypse! 

Here's Ennico's "Four Horsemen of Corporate America:"

Computers - If your function can be automated, you might be next on the chopping block.

Overseas Competition - China and India are specifically mentioned, which segues to...

Outsourcing - Well, if you haven't sent med-chem work to CROs, or offshore, you're in the minority. For another example, consider the contract positions seen on ACS Careers (three months, really?)

Overwork - Quoth the paper: 
"Big corporations these days are obsessed with 'maximizing productivity,' which often translates [to] 'getting the maximum amount of work out of your employees for the minimum amount of compensation.'"
"Hang on . . .which one of us was Outsourcing, again?"
Source:, user: the_pug
So, all doom and gloom, right? Well, maybe so, maybe not. After mass 'Big Pharma' layoffs, small companies - like mine - tend to benefit from an influx of well-trained, poised people ready to try something new. And while the hours are still long, and the pace hectic, it's both humbling and exhilarating to watch something grow from the ground up. Best part? They'll need you to "pinch-hit" on a variety of projects, which imparts some job security.

New grads, post-docs: Make sure to think 'small' when filling out those job applications. It's stressful, sure, but well worth the effort.


  1. When the FDA opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two liters of heptanes for a day’s wages, and six grams of silica for a day’s wages, and remember to inert the flask under nitrogen!”

  2. War, with his flaming syringe of AlMe3!

    Death, with his robes of blackest graphene!

    Pestilence, who we could have prevented with more Gram-negative antibiotics!

    Famine, who wants some HFCS and / or pink slime!

  3. Then the CEOs, the directors, the chief counsels, the shareholders, the mighty, and everyone else, both grad student and intern, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the Quality Analyst who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the FDA! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

  4. "Who shall stand, when QA/QC appeareth?"