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How this country lead forged a career in biopharma

Sinéad Bailey discusses her new role at Bristol Myers Squibb and the biggest challenges and surprises of a career in biopharma.

“I’m a naturally curious and chatty person,” says Sinéad Bailey. “I’m always saying to my team that it’s good to talk – open communication and active listening are key to being a good leader.”

These are the aspects of Bailey’s personality that she believes make her suitable for her current role as the country lead for Ireland at global biopharma company, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS).

Bailey took up this role at the beginning of 2024, after spending more than a decade at BMS in various leadership roles. But what inspired her interest in this field?

“I’ve always had a keen interest in health; however, prior to working in the pharmaceutical industry, I worked in the FMCG [fast-moving consumer good] sector for Nestlé,” she explains. “While I enjoyed my time there, I felt that one of my core values of helping to improve people’s health would be better served working at a company such as BMS.”

‘I genuinely believe that you are never the finished article and can always learn something new from everyone you meet’

What educational and work experiences led you to the role you now have?

There are many! From an academic perspective, my initial qualification was a degree in industrial biochemistry from the fabulous University of Limerick. I pivoted into the commercial world after college by working at Nestlé for several years who very kindly supported me in going back to college part time to complete a diploma in business and marketing. Later and while on a career break, I completed an executive MBA at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. I enjoyed every minute of this and was super lucky to be part of an amazing cohort.

In the early part of my career, I was lucky to secure an apprenticeship of sorts through a two-year trainee management programme, gaining a thorough understanding of business. It included stints in accounting, marketing, production, warehousing and procurement.

As I’ve moved through my career, I’ve also completed additional qualifications in health economics and corporate governance. Most of my time in the pharmaceutical industry, at both GSK and BMS, has focused on sales and marketing roles with various secondments in other disciplines peppered into the mix. I’ve had experience in the UK business as well as in a global launch team.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?

I worked at UCB Pharma for a short period of time and while there I took a step out of marketing and into a medical sales representative role. While it was challenging and with a large sales territory, I saw this as a great opportunity to learn and grow, gaining some valuable sales experience at the coalface!

Another challenging time was juggling my career with being a new mum. I had great support from my husband Alan who was fortunate enough to be able to take a career break to focus on the children. It’s usually the other way around and I hope our path of navigating parenthood inspires others.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

There have been plenty of people who were very influential in my career – mainly line managers down through the years. However, the most influential was (and still is) a good friend of mine who was a senior leader in the technology industry, who encouraged me to forge my own path and follow my heart in terms of not only what I want out of my career, but also what I want out of life. Her advice included that if I don’t see any role models to aspire to, then [I should] be my own role model – to speak up and forge my own path.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love how it varies every single day. I interact with many functions – finance, supply chain, legal, sales, marketing, digital, compliance and administrative colleagues – the list goes on. What I especially love about my job is that I am constantly learning and developing. I genuinely believe that you are never the finished article and can always learn something new from everyone who you meet.

How did your current company support you on your career path?

BMS has been amazing. The company has supported me by facilitating secondments to other roles, firstly for a year in one of the global launch teams to support the European launch of a haematology treatment. And secondly, another year-long stint leading the UK cardiovascular business – all while still being based in Ireland. The ability to have flexibility in my work is crucial as myself and my husband have two children who we want to raise in Ireland. BMS has also supported me in completing a professional qualification, providing funding and the time to study, for which I am very grateful.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

Talk and connect with as many people as possible, even if you don’t know them or have no common connections. In my experience, most people are super happy to give advice and connect you further. At BMS, we support not only linear career paths, but also the chance to learn new skills in other functions and take a different path within your career – all at the same company. For example, I know colleagues who have worked in human resources and then pivoted to operational excellence. There are so many opportunities here.

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