Mario Gattino (MBA Exec ’96) on how falling into a pharmaceutical sales role led to him finding his passion for leadership.
I made my career choice because... having studied science and health at university, someone suggested I get into pharmaceutical sales. I had never thought of myself as a salesperson and like most people, had a rather negative view of the traditional salesperson. However, it was pitched to me as 'educating' and providing a service to doctors, it paid well and you get a company car. I was hired by Pfizer, who went from a mid tier industry player when I joined to becoming the leading company in the pharmaceutical sector and one of the most successful companies in the world. It was quite a ride! I had the opportunity to pursue whatever functional career path I wanted. Deep down I always wanted to be a leader. Every role I took over the next 15 years: Global and Regional Marketing, Business Development, Operations, was a stepping stone towards that goal including over seven years in Pfizer's global headquarters in New York.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have... started working on my professional development and emotional intelligence much earlier in my career. After scraping and clawing my way from one job to the next climbing the mythical ladder with the professional scars to prove it, it was only late in my career in very senior roles that I devoted time and commitment to defining the type of leader I wanted to become. I was caught up on what I had achieved rather than how I had achieved it. In a highly competitive company it was about results and successes, being visible and differentiating yourself, accepting new responsibilities and projects with almost blind faith because that's how your boss and his/her boss had gotten their jobs. Looking back there were some pivotal moments in my career where I both succeeded and dramatically failed, that I would have handled differently and who knows how things may have turned out. There have been many more good days than bad days so I have nothing to complain about, but it's a little like the great sportsperson at the end of their career who regrets not having that wisdom and experience to deal with situations when they were younger and at the height of their physical powers.
My most impressive achievement is... Personally, to have turned the rather questionable raw material of a young, self absorbed, naïve and delusional me into a pretty decent, not perfect, husband and dad who tries very hard to remember what's truly important.
Professionally it would have been in my first Country Manager/MD role in Eastern Europe initially to realign the business after a decade of success and dramatic growth. Three months into my assignment the country's economy experienced a financial meltdown and the business was struggling to survive. This required a major downsizing of approximately 33% of the organization and aggressive P&L management in a company that had never experienced that before, without being able to speak the language, understand the culture or have any credibility in that market. What I am most proud of is what we achieved beyond the numbers: it is easy to cut spending, reduce staff to achieve a set of metrics and ratios that are acceptable but at what cost to the future potential of the business, the people you lead and the culture you are trying to create?
My biggest challenge at the moment is… I have recently taken on a new role as GM/MD Aust. & NZ for a US based biotherapeutics company which has a small portfolio in a highly specialised area of hospital care. In terms of size, complexity of portfolio, culture, resources etc. it could not be more different from my previous comfort zone of a large pharmaceutical company which is really exciting, but also challenging. It’s also a little scary because in such a small company, the actions and behaviours of a new leader seem to be magnified.
At the moment I’m inspired by... my two little girls who are growing up way too fast and wanting to provide the best possible quality of life for them. Living vicariously through them, I guess like most parents and trying to expose them to many experiences so they can figure out what they really love doing. Professionally, I recently came across some quotes from General George S. Patton:
“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.”
"Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”
As a student I… had a constant struggle with being a perfectionist and this was a trait that followed me in my early career. I put such high expectations on myself that everything I submitted or did had to be the best that many times I preferred not to do it at all or find excuses for handing it in late. I think it is fair to say that I didn't really enjoy being a student. Once the delusions of being a professional sportsman passed and they passed quickly, I then made a promise to myself that whatever career path I chose I would be fully committed and try to be recognised as 'world class' at what I do. I completed my Executive AGSM MBA and wanted to go overseas to compete against some of the best people in my industry. Whether I had found my niche or just simply matured, I suddenly loved reading business journals and attending management courses that challenged conventional thinking because it had a purpose and the cause and effect was obvious.