Having recently begun a new role as operations lead at BMS, Emer Flannery discusses her career journey to date.
Like many others in the field, Emer Flannery’s passion for STEM began at school. This led to her studying chemistry and undertaking a work placement with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) during her time at college.
Now, having since returned to the pharma company on two separate occasions, she leads operations in its sterile products and packaging for external manufacturing (EXM) of drug products for EMEA.
‘I have felt sponsored, empowered and supported by my managers and the leadership team’
– EMER FLANNERY
Did you always know you wanted to work in pharma?
I chose chemistry for my Leaving Cert and realised when picking university courses that studying chemistry could get me into the pharmaceutical industry. I had no idea just how large the industry was at that time but became aware of it during my time in university.
My time at university really drove the idea of working in pharmaceuticals, and I had some romantic ideas of discovering new medicines. I loved my course in pure and applied chemistry at Dublin City University (DCU). At the time, Intra programmes were a part of the course, which are placements or internships.
When did you begin working at BMS?
My journey with the company began in BMS Swords when I completed the Intra programme there when I was in third year in university. BMS Swords was an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing site. It was a six-month placement in technical operations and then, upon completion of my degree in 1999, I was successful in applying for a role in the same department.
I remained in BMS Swords for five years and then, after a stint in other companies and various roles, I returned to BMS in 2015 and have been working in EXM ever since.
Ireland is home to the EXM department’s global headquarters, the division responsible for the reliable supply of product from our contract manufacturing partners to patients across the BMS global network.
EXM is responsible for over 50 contract manufacturing organisations and supplies 82 markets globally. In addition to the headquarters in Ireland, EXM has team members based in Switzerland, North America and Asia.
What have been your favourite aspects of working at BMS?
Throughout my time in BMS, I have held various roles that required a lot of travel to the different contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs). This is something I enjoyed primarily because it provided me with the opportunity to benchmark, gather a lot of industry knowledge and best practice. It also provided me with an opportunity to develop relationship-building skills, which is important for working in EXM.
My current role as operations lead for sterile products and packaging is very different from the science and technology roles I have held previously. This role is much more business-based and very supply-focused, ensuring that we can get BMS products to patients across the world.
We use what the industry calls virtual plant teams. Working with a new CMO and being a part of the early team-formation stage is hugely exciting.
Has the company supported you on your career path?
One of the reasons I like working for BMS is because as a business they place a huge focus on diversity and inclusion. BMS treats everyone equally. I have also felt sponsored, empowered and supported by my managers and the leadership team. For example, now I have daily coaching from my manager as I settle into my new role.
I am also involved with the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA). I really enjoy this because it enables me to do some coaching across both our businesses in Plaza (EXM) and in Cruiserath (biologics manufacturing). This is a complete antidote to [my] normal work and it enables me to sit down, have a chat with others in the company and take stock.
The fact that BMS appreciates the value of the HBA and its own people and business resource groups is a testament to the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Would you recommend working at BMS to people just starting out in their careers?
Culture is important in an organisation. It has always been a huge factor for me when looking at new roles, and it’s one of the main reasons I returned to BMS in 2015. For a number of reasons, BMS Ireland is a great place to work and one is the flexible working policy we have.
Things like working from home, parental leave and flexible working hours are fundamental for me to maintain balance at home and in work, and they are a huge enabler to progressing women in the business. I am aware not every company provides the same opportunities for this balance.
For this reason, I would advise any graduate to think about a career at BMS. It’s fast-paced, dynamic and also sponsors you as an individual to develop into whatever path you choose in the business. We have a strong pipeline, particularly since our recent merger with Celgene, so the future is bright for anyone considering joining.
What would your advice be to someone hoping to follow a similar career path to yours?
I was completing a leadership training course through BMS at the time I applied for my current role and, as part of that, I was linked with a mentor. I had monthly touchpoints with my mentor and was able to seek guidance about the role, how I could approach it, my CV and interviews, among other things.
One key piece of advice I would give is share your ambition – don’t hide it or be in any way ashamed of it.
By sharing your plans to interview for a role instead of hiding them, you can put yourself in a better position to be successful. You just have to be brave and push yourself to speak to the person that can help you.
My new role is a huge transition. I am in a completely new function. I have a lot to learn. However, looking ahead and having made this move, I will now have a broader experience base, so it might lead to more opportunities in the business in future.