The Wharton MBA encourages students to develop an international mindset. From required global-focused core classes, international dual-degree programs, and global consulting opportunities, Wharton’s MBA students gain global perspectives. That’s what attracted Drew Soloski, Wharton MBA ‘16, to Wharton, where he pursued a joint degree program with the Lauder Institute that allowed him to study the Chinese language and travel the world — all while earning his business degree.
Beyond allowing him to explore his international interests, earning his MBA helped fill in the necessary gaps for him to pivot into a career in business and management. After an unbelievable experience interning at L.E.K. Consulting, Drew returned there full-time but eventually wanted the opportunity to lead business transformations from to start to finish, which is why he joined Merck. His experience at Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, has exposed him to a deeper layer of business issues — from dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic to thinking about launch strategies for life-saving drugs.
As a member of Merck’s General Management Acceleration Program, a two-year program sponsored by the CEO to develop future global leaders, Drew Soloski has had many exciting experiences, including leading product development strategy for a new vaccine and drug candidate. Later this year, he will even get the opportunity to move to Tokyo, Japan to work within Merck’s oncology franchise.
In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, we hear from Drew Soloski about how his Wharton MBA has opened up doors he didn’t even know existed, like tackling some of the biggest challenges in healthcare and trekking to Japan. Read on for his full story.
Drew Soloski, Wharton ’16, Project Manager, Global Project and Alliance Management – Oncology & Vaccines (Late Stage) at Merck
Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa
Undergraduate Institution and Major: The University of Iowa: double major in Chinese Language and Literature and Psychology
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Class of 2016: Strategic Management; I also earned an MA at the Lauder Institute, which offers a joint degree program with Wharton, with a concentration in Chinese language and international business
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 4.5 years, Albright Stonebridge Group; 1 year, Fulbright Scholarship; 1 year, Government
Why did you choose to attend business school? I was 100% a “career switcher” and going to business school was the vehicle for me to do that. I had accumulated a lot of great experience in the public sector, but realized I wanted a career in business and management. What I lacked at the time were the hard skills to get me there, such as an understanding of finance, accounting, and management. Business school allowed me to develop these skills as well as explore new areas needed for me to be successful in management, like leadership and communication.
Why Wharton? Which factors influenced your decision? Wharton was really the perfect fit for me. It offered an outstanding education in the areas where I had gaps, such as finance and accounting, but also allowed me to continue to explore my international interests. I attended Wharton’s joint degree program with the Lauder Institute, where I studied another language and traveled all over the world.
I’d say the other crucial factor was the program’s strong track record of preparing students for a career in management. While I was interested in working in consulting right after school, I knew long-term I wanted to work in general management. Wharton alumni are present in nearly every industry, but some of the greatest leaders in business have graduated from the school. I thought this alumni network could help me throughout my career.
What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice? I came into business school as a political science nerd. I felt more comfortable writing essays than manipulating spreadsheets. So, I wanted an internship with rigor that would expose me to a broad set of business challenges. I decided to intern at L.E.K. Consulting and had an unbelievable experience and returned there full-time.
My internship ended up actually being a really formidable experience for me long-term. Not only was I presented with really challenging business issues, but it also exposed to me to a variety of industries, like healthcare. I’m really grateful for this experience, since healthcare has become passion of mine. I’m currently working in general management at Merck & Co, a global pharmaceutical leader.
Why did you choose to work for your current company? After about three years in consulting, I felt like I had gained many core skills that would serve me well in business. However, what was missing for me was the opportunity to lead business transformations from to start to finish. I decided to leave consulting to join Merck, where I knew I could help tackle some of the biggest challenges in healthcare.
At Merck, I’ve been exposed to a deeper layer of business issues — from dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic to thinking about launch strategies for life-saving drugs. I’ve also been able to take advantage of the incredible professional development resources Merck puts towards advancing and developing talent. I recently joined Merck’s General Management Acceleration Program, which is a two-year program sponsored by the CEO to develop future global leaders. Within this program, I’ve been able to take on new stretch assignments, such as leading product development strategy for a new vaccine and drug candidate. Later this year, my family and I will move to Tokyo, Japan, where I’ll work in finance within our oncology franchise. This wide array of business experiences is exactly what I have been looking for to accelerate my career in healthcare and general management.
How did your MBA experience prepare you for your current career? My experience at Wharton has been essential for my career. Not only did it help me develop the core skills needed to be successful in business, but it also created new opportunities for my growth and development. If you would have asked me five years ago whether I’d be moving to Japan to work in management within a global leader in healthcare, I probably would have called you crazy. However, that’s what my MBA experience has done for me: it has opened up doors I didn’t even know existed.
How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans? COVID-19 has impacted my career in multiple ways. Merck is actively involved in responding to the pandemic through developing therapeutics to treat COVID-19 as well as in aiding the manufacture of vaccine. For me personally, COVID-19 has renewed my sense of purpose to work at Merck, where we are creating medicines and vaccines that make a real difference for people and their families.
What advice would you give to a current MBA student? What do you wish you would have known? Is there anything you would have done differently? Looking back on my MBA experience and career after school, I’d really say 3 things:
- Be open-minded: I went to business school with a plan, but also kept open the door to dream and explore new possibilities. This took me on eye-opening school trips across the world — from studying tourism in Bhutan to the fashion industry in Paris — but, more importantly, this mindset allowed me to discover and develop a career in healthcare. I never would have anticipated my road would take me to Merck, but by purposefully seeking out new experiences it has and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
- Take risks and push yourself out of your comfort zone: in many ways, business school can be a safe space. However, when I look back, it was the uncomfortable experiences that I cherish the most. Whether that’s dancing in front of your peers or arguing a business case in class, the moments of greatest growth are often the ones that don’t feel natural.
- Use your time in business school to ruthlessly invest in yourself: you’ll likely never have another 1-2 years to pause your career and invest in yourself. Tell yourself it’s OK to be selfish with that time. Of course, if you have a significant other or kids, this doesn’t mean you should ignore them! But pick out the things in life you’ve always wanted to explore and pursue them ruthlessly — whether that’s launching a startup or taking an internship in a new industry. Now’s the time to do it.
Learn about more business school alumni like Drew Soloski by exploring our Real Humans: Alumni series.