I received an email from a good friend and colleague who made some fine points relating to my comments on business experience for chemists.  Since he is shy about posting the comment to the blog, I’ll put it here. I’m sure he’ll forgive me.

The younger folks never heard that this has all happened before. My orgo prof talked about chemists driving trucks during the 70’s. During the Carter years things weren’t too pretty either.

Most of my colleagues seem to feel that you have to recruit to the field – since we already are a small fraction of the pre-med group and the success rate for chemists is low – but I am unsure of what an honest appraisal is. I don’t recruit, but I also don’t want to scare them away.

I agree that a few business courses are essential. But, I have a colleague who got an MBA after he started teaching here – I think that was not very useful. Unless he opens a business….

As I mentioned to my friend, I think that if a chemist wants to experience the business side of chemistry, then he/she must go to the business side with 100 % commitment. If you want to be on the business side of chemistry, then you must commit to competition with all of the cats & dogs on the other side of the science fence.  If you want to be a business person, then you have to BE A BUSINESS PERSON.  You cannot keep one foot in the lab and the other rubbing the customers ankle under the table. Ya gotta be all in or forget it.

A pure business person does not care if he is selling “As Seen on TV” widgets or pallets of triphenylphosphine. Someone with a chemistry background will almost certainly want to be in a familiar space, and so will gravitate to chemicals. But to get into chemical sales, you have to penetrate the veil of obscurity that covers most of this field. You have to find out who is manufacturing bulk chemicals and locate the name of the sales VP or manager. Entry through the scientific end is tighter than a fishes asshole and is the wrong approach.

To be a successful business person in chemistry (or anything) you must have a total commitment to better living through cash flow. Cash is both King and Life.  And cash comes from Selling!!!!!!  A successful business person wakes up thinking about sales and falls asleep that night thinking about sales for the next day.  Like with chemistry, it is a form of mania.

Frankly, if a person with a lengthy history of chemcial R&D approaches a VP of sales for a job, they’re likely to think there is something wrong with them. What the …? This is where the strength of your personality comes into play. You’re very first “deal” will be with the sales or business development manager who would hire you. And you better make it good. I would dial in 90 % substance and 10 % bullshit for full schmooze configuration.  Remember, you’re trying to impress professional schmoozers.  It is not uncommon for a schmoozer to be quite susceptable to it themselves.

Yes, I am aware that Dante Aligheri witnessed the ring of hell set aside for flatterers, but you’ll have to make amends later.

There is a key item to put on the table. It is called the value proposition and it is a crucial part of any sales pitch. You have to convince a potential employer that you bring things to the table that will benefit or increase sales. Before one can seriously go out and find a job in sales, ones personal value in the proposition must be sorted out and rehearsed for automatic release during conversation.

My friends colleague with the MBA will probably retire with an unused business degree if he does not get out there and mix it up.  But maybe sales is not his thing.

Perhaps he is more interested in procurement. This is the true dark side of business. Procurement managers are some of the most powerful people (mad dogs, actually) in business and everyone fears them. Procurement managers are the people who select vendors and authorize the release of vast streams of cash through an instrument called a purchase order (PO). A PO is a highly sought after item and represents the culmination of a courtship of sorts.

Chemists can be extremely useful in the procurement of chemicals.  A procurement manager with a chemistry degree is basically a necessity in much of the chemical industry.  Chemists speak the language and are able to keep an eye on specifications and make sure that the right R&D people or engineers connect with the vendor if there is a quality or timing upset.

There are jobs in the chemical industry that may be available to chemists who are willing to step away from research. But it does require putting on a different cap and assembling a different resume package.