When I was younger, I was a musician.
Ever since I could remember, I loved hearing songs on the radio. I would imitate them and try to write my own. I was very active in playing with bands in high school. So when college came, I studied music. My father wanted to be sure I had something to fall back on, so my degree incorporated business.
As a musician, particularly as a writer, I was always trying to create things that had never been done before and do it better than anyone had ever done it.
Sometimes I succeeded. Other times I didn’t. It was the thrill of chasing that new sound or that way of putting words together.
Even when I got older and my career no longer revolved around music, I fell back on a lot of those same skills and brought a very different creative approach to what has traditionally been a very scientific industry that is set in its ways. A lot of my success has to do with taking a fresh look at things and be willing to challenge the status quo.
I started working for a company called Quintiles, which provides clinical research, support services and project management to pharmaceutical companies. I wish I could say that I diagramed my career to become an executive in clinical research. The fact is that I had no idea this industry existed.
I simply started as a temp and within a couple months, worked my way into a job and then into a management position. I could tell this was a company that was at the beginning of a major growth curve in an industry that was itself on a growth curve.
The further along I got, I became more involved in developing strategic partnerships and alliances between small clinics, large health systems and the company that I worked for.
When you see a drug finally get approved and you worked in some capacity on getting that drug to market, that’s very satisfying, especially if it’s for a disease that affects people worldwide.
I think the thing I’m most proud of is when I spearheaded the effort to get Quintiles to view its work not as a collection of individual studies but rather as a holistic portfolio of work. Now, I can look back eight or nine years later and see virtually every other pharmaceutical company thinking the same way.
As incredible an environment as Quintiles was for my own growth, I was ready to spread my wings even more and run a company. In a big organization, there are only so many chances to do that.
I saw that RxTrials was at a point in its growth that it need an executive who had been with a much larger organization and who could shepherd it through its growth.
What I’m doing day to day now is not a lot different from what I envisioned 20 years ago as a musician: I’m leading a strong organization that is doing things that have never been done that resonate with our customers, while still getting to travel the world and meet a lot of people.
-Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief operating officer of RxTrials, a clinical research consulting company headquartered in Ellicott City.
Career highlights: Vice president of corporate development, RxTrials; head of global hospital alliances, Quintiles; director of research site management, Quintiles.
Education: BM, Music Media & Industry, University of Miami; MHA, Health Policy & Management, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Personal: Commutes between Maryland and Garner, N.C. Has a wife and two children.