Alumni Consulting Profiles - ZS Associates

Caroline Phelan, PhD

ZS Associates

Program @ Penn: Pharmacological Sciences (Biomedical Graduate Studies)
Graduate Year: 2009


Describe your current position and firm/organization and the career path you took to get there.

Prior to graduate school, I was an industry bench scientist. When I began graduate school, I thought I was headed back to the science business in pharma, but became interested in consulting as a career path after doing a consulting project through Penn Biotech Group with a "real client". We were charged with assessing the pricing opportunity for a Phase II drug.

Just prior to graduating, I was on the fence about postdoc versus exploring consulting as a career. I took the plunge with a boutique consultancy firm focused on global market access and pricing for pharmaceuticals. I moved on to a larger consultancy, ZS Associates, to broaden my exposure to other client issues and industries.

About ZS Associates:

We help pharmaceutical and biotech firms address a broad range of sales and marketing issues, including:

Commercialize New Products Successfully

  • Assess market opportunity for proposed new products, including sales forecasting and market definition
  • Create and implement a new product launch strategy, including value proposition development for each proposed customer group

 Maximize Revenue of Existing Brands

  • Optimize inter-related marketing decisions including segmentation, targeting, positioning, and promotional mix

 Drive Increased Sales Force Effectiveness

  • Design the sales force structure, size, and deployment to accommodate an evolving portfolio of products and changing customer needs
  • Enable sales execution through effective customer segmentation, targeting, team selling, compensation plans, and performance tracking and reporting systems

 Integrate Global Sales Organizations During Mergers and Acquisitions

  • Determine the best size, structure, deployment, and systems for the combined sales organization, and implement with speed and precision
Our expertise ranges from strategic work focused on questions such as the development of the future pharmaceutical commercialization model to tactical matters such as physician targeting and segmentation. Using proprietary, field-tested research and problem-solving tools and processes, we can help you succeed at the global, regional and local levels.

What skills and strengths did your graduate training provide you that make you a good fit for your current position?

I think some of the most valuable skills you attain in graduate school are a sense of the big picture, but the ability to break a complex question into a series of discrete questions and analyses. Additionally, the analytical skills and rigor translates well not only to case studies, but also to on-the-job demands. It is essential to be able to think on your feet as a consultant.

Key skills

  • Big picture thinking
  • Breaking complex topics into discrete questions
  • Analytical skills
  • Thinking on your feet
If other PhD students wanted to get a position similar to yours, what three specific pieces of advice would you offer them that they can be doing now while still at Penn?

Get intellectually engaged with the business of science or your area of expertise. Grab the Wall Street Journal, track headlines, and follow innovation, development and commercialization as it relates to your area of expertise. After all, it's what you'll be doing. It can offer you a case study a day if you think through the issues and decision-making of companies.

Get some exposure. Beyond case studies, groups like Penn Biotech Group provide speakers and project opportunities to give you real-world exposure and opportunities.

Network with alumni in consulting roles. As a graduate student, you only have so much time for case studies and other preparation. Seeking one-on-one real-world advice can be the most efficient way to better understand roles and opportunities at firms, as well as helping you to prioritize preparation and execution of your job search.

Top advice for this career field

  1. Become engaged with the business of science by reading widely
  2. Get exposure to real-world projects
  3. Network with alumni doing consulting and ask good questions
How can students at Penn find out more about your career field?
There is a lot of information from other universities and business schools often available on the internet, as well as groups through LinkedIn that offer "peeks" at what the job is like. That said, if you have the opportunity, networking with current consultants is invaluable.

Find out more

Follow companies on LinkedIn, and make use of freely available online information from other schools
What do you most enjoy about your current position, and what are you looking forward to doing at work over the next week or two?
I love the pace of the job! It can be demanding, but it's very fulfilling to help our clients address critical issues. Right now, I am most looking forward to a global competitive assessment/game theory engagement I am working on for a client in a highly competitive area that seems to be changing by the day.

Positive perspectives

  • High pace job
  • Constantly changing industry landscapes