A trailblazer in the world of pharmaceutical marketing, product development, and biochemistry, Carsten Thiel has created a lasting impact within the medical field. By combining his strong medical ethics, extensive leadership experience, and marketing know-how, Thiel was able to produce unparalleled results, while maintaining the integrity of each company in which he spearheaded product launches. By maintaining a patient-first approach to medical marketing, he was able to successfully segue various products to aid thousands of customers lead meaningful, healthy, and cohesive lives.
Berlin-born Carsten Thiel, the son of two medical doctors, recognized the role that the medical field would undoubtedly play within his future. Upon earning his Bachelor of Science degree from the United Kingdom’s prestigious University of Bristol, Thiel went on to earn a PhD in Molecular Biology from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. Throughout his studies, Thiel remained interested in the study of proteins, cells, and the process in which healthy cells turn into cancerous cells. The notion that every living creature’s pre-written DNA was the coding for their future was what inspired Thiel to pursue involvement in the medical industry, in a sector where rapidly changing technology was responsible for numerous breakthroughs in all arenas of healthcare.
Several successful product launches later, with many leadership roles perfected, Carsten Thiel remains at the forefront of medical innovation, parlaying his previously perfected skills into future endeavors.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
My parents always instilled the value of education in me, and from a very young age, I understood the notion that I would be able to pursue my intellectual interests, earn a fair wage, and help others by remaining in the medical field. With both of my parents in the medical field, I was able to see the impact their work had on others on a consistent basis. This inspired me, and I knew I wanted to stay in the medical field, though I wasn’t sure about what sector I wanted to pursue.
Upon the completion of my PhD, I came to a professional crossroad in my career, where I essentially had to choose between remaining in the research portion of biochemistry and medicine, or forging ahead in the private sector, working for a highly innovative pharmaceutical company called Hoffman la-Roche. Through their forward thinking model, this company was highly innovative, and was doing very exciting things in this niche. Thus, I followed my instincts, and began my professional journey as a Communications and Product Manager. Roughly a year later, my market analysis, client relationship building strategies, and management style paid off, and I was promoted to a position where I became a liaison for our international teams, essentially teaching teams to effectively execute medical marketing.
How do you make money?
Throughout my professional career within the field of medicine, I have received monetary compensation from each company that I have worked for, in exchange for the services provided. Essentially, my pay structure has been very traditional, mirroring the typical pay pattern of salaried full-time positions within other fields. On a grander scheme, obviously, my work was somewhat directly responsible for the money that each company garnered after a product launch. In this way, the success of my efforts was somewhat reflective of the company’s sales, reputation, and long-term success.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
As I landed a fantastic position immediately following the completion of my studies, I was fortunate to be “profitable” as an employee from the beginning of my career. Throughout my leadership roles within various pharma companies, especially when launching a new product, I must say that I have found the concept of profitability not always immediately at the forefront of importance. Obviously, pharmaceutical companies are for-profit businesses, who rely on breakthrough medical treatments and products, sold to consumers and prescribers, in order to generate a profit. However, due to the sensitive nature of helping millions of individuals with a particular affliction, profitability of a certain new product always had to take a backseat to safety, longevity, and customer satisfaction.
For example, fairly early in my career, I spearheaded the launch of a new weight-loss product called Xenical, which was intended to assist individuals who wanted to pursue weight-loss. Weight-loss products don’t simply counteract poor healthcare choices, however, and cannot overcompensate for many things. Thus, throughout the launching process, I was faced with two choices that would immediately impact the company in many ways, and would set the course for long-term effects.
On one hand, I could have chosen to mass market the product to all individuals, garnering an immediate success within the market. However, this would undoubtedly lead to some disappointed consumers, who did not apply any other life changes to assist with developing a healthy weight. On a long-term basis, though this move would have generated a higher initial interest and profitability, it could have damaged the long-term reputation, and success of the company.
My other choice required me to make an educated decision to speak with prescribers about targeting a particular potential customer, rather than prescribing the product to a mass audience. Through this selection process, initial profitability would not have been as high, but this method would have ensured across-the-board positive effects, and a long-term positive reputation built on customer satisfaction.
As a young professional, I made the bold choice to pursue the second option, and stuck to my convictions against any naysayers. Ultimately, the product ended up receiving fantastic reviews, and sold over a billion Swiss francs within its’ first year on the market.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Throughout the early phases of my career, I always believed in myself, my convictions, my education, and my desire to grow within my chosen field, and continue to help others. However, as a young professional often “in charge” of larger teams of older, more experienced, and very serious team members, I must admit to previously second guessing my own leadership style, and ability to resonate with my team. Being so much younger than my co-workers throughout those initial periods of leadership, however, has taught me many lessons that I apply daily.
In my first leadership role at Hoffman la-Roche, I was tasked with teaching team members to accurately conduct scientific marketing, and in doing so, I was in charge of the teams’ marketing efforts, research, and directional planning. Very quickly, I learned that the best way to “manage” others is to provide them with a highly collaborative environment, where each members’ strengths combine to form a cohesively successful end result. After all, each individual on the team was already a leader within their own niche field of the company, and thus, deserved to be treated as such.
Very quickly, I also learned the benefits of engaging with others, finding a personable factor, and always considering the human aspect of things. Within a research environment, it is very easy to lose a human component, but after all, we are dealing with the human condition on a minute-by-minute basis.
Finally, I recognized that a leader is not necessarily a superior, but almost a conduit to provide the essential tools for the entire team to succeed, an environment in which each member thrives, and the support needed to accomplish goals. After I mastered these concepts, I gained great confidence in my leadership abilities, and my self-doubts greatly diminished. I gained the resolve that as long as I always kept these convictions in the forefront of my mind, and maintained a patient-first ethical system, I would always essentially be doing the right thing.
How did you get your first customer?
At a certain point in my career, for roughly a year, I went to Southeast London to work as a pharmaceutical representative, in the most traditional sense. While I had vast experience visiting with various team members from many different biomedical companies, at that point, my CV was missing the direct interaction with prescribers that can only be garnered as a pharmaceutical representative. Thus, when the opportunity arose to take on this role within a company for whom I was already employed, I recognized the learning power of this move.
In this role, I garnered the opportunity to “get” customers, or prescribers, to provide my treatments to patients. As a GP sales representative, I visited many offices, and garnered many educational opportunities along the path to gaining the support of prescribers. For one, I quickly learned that prescribers weren’t necessarily thrilled about being lectured about the 100th cardiovascular product of the day. I launched a fantastic new cardiovascular treatment, and it was solely my duty to gain prescribers’ attention, and get them as excited about this new treatment option as I was!
Within my previous roles, individuals were often concerned with my previous experience, accolades, and what I could do. Conversely, as a sales representative, none of those things were relevant, and none of them helped me to even get through the door. This is where the human element came into play, and I learned the importance of fueling a connection with people. By approaching these “sales” type of situations with a very humanistic mindset, I was able to garner new “clients” steadily.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
While discussing my experiences with launching the weight-loss product Xenical, I’ve mentioned the importance of considering ways in which decisions will affect a brand’s overall long-term reputation. Within the medical field, especially when it concerns the general market masses versus prescribers, a company’s reputation will dictate its’ ability to generate new business. Thus, it is crucial to consider potential backlash, reputation loss, and creative efforts to garner an overall positive reputation as a company. Often, these considerations may come at the cost of higher profits on the front end, but provide a company with the longevity needed to steadily increase customer confidence, and ultimately, maintain successful sales numbers.
Within the medical field, especially concerning over the counter products or non-invasive services, individuals will turn to generalized research, product reviews, and a community-based educational model to determine potential success of a particular product. Thus, customer service, quality control, and customer satisfaction are fields necessary for success within today’s globalized market.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Though these aren’t necessarily life-and-death decisions, as my position has increased in responsibility, I’ve had to make some tough decisions related to time management. As with everything else in life, there is a cost vs benefit algorithm in place. In the workplace, this relates to a conundrum; If I spend more time on Project A, Project B will undoubtedly suffer the consequences of receiving less attention. Though this is unavoidable, and translates throughout every aspect of life, it can be difficult to manage many moving parts cohesively. To do so masterfully, however, allows one to provide the various services needed to satisfy all team members, and thrive within a multi-faceted environment.
In my own experiences, I have tried to create a daily balance, dedicating varying portions of my time to different factors, based on importance and need. For example, on any given day, I would spend roughly 20% of my time with shareholders, and key members of the team, ensuring their cooperation, and satisfaction. From there, I would spend some time on research, education, and furthering my understanding of a particular market. Of course, some of my time would be spent within meetings. Throughout each day, however, I would also purposefully find time to interact with all peers, co-workers, and team members, immersing myself in the daily operations of the company.
I have found this hierarchy to allow for maximum success, and have been fortunate to be allowed the autonomy to dictate the ways in which my time is spent.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Though the field of medicine is very serious, after all, members of the field deal with critical situations daily. Though the field is very serious, I have learned to not take myself so seriously. By remaining humble, and understanding that as a leader, I am responsible for providing the tools needed to thrive, I have been able to succeed within my career. With a servant leadership style, I have learned that my role is to help others succeed, and because of this, I have found personal satisfaction in leading a team, which has translated to success.
In the same realm, I truly believe that in order to be successful on a long-term basis within this ever-evolving field, one must never stop learning. It would be foolish to believe that one is well versed in everything there is to know about the medical field. With so many technological advancements, and medical breakthroughs, the need for continued education, flexibility, and adaptability is crucial toward maintaining success.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
At the end of the day, the most important aspect of being a CEO within this field, or leading a successful team, or successfully introducing a new treatment to market, is the positive effect this work will have on countless individuals. With many new products, we are providing people with hope, with options that were previously not available to them, and with the ability to regain meaningful, healthy, and active lives. What can be more satisfying than that knowledge?
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
In the future, I would be interested in pursuing the building, development, and growth of a start-up biomedical company focused on providing a breakthrough product to an underserved population. I would love to join a maller venture, and to be responsible for growing, scaling, and creating a successful company that provides an innovative treatment not yet on the market.
As with all aspects of the business marketplace, competition is healthy, but oversaturation of a particular product waters down the success of all parties involved. For example, within the rideshare economy, Uber and Lyft were introduced to a marketplace that desired their services. Both companies monopolized this marketplace, and have continued to serve their community, provide fantastic service options in a streamlined manner, and have successfully leveraged their resources to provide service to every individual who seeks it. In order words, they’ve got it covered. Thus, if another rideshare platform were to be introduced a few years later, it would have to be wildly different, or provide a totally new type of service, in order to even stand a chance at relevancy within this particular rideshare economy.
The same principal applies to medical treatments for various conditions, ailments, and diseases. Thus, I would love to get in on the ground floor of a company that provides treatment options for individuals who do not have many options, whose conditions are not at the forefront of medicine, and who will benefit most from a breakthrough treatment or product.
What business books have inspired you?
Though not a business book per se, I often recommend “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell’s “Outliers” examines what makes people over-achievers, and what makes some individuals vastly more successful than others. I find that there are many lessons in “Outliers” than can be adapted to any field, within any profession, and for anyone who reads the book. It is full of lessons about leadership, education, and communication, all factors crucial toward garnering professional success.
What do you like most about being in a leadership role?
Though it is personally rewarding to spearhead a successful product launch, I am mostly thrilled about the prospect of building a great team, and working together for the greater good of the project. I truly enjoy providing each member of the team with the resources needed to succeed, and with developing each aspect of a launch, from medical market research, to aesthetic decisions, and everything in between. Throughout this process, meaningful moments are shared, lives are changed, and ultimately, lifelong memories are made. Often, I receive a telephone call, or even an email, from a former teammate, who will fondly recall their time spent working together, and will cite this time as a rewarding portion of their career. For me, this is a very meaningful part of being in a leadership position.
What accomplishments are you proud of outside the scope of your work?
I am genuinely proud of the family dynamic that my family retains, and the manner in which we all make concerted efforts to communicate, understand each other, and spend time together. Each morning, we eat breakfast together, and fill each other in on the anticipated activities of the day. Each afternoon, we eat dinner together, and reminisce on the ways in which our days unfolded. Not only do these traditions help us stay abreast of the daily activities in each others’ lives, but it helps to keep us close.
On a personal level, I am most proud of my successful trip crossing the Alps in Europe. In 2010, I went on this trek with a few friends and colleagues, and I am proud to report that this outing has become an annual tradition. Each year, in the spirit of adventure, we choose a different route to take throughout the trek, and it fuels our love of the unknown. Individually, the success of this trek is personally gratifying. However, these is also a bonding spirit involved in successfully partaking in this annual journey with the same people. At 6,000 feet high in altitude, after hours of exhaustive hiking, there’s nothing like looking in the eyes of your comrades, and sharing in the proud moments together.