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Careers in Toothpaste: How Fast-Moving Consumer Healthcare Is Changing Lives, Starting with Yours

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Toothpaste may seem like a humdrum household item but there’s more than meets the eye, especially if you’ve got your sights set on the healthcare industry

Business is booming, to put it mildly. In 2015, the United States spent more than $3.2 trillion on healthcare—approximately $9,990 per person. And around 13.5 percent of that is spent on retail sales of consumer healthcare products—like toothpaste.

To no one’s surprise, pharma isn’t half-bad either; the U.S. lays claim to more than 45 percent of the global pharma market, which is valued at around $446 billion. Signs show that the market continues to grow; forecasts predict that the world market will increase by 3.9 percent between 2015 and 2018, with 6 percent growth expected in emerging markets.

This brings us back to our main squeeze. Word on the street is that toothpaste is on the fast track, which means it’s no wonder that fast-moving consumer healthcare and pharma are great career paths. GSK leads the consumer healthcare business in five categories:

  • Oral health
  • Skin health
  • Pain relief
  • Respiratory health
  • Nutrition/gastrointestinal (GI) health

GSK is a leader in innovative healthcare products that make a real difference in consumers’ lives. But what is it actually like to work for a company like GSK? How does fast-moving consumer healthcare differ from other industries?

To gain more insight into what it’s like to work in the consumer healthcare industry, we talked to three current GSK employees who used their MBA degrees as springboards to jump-start their careers in consumer healthcare.

  • Jissan Cherian

The U.S. marketing director for GSK Consumer Healthcare, Jissan has worked in the healthcare industry for seven years since earning his MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.

  • Yana Volshmid

A customer sales manager at GSK, Yana joined the GSK Esprit programme in July 2016 after graduating with her MBA from the Graduate School of International Business (GSIB) of the Academy of National Economy under the Government of Russian Federation.

  • Lauren Smith

Since Feb 2018, Lauren has been the associate brand manager for Sensodyne at GSK. She completed her internship with GSK during her MBA program at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and began her career with GSK as part of the Esprit programme.

Why Should You Work in Fast-Moving Consumer Healthcare?

“The intersection between technology and consumer expectations for healthcare products makes this an incredibly exciting time to be a marketer in the healthcare industry,” explained Jissan. “As consumers leverage social media, wearables, and consume media across platforms, marketers are now tasked with making sure we understand the full consumer experience journey and have highly engaging and relevant communication with our consumers on their terms.”

Like every other industry, “consumer is king.” Nowhere is this more true than in healthcare. The only real marked difference relates to the products the company markets and sells, which in consumer healthcare, often have wide-reaching social ramifications. For Yana, the potential social impact that fast-moving consumer healthcare offered inspired her to make the jump from a role in traditional consumer marketing at PepsiCo.

Consumer Healthcare Makes a Social Impact

“At some point in your life, you start to think about what you want to devote your time and energy to,” said Yana. “I realised that I’d spent my life making people buy one product over another, but I wanted to do something bigger, something that really mattered. I realised that healthcare would close that gap for me—allowing me to continue in business while also making an impact.”

When you sell soda, you’re not offering to make someone’s life better or to have a positive impact. It’s a can of soda. On the other hand, consumer healthcare has a compelling social dimension that soft drinks lack.

There are thousands of consumer healthcare products that cover the entire spectrum from skin care to nutrition to over-the-counter self-care products and pharmaceuticals. These consumer goods are everywhere, and they are vital to many people’s lives. Working in consumer healthcare, it’s your job to market these innovative healthcare solutions.

“I personally decided to move into this industry almost a decade ago to seek out how my day-to-day work can have a meaningful impact on our patients and consumers,” said Jissan. “As I work to bring various consumer healthcare products to the market, I’m reminded of the high expectations that our consumers have of us as an industry to deliver quality healthcare products.”

Consumer Healthcare Requires the Same Expertise to Reach the Customer

A career in fast-moving consumer healthcare offers a perfect marriage between driving financial value and making a positive impact on the world. However, in the end, the healthcare industry isn’t vastly different from any other industry. Whether a company is marketing toothpaste or soda, the goal is still the same: to reach customers on a personal level and demonstrate why your product is best.

“Working in consumer healthcare isn’t that different from working in other industries. The main difference is that healthcare requires you to think about responsibility,” explained Yana. “In healthcare, you’re talking about health and changing people’s lives. It’s higher, more personal, responsibility than, say, soda. Other than that, it’s everything that you can dream of from the marketing perspective.”

In fact, the consumer healthcare industry requires marketers to be just as tech-savvy and knowledgeable about business as commercial marketing—potentially even more so. In healthcare, you have far more accountability when it comes to the products that you’re selling to customers, which can add a level of personal responsibility that is unique to the industry.

“Consumer healthcare products have a very important role in the lives of our patients, and therefore the conversation brands have with their consumers needs to be honest and relevant,” Jissan said.

“Consumers are more tapped into their personal health than ever before, and it is necessary for companies to understand that consumers are looking for both products and services to improve their overall health and wellness.”

Why GSK?

GSK is a healthcare company with a deep awareness of the role its products play in the lives of its consumers. For more than 160 years, GSK has been responsible for some of the world’s renowned healthcare brands from Sensodyne to Theraflu, Panadol, Polident, Voltaren, and more. These brands not only reflect the needs of the market but are backed by GSK’s commitment to research and quality.

“GSK is a fast-moving consumer healthcare company, which makes it an amazing place to be,” said Yana. “I’m so excited about the innovation and products that we have in both Consumer Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals.”

It’s this understanding that has allowed GSK to become a leader in the industry—they’re the #1 manufacturer of over-the-counter healthcare products in the world, having sold 18.5 billion products and reaching 1 billion consumers in 2014 alone. Whether you’re interested in nutrition, skin health, oral health, or wellness, there’s a category of product that fits within GSK’s mission.

But it’s more than just the product line that makes GSK a great place to work. It’s also about their employees. “Working for GSK Consumer Healthcare has been a wonderful experience. I get to work with talented people that have a fantastic mission to help patients do more, feel better, and live longer,” said Jissan.

GSK employs close to 100,000 people in 150 countries worldwide. Everyone who works for GSK becomes a part of an inclusive environment that brings together different perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to do good in the world. Working at GSK, you’re able to contribute to the world—giving you a real sense of purpose.

“GSK appealed to me because of their company values and the fact that they walk what they talk,” said Yana. “At first it was a risk, but after two years I can tell you that the risk was worth it. It changed my life completely, and I feel like I’m in the right place.”

When working for a company such as GSK, everything you do will have an impact. After all, one of the company’s core beliefs is based on the idea that “the only reason we can do good is because we have people doing well.” GSK is built upon the idea of a team environment in which every individual is expected to contribute to both the company and one other.

“At GSK, employees are enabled and expected to contribute from day one, and although I am still learning my role, I have been able and excited to contribute,” said Lauren. “I’ve been given incredible support right from the start in planning my next role, building my career development plan, and connecting with key GSK leaders.”

MBA graduates interested in exploring careers at GSK would do well to investigate the multi-year Esprit programme.

How Can You Begin Your Post-MBA Career in Fast-Moving Consumer Healthcare at GSK?

The Esprit programme is a three- to four-year rotational programme designed for exceptional MBA graduates. The goal of the programme is to offer individuals the opportunity to gain insight into various products and departments within GSK.

“The beauty of the Esprit programme is that you can choose any path you want in any country and any division,” said Yana. “It’s opened up so many doors for me and has already been an incredible adventure.”

There are three entry points into the Espirit programme: Finance, Procurement, and Commercial. Each of these programmes is tailored toward a specific job function and includes opportunities for global assignments, leadership training, and more.

Within the Commercial programme, there are a further three subtracks: Pharmaceuticals, Vaccines, and Consumer Healthcare. Each provides unique access to a commercial management career and is open to exceptional MBA graduates. In particular, the Consumer Healthcare Management track is exciting and challenging.

“The Esprit programme is truly unique in that it gives me the opportunity to build and strengthen my marketing skillset on a global scale,” explained Lauren. “Over the next four years, I will have the opportunity to hold four different roles across GSK—all of which will prepare me for a future leadership role within the company.”

  • Esprit Commercial Programme, Consumer Healthcare

The Esprit Commercial programme is all about helping develop future leaders in their knowledge of consumer healthcare both at home and in international markets—including Africa, Australia, Chile, and all over Europe. During their rotations, candidates take on a series of Commercial Management roles tailored to their interests. In each role, the candidate is involved in national and regional sales, marketing, and more.

“I joined GSK’s Commercial Esprit programme, where I had an opportunity to work across Marketing, Business Development, and Sales on three different continents,” said Jissan.

“The focus the company has on developing globally-adept leaders has made this one of the most rewarding experiences in my career,” Jissan continued. “During my time in the programme, I learned the importance of consumer-insights led decision making, leading and motivating teams, and honing in on the fundamentals of marketing in a digital age.”

“What would normally take a couple of years to do, I can do in 12 months within the Esprit programme,” Yana explained. “It moves quickly, but that’s what I love about it.”

  • Applying for GSK’s Esprit Programme

To land a slot in the Esprit programme is no easy task. GSK only invites exceptional MBA graduates with previous commercial business experience and a strong interest in the healthcare industry. Graduates must have a willingness to take accountability for their work, be flexible, adaptable, highly mobile, and work in a multi-national environment across cultures and skillsets.

“The Esprit programme is rigorous, and success is defined by being self-aware of your strengths, areas for opportunity, and long-term career goals,” said Lauren. “Further, this programme is a big (four-year) commitment, and so I would recommend that future candidates do their research and ask plenty of questions during the recruitment process.”

Applications open in the fall.

Reasons to Love GSK

“What I love about my job at GSK is that no one day is ever like the next. The reason why is that marketing is a highly engaging discipline that requires lots of cross-functional collaboration and problem-solving,” said Jissan.

“All that being said, GSK is still a fast-moving consumer healthcare company that values work-life balance, so we look to strike that important balance to make sure we, as employees, are also taking care of our personal health.”

“The secret to a happy career is finding a company that fits your values,” said Yana. “If you feel that you want to change the world to make it a better place, healthcare is an industry that can help you do that. As for GSK specifically, I think the company slogan wraps up everything you need to know: ‘Do More. Feel Better. Live Longer.’ Why wouldn’t you want to work at a place like that?”

“After four years in the Esprit programme, I plan to off-board into a competitive marketing position within GSK—moving me closer and closer to that CMO role,” said Lauren. “My Esprit experience will be instrumental in challenging me to build a global marketing skillset that will prepare me to be a global marketing leader. Further, the programme will enable me to connect with GSK employees and leaders across the globe —and coupled with my rotational experience—I will be better equipped to help others do more, feel better, and live longer.”

To learn more about GSK, the Esprit programme, and working in consumer healthcare, head on over to

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