This month John Pinching is in the big smoke with Crucell’s high-flying city slicker Kate Evans. She has an almost Dickensian ‘rags to riches’ tale to tell – forced to wash pots in order to make ends meet, Kate had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment, and now she’s one of the industry’s shining stars. What better way to kick off the festive season?
A frosty winter’s morn, Oxford Circus (exit 8, to be precise), I meet Kate Evans (right) – resplendent in an aquamarine cardigan – and we alight to a nearby hot beverage purveyor. This ain’t called ‘Coffee Break’ for nothing, dear reader. Realism is essential – we do actually go ‘for coffee’. Having said that, Kate orders a tea, shattering the illusion. I, true to my word, request a latte. The checkout girl seems a bit stroppy, but we proceed with the interview, we are professionals after all...
What do you think of the new mag? It was very eye-catching when it came through the post, which is a good thing, because usually it gets shoved on a pile. It looked different, therefore I read it. It was fun, more relaxed and sharp.
Thanks, the cheque’s in the post. So, Kate, what’s your story? I was born and brought up in Middlesbrough and went to university in Durham. I got a 2:2 and was mortified; I cried for an entire day. I thought I’d never get a job, but I’ve realised that it’s actually your personality and drive that get you through, not what’s on your degree certificate.
Where are you based now? I arrived in London two years ago when I joined Crucell. My mum still thinks it’s another country, but I had to go and see what it was all about. I go into the office a couple of days a week in High Wycombe and the rest of the time I’m out meeting people. I prefer to be on the road, speaking to the NHS payers at the coal face: finding out about how the reforms are affecting them and how we can work together. I’m nationally based, so I go wherever people want to talk and engage in interesting projects!
How did you get into pharma? After uni I got a position as a peptide chemist, which after doing a Biomedical Science degree seemed the job of choice. It was based in the north east and we were making synthetic proteins for pharmaceutical research and development. After about a year of doing that I was ready to leave the North East and I got a job at Nottingham City hospital as a tumour immunologist researching how to create a blood kit which could detect breast cancer earlier than a mammogram.
What happened to make you change career direction? I used to chat with the reps who came in to sell pipettes and lab equipment to us. Talking to them was the highlight of my day and I used to think, ‘What am I doing every day, just staring down a microscope?’ What they were doing seemed much more ‘me’. You got to chat to people.. At the time I had to work in a pub during the evenings in order to pay my rent. That was when I became obsessed with becoming a pharmaceutical rep.
How did you get your big break? I started trying to find a rep job, but a couple of companies said you’ve got no sales experience, ‘go and work in a call centre.’ There was no way I was going to do that. Eventually I got into the industry through Innovex and worked with them for two and a half years selling MSD products. From there I went on to various positions at Sanofi Pasteur, MSD, and then on to Crucell in 2010.
How is the relationship between NHS and pharma changing? There is still a lot of mistrust stemming back to the era when everything was about a hard sell. Now you have to be able to sell a value proposition, focusing on the new NHS targets. It’s much more about ‘how we can help you with your care pathway, reduce health inequalities and improve patient outcomes’.
What is the best way to ensure relations continue to improve in the future? The key for pharma is deciding who you actually send to the Chief Executive of a CCG, because a Key Account Manager in one company may be very different to another, and some have only ever covered primary care. It is important to understand the whole local health economy and its needs. You need to have at least read the CCG strategy plan, and understood how your product can link to helping them meet their QIPP and QOF targets. I was very passionate about this at the recent Pf Local Insight Forum: many of the people in that room didn’t know what a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) was. In any other business you wouldn’t go and face a client if you knew nothing about what they do. Other feedback I get from customers is that they want someone who can make a quick decision, not someone who has to go back to head office and get agreement.
Have you established some good partnerships with public sector organisations? My own personal experience of working with PCTs has been very rewarding. The uptake of flu vaccines can be low due to various health inequalities, such as transient population, reduced access to clinics, and language barriers. Using local hospital data, you can start to build a business case about how a project may improve vaccination uptake and therefore potentially reduce hospitalisations. It is important to tailor any project to the needs of the local health economy as each has different requirements. I have worked with NHS, pharmacy and other private providers in these ventures. As well as improving patient care, the projects aim to improve uptake and therefore increase the overall market in the process. It shows you can be commercial and still be part of the NHS’s agenda.
You seem passionate about your work. Vaccines, whether they’re paediatric, flu or HPV, have saved millions of lives worldwide and that’s why I’m so passionate about this area. The highlight for me was being chosen by Crucell Global to visit Bangladesh in June this year to see their vaccination campaigns and how money is being put back into developing countries that don’t have a recognised health service. Since merging with Janssen this year it has been very interesting to widen my horizons and apply my skills to other disease areas. I also contribute to the NHS intranet blog for the company, keeping everyone up to date with the reforms.
What other changes excite you? It’ll be really interesting next year to see the emergence of companies like Circle Health, who have already started to fulfil contracts on behalf of the NHS, easing in the whole ‘competition element’ of reform. NHS hospitals are advertising for marketing and business development managers, perhaps because they won’t necessarily get all the referrals from primary care, given that there are some really impressive ‘Any Qualified Providers’ out there.
You’re clearly a bit of a mover and shaker, what does the future hold for Kate Evans? Everyone always wonders where they will be in five years, but I just take opportunities as they come along. As the NHS changes, so will the jobs within pharma. Companies will soon need specific people to handle joint working, for example, and I am sure more even more niched jobs will start to appear as the new NHS goes ‘live’ in April 2013.
Do you have a good work/life balance? In the days when I was winning Rep of the Year in consecutive years, the ratio was more work/work! I don’t stay on the computer until midnight any more; however, sometimes when deadlines are due, work can still start to eat into personal life. I have learnt over the years how to manage my time more effectively; it’s just part of the job. You’ve got to have relaxation time in order to function properly.