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Real Humans of J&J: Peter Zhang, Toronto Rotman PharmD/MBA ’22, Marketing Associate

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In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Marketing Associate Peter Zhang reflects on his time at Toronto Rotman, where he earned an MBA as well as a Doctor of Pharmacy. Read on for how the dynamic school and community supported his current work at Johnson & Johnson.

Peter Zhang, Toronto Rotman PharmD/MBA ’22, Marketing Associate at Johnson & Johnson

Age: 27
Hometown: Thornhill
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Toronto, Immunology & Human Biology
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): Rotman School of Management, 2022, Combined Doctor of Pharmacy/MBA
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 3 years, PharmD Student at Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, Healthcare
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 1 year, Marketing Associate at Johnson & Johnson, Pharmaceuticals/Healthcare
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Why did you choose to attend business school?
As an undergraduate student, I had a number of exposures to leadership roles that really inspired me and gave me the confidence to pursue business. From serving on student council to working as a residence don, I knew that I wanted to have a broader impact on people and communities complementary to my role as a healthcare professional. So when the option to pursue a combined PharmD/MBA degree came up, I jumped on the chance to combine a technical skillset in healthcare with a management one. I figured that through business school, I could broaden my perspective and open the door to more career opportunities that lie in the intersection of healthcare and business.

Why Toronto Rotman? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Rotman was the perfect fit in terms of location, courses, and people. For me, it was the obvious choice as Rotman is the only school in Ontario, Canada that offers the combined PharmD/MBA program. I was also eager to take on learning opportunities in the machine learning space at Rotman, as there were a number of professors who taught classes in this area. Lastly, there is a wealth of companies clustered within the Greater Toronto Area that are connected with Rotman and I knew that as a Rotman student I would be able to expand my network across multiple industries.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
Apart from brand management and strategy courses that directly support my work in marketing, I also benefited greatly from my machine learning classes. Advanced analytics was a key focus in my time at Rotman and the technical skills learned when working with Python and Excel were critical to my current role. I also benefited greatly from the experiential learning opportunities at Rotman. My time spent as a Rotman Board Fellow at Hemophilia Ontario, a non-for-profit patient advocacy group for bleeding disorders, allowed me to work on strategic planning and governance skills. As a student in a global practicum, the opportunity to work for a granola company on export strategy gave me practical insights on how to bring a product into the global market. All these experiences have made me more well-rounded and versatile when advancing my career forwards.

What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
My internship was at Johnson & Johnson where I was staffed in the therapeutic area of dermatology. I worked on a biologic that treated plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. It was a really fulfilling experience where I got to learn a lot more about the commercial side of the pharmaceutical industry. The people I worked with and the impact of the projects I led convinced me to return post-MBA.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
From a professional perspective, I felt that Johnson & Johnson was the right intersection between healthcare and business. I enjoyed the scientific nature of the work, and I was humbled by the growth opportunities in learning how to make good strategic and tactical decisions. Moreover, the company credo was congruent with my identify as a practicing hospital pharmacist where patients come first. Lastly, the innovation and opportunity in leading novel machine learning projects was a strong sell as I knew I wanted to be at the forefront of emerging technologies within the healthcare space.

How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
I think COVID really made me think more about the importance of work-life balance. There was a time before the pandemic where I was really focused on my output and productivity, and I felt that COVID helped me prioritize spending time with family back at home. During the pandemic, I moved back home from downtown Toronto as I was taken off my clinical duties at my teaching hospital site, and as a result I found the time to pursue hobbies like sketching and writing that really made me happy. When I looked at where I would want to start my career, my experience through COVID led me to prioritize aspects such as remote/hybrid work and having enough time to pursue interests outside of work.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Reach out and talk to industry leaders! Don’t be afraid to talk to an executive at a company you want to work at, this is the perfect time. I found that most people made extra effort to help students and I was glad I took the initiative to reach out and build industry connections with senior leaders.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I wish I signed up for more clubs that were non-career focused. There were a good number of clubs that were really interesting that I wish I made the time for, like the culinary club. Instead, I was too caught up prioritizing studying, networking, and clinical obligations to enjoy myself.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
I was surprised by the number of rounds and the types of technical questions that were asked during my MBA internship recruitment cycle. As someone who did not have working or industry recruitment experience prior to coming to the MBA, the length of time it took, and the depth of the process felt unique, and the style of interviewing was different to one you would find at a hospital.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
As a student it was easy to focus on the things that you feel comfortable with, and for me that was healthcare. I wish I was told to take more risks. There were a lot of missed opportunities when it came to being more engaged with entrepreneurship, working in startups, and being involved in venture capital and I believe it was because I was risk averse when it came to deciding how to invest my time. When I reflect on my time with Rotman a year down the road, I’ve come to realize that the MBA program is meant to be a journey of self-discovery and school is the perfect time to take risks and pressure test disciplines that are completely outside of the comfort zone.

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