The Cure for the Common MBA
Through Stevens, Pfizer has a Partner in Providing Next-Generation Business Education to its Aspiring Leaders
As a scientist who has ascended the leadership ranks, Kevin Nepveux is in a unique position to appreciate the value of management programs at the School of Business at Stevens.
Nepveux is vice president of global technology services for Pfizer Global Supply, the company’s global manufacturing organization. An engineer by training, he leads a team of scientists and technologists who steer products from R&D to manufacturing and maintain the current product pipeline — which could mean troubleshooting potential problems or developing new technology to take advantage of market opportunities and help bring more medicines to patients in need. When he looks at the business degrees Stevens offers, he sees a valuable partner in delivering corporate education programs.
“Stevens is a good choice for people who want a practical education, especially as it relates to technology-related fields — which, today, is almost everything,” Nepveux said. “Stevens teaches students to be entrepreneurial, to have good project management skills and to be technologists. There’s a lot of interest in that combination in the market.”
Nepveux helped champion a collaboration between Pfizer and Stevens that has helped more than 100 Pfizer colleagues further their professional development, whether through an MBA, another graduate degree like the master’s in Business Intelligence & Analytics, or a graduate certificate in a specialized field. In 2016 alone, 75 new students enrolled in the MBA program, with nearly two-thirds of them women.
Currently, Stevens is running four cohorts at Pfizer — at its Peapack, New Jersey, location and its New York headquarters — that prepare students to manage the technology-driven opportunities of the future. Dr. Chris Asakiewicz M.Eng. ’83 Ph.D. ’03, an industry associate professor at Stevens who directs its Business Intelligence & Analytics master’s program, said the analytics and technology-infused management degrees at the School of Business offer unique value to companies like Pfizer.
Uniquely positioned in the market
“You have people who are in management functions, and they need to broaden their technical depth, because the technologies have changed significantly,” Dr. Asakiewicz said. “And then you have people who have that technical depth, but may want a broader business perspective. Our programs meet the needs of both types of people.”
Dr. Asakiewicz received his Ph.D. from Stevens more than a decade ago while working as vice president of global business technology at Pfizer. Since then, he said, the School of Business has developed considerable strength in important areas like analytics and decision sciences. That’s drawn interest from employers like Pfizer, which also benefit from Stevens’ ability to easily send faculty to corporate locations in the greater New York area.
Michael Baran, senior director of business operations and scientific affairs at Pfizer, has worked closely with Stevens on the company’s Business of Science initiative, which encourages technical colleagues to broaden their skills through the classroom.
Stevens faculty, Baran said, “take core MBA content and present it in a way in which Pfizer colleagues can easily relate. For example, professor (Pete) Dominick lectured on the concept of leadership, and did an excellent job linking concepts to areas of interest within Pfizer. Professor Asakiewicz was able to really hit on industry trends very relevant to what we are trying to do within the company, particularly in the application of big data in the R&D space.”
Band of brothers
Bill Mestrandrea, a senior manager of quality assurance at Pfizer, said his colleagues have become a “band of brothers” through the MBA program, which he’s been a part of for three years.
“We’re all in it together,” said Mestrandrea, who travels the world performing assessments, training auditors and running metrics at Pfizer sites around the world. “I’ve met people from other departments who my work influences, and they’ve influenced my work as well. It gave me a better understanding of the network within Pfizer, and how it all comes together to form one company, always working in support of our patients.”
Mona Babury, a senior portfolio manager at Pfizer, said her Stevens coursework has helped her better embrace the company’s “OWN IT!” culture, which promotes accountability, innovation and thoughtful risk taking to help drive results. An early assignment included an understanding of her strengths and weaknesses; because all of the courses are conducted onsite, it was easy for her to ask her manager to be part of that assessment.
“Because I could involve my manager, she’s identified opportunities for me to lead or be part of different teams, to make sure the gaps in my skills are filled,” Babury said. “I like that this program gives you that chance to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to continuously improve, because you do need those skills in the business world.”
Those skills in economics, operations, marketing and strategy are what Kal Vadasz, director of corporate partnerships for the School of Business, calls the “language of business” that’s at the heart of what a Stevens management education is all about.
“Pfizer colleagues arrive already well-educated and highly skilled in their roles,” Vadasz said. “We help them fill in the blanks to continue to advance with both conceptual foundations and hands-on skills to solve problems across a broad set of subject areas, and along the way, focus on leadership and teaming. This helps create more informed and self-aware leaders ready to effectively navigate their entire organization.”
‘The value is coming in every class’
That’s certainly true of Cindy Dever, who came to Pfizer in 2011 as a senior business analyst. Today, she’s the senior manager of marketing and strategy development for Pfizer’s Greenstone division, the result of several promotions she said are in part due to her Stevens coursework.
“I thought most of the knowledge I would get in my career would be from learning on the job and career training in the field,” Dever said. “It wasn’t until I started the MBA program that I realized the value doesn’t come two years from now, when I get that degree and put that bullet on my résumé. The value is coming in every class, every week, in every project I’m working on.”
In her new role, which she’s held since May 2015, she leans heavily on the lessons she took away from marketing and strategy classes at Stevens.
“There were so many concepts — corporate strategy, business unit strategy, balanced scorecards — introduced in those classes that I talked about during the interview process, and I am using those concepts every day in my new role,” she said. “For me to have so much familiarity with these different kinds of functions and concepts — I feel really empowered, over the last couple of years, to offer even more value in my role.”
Mestrandrea, meanwhile, said the analytics focus of his Stevens classes has been especially helpful as he thinks about his approach to his work.
“It’s definitely had me ask myself and others, what data do we really have — what is big data, where does it reside, and how do we get to it and learn from it?” Mestrandrea said. “My classes have gotten me thinking about what it is we don’t know yet — what different techniques we can use, how we can use it strategically to see where we’re going, whether we’re on pace with the rest of industry.”
That’s why Nepveux is so pleased with having Stevens as a partner. In fact, he’s seen the value provided by Stevens firsthand, as his son Ryan graduated with a degree in Business & Technology in 2012.
“Pharmaceuticals has a slower technology cycle than other industries, just because of how long it takes to develop new medicines, especially in our highly regulated industry, but innovation is still critical, or you’ll be left behind when your growth products come off patent,” Nepveux said. “That understanding of technology and encouraging innovation is what makes Stevens special.”