How You Can
Ensure A Newly Created Job
Managing Your Career by JoAnn Lublin
CHESHIRE, Conn. -- Kim Simon moved from San Diego to Connecticut last fall to become the first patient-advocacy director for Alexion Pharmaceuticals, a small biotechnology concern headquartered in this bucolic hamlet.
He liked the idea of taking a job that never existed before. "It was an opportunity for me to help shape this position rather than inherit somebody else's approach," says Mr. Simon, a 52-year-old with a trim gray beard and boyish grin. His fantasy of trailblazing soon clashed with harsh reality.
Ill-prepared for a wave of new hires, the company put Mr. Simon in its cafeteria with no phone or computer for days. He got another shock when he learned that his duties had shrunk. The first week "felt very much like a baptism by fire," he recalls.
He survived his crises -- assisted by an Alexion leadership coach -- and is thriving. "He has done very, very well,'' reports his boss, Paul Finnegan.
More job seekers could find themselves in freshly created positions as companies revamp operations to cope with expanding markets, takeovers or financial crises. This high-risk situation "stresses people's emotional and psychological resources," says Rebecca Schalm, an industrial psychologist at RHR International, an executive-coaching firm.
Mr. Simon's saga is a blueprint for building credibility in an unprecedented job, even if your employer doesn't offer an assimilation coach.
Alexion picked the former Pfizer public-relations manager to serve as its liaison with patient-advocacy groups world-wide. But when Mr. Simon arrived in October, the young enterprise was rushing to prepare for the imminent U.S. introduction of its first commercial product, a drug used to treat a rare blood disorder.
He needed to narrow his focus and work with the U.S. launch team for Soliris, approved in March. The team "wanted me to get up to speed as fast as possible,'' he remembers.
Mr. Simon thought his new job would cover product PR, too. "There was evolving clarification of the role,'' explains Dr. Finnegan, a vice president. He had spent a year amassing senior management support for a patient-advocacy spot.
Dr. Finnegan's own duties changed before Mr. Simon joined, doubling his business travel to two weeks a month. The distracted VP hired coach Lynda C. McDermott to help Mr. Simon.
Ms. McDermott, president of consultancy EquiPro International in New York, previously counseled Alexion about team building. She told Mr. Simon to forge personal relationships with key players to gain credibility. "Find out what people want of you and establish your own internal network," she urged.
Mr. Simon met face-to-face with about a dozen co-workers in his first two weeks, gleaning clues about corporate politics. Without their insights, he believes, "I might have been at a disadvantage on some projects." He also walked down the hall at least twice a day to brainstorm and bond with the U.S. team.
Mr. Simon deepened those ties and proved his value at a Florida scientific conference held six weeks after he began. He included team members in sessions he arranged with patient-advocacy groups. "We came back as a much stronger team," he says.
To enhance his in-house visibility, Dr. Finnegan made sure his lieutenant was invited to important meetings -- and suggested he attend others uninvited. Gate-crashing bothered Mr. Simon until he noticed "nobody blinked an eye."
Not everything went smoothly. A drug-industry consultant handled patient-outreach before Mr. Simon showed up. "Not only was Kim taking work away, but he was the third wheel" in a relationship with Dr. Finnegan, Ms. McDermott notes. Mr. Simon reassured the adviser that he would get Alexion assignments in other parts of the world.
Still, the consultant had trouble letting go. So when Mr. Simon had to meet the chairman of an important patient-advocacy group, he accepted the consultant's offer to make the first call. Heeding Ms. McDermott's advice, he also let the consultant join the meeting with the group.
Prior colleagues assisted Mr. Simon, too. "They often can be a great sounding board and can help put things into perspective," he says.
That's good advice for anyone in a newly created job.