Real Humans of Novartis: Chris Fan, NYU Stern ‘20, Finance Development Program (FDP) Associate
Based in the heart of bustling New York City, NYU offers students an invigorating atmosphere to learn and grow — and its business school, the Stern School of Business, is no exception. Unlike many other universities where students are confined to a particular campus, at NYU, students can call Manhattan, the area around Washington Square Park and Downtown Brooklyn their classrooms. This urban location, which offers extended opportunities, is also reflected in NYU Stern’s curriculum. Packed with experiential learning courses, this business school attracts many hands-on learners every year. For those looking for a unique — and busy — business school experience, NYU Stern is often at the top of the list. This was the case for Chris Fan, NYU Stern MBA ‘20, who took advantage of the ceaseless opportunities at NYU Stern.
From participating in Endless Frontier Labs, where MBA students are paired with a startup to help the company define and execute on strategic priorities, to numerous experiential learning courses, to being co-president of the Stern Healthcare Association, Chris Fan was able to personalize his time at NYU for a memorable and meaningful experience that shaped his career. His most notable experience, however, was his summer internship where he participated in a rotational program for future finance leaders and CFOs at Novartis.
This leading global pharmaceutical company, which uses innovative science and digital technologies to create transformative treatments in areas of great medical need, was the perfect fit for Chris Fan, who always had a strong interest in healthcare.
Keep reading this edition of Real Humans: Alumni to see how this biomedical engineer solidified his pivot into the business side of healthcare and how this led him to an unexpected but exciting global career.
Chris Fan, NYU Stern ‘20, Finance Development Program (FDP) Associate at Novartis
Hometown: Hampton, NH
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Boston University: B.S. in Biomedical Engineering; Columbia University: M.S. in Mechanical Engineering
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration: New York University, Stern School of Business Class of 2020: Healthcare and Strategy
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 1 year, consulting; 2 years, business analyst
Why did you choose to attend business school? I’ve had a strong interest in healthcare since college. As a biomedical engineer at Boston University, I had the opportunity to be at the forefront of biomedical research in a leading biotech hub, which really piqued my interest in the space and led me to pursue a master’s degree in engineering. However, part way through the master’s program, I came to the realization that what really drove me was not a passion for bench science, but a love for the industry. So, I ventured down a different path in the healthcare industry by pursuing business, which led me to my first full-time job as a generalist strategy consultant, and then to business school, which I saw as an opportunity to solidify my pivot into the business side of healthcare.
Why NYU Stern? Which factors influenced your decision? Besides the eminent faculty and the accomplished student body, what drove my decision to attend NYU Stern was its location. Being in New York City, NYU Stern affords its students unique opportunities that many other schools cannot. Students can attend class in the morning, leave campus to network with an alum, and still make it back in time for their next class or meeting. NYU Stern’s curriculum also reflects this location advantage through its host of experiential learning courses. For example, I participated in Endless Frontier Labs, a program for early stage deep tech and life sciences startups housed at NYU Stern. Through this program, MBA students are paired with a startup to help the company define and execute on strategic priorities. Students also participate in real-time mentorship meetings, through which they are given the opportunity to collaborate with industry leaders and VCs.
What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice? I participated in Novartis’ Finance Development Program (FDP) Summer Internship, a rotational program for future finance leaders and CFOs. Beyond the career acceleration and broad business exposure, what attracted me to this internship was the global focus of the program. As a U.S.-based FDP Associate, your first year is the U.S. and the second year is at the global headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Looking back, having a global career was not something I was actively looking for, but the FDP made me reflect on my priorities and led me to make an unexpected but exciting career choice.
Why did you choose to work for your current company? Which factors influenced your decision? Novartis stood out to me the mostly due to its focus on innovation. Under our CEO Vas Narasimhan’s leadership, the core business was transforming quickly through the commercialization of cell and gene therapies and other next-generation platform technologies. However, the innovation didn’t just stop there. On the operations side, the company was also leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to reinvent how we perform critical activities like clinical trials management and financial planning. This strategic focus on data and digital was a refreshing direction among traditional pharmaceuticals companies and made me extremely excited to join the company.
How did your MBA experience prepare you for your current career? My MBA experience was crucial to the development of my collaboration, problem solving, and leadership skills. Team projects were a critical component of most classes and were always rewarding exercises due to the quality and diversity of my classmates. Whether we were developing statistical models to evaluate the attractiveness of markets for Airbnb operators or determining the equity value of a company, my classmates always brought new ways of thinking and working that helped me grow. Additionally, MBA courses, in particular experiential learning courses, are great opportunities to become comfortable with ambiguity and to practice putting structure around an amorphous problem. For example, through Stern Consulting Corps, our team was tasked with finding new revenue opportunities for a health information website. We considered everything from subscription boxes to premium content and the sky was the limit, which we came to realize was both an opportunity and a challenge. Finally, I was fortunate enough to further develop my leadership skills by being Co-President of the Stern Healthcare Association MBA student club. In this role, with the partnership of another amazing Co-President, I helped lead the organization by streamlining our marketing communications and gaining new sponsors.
How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans? COVID has disrupted the Pharma industry much like it has others. Associates are now presented with new challenges like defining what work from home means – especially when you never really leave home – and how to maximize our productivity in this new normal. Businesses are also forced to tackle old issues with a new sense of urgency, like assessing what in-person activities can be effectively replaced with virtual solutions. Most importantly, COVID has shown us that everyone becomes a patient at some point. People now have a glimpse of how the industry innovates to impact patient lives and the industry is focusing on continuing that dialogue.
As for my career plans, I am thankful that in the short-term my timeline remains unchanged and that my international rotation will carry on as planned. In the long-term, given that COVID is driving many companies to give associates more flexibility regarding how and when they work, I expect even more global opportunities will be available to me and everyone else
What advice would you give to a current MBA student? Business school is such a perfect opportunity to learn, experiment, and grow. So, my advice – or reminder – is to be bold. Take that class that may only be peripherally related to your career goals but that you are interested in. Cold-message that person on LinkedIn who works at a company you love, but you have no connection to. Make the most out of opportunities that are given to you and, in some cases, create your own opportunities. Your future self will thank you for it!
What do you wish you would have known? I wish I knew about the espresso bar with the $2 menu before my second year in business school!
Is there anything you would have done differently? Because I knew what I wanted to do post-MBA when I joined NYU Stern, I concentrated heavily on developing my healthcare knowledge and experience during school. Looking back, I think I would have told myself to let loose and explore more, perhaps by taking more classes unrelated to my exact career goals.
Learn about more business school alumni like Chris Fan by exploring our Real Humans: Alumni series.