Executive Manager Life Sciences and Healthcare

© Dr. Gunnar Grah

Working for the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, I support companies, industry clusters and research institutions from our state in their efforts to become more active internationally. Conversely, I am also assisting such entities from abroad if they want to establish ties to our state.

I am a biologist (diploma of the University of Freiburg) and hold a German Ph.D. in behavioural biology from Humboldt-Universität, Berlin. I spent one year as a visiting student at the University of the South Pacific, Suva/Fiji Islands.

I got my current job by applying to a publicly advertised position. I had no former ties to my current employer.

I guess what made my employers choose me was the combination of experience both as a scientist, as well as having worked as a science communicator in the years prior to my application. My current position requires to communicate with scientists and research-driven companies, as well as transporting the gained insights into the company, where no other person has a background in biology. Having worked as interim administration manager for a university institute and having been associated with a cluster of excellence may have helped, too.

A typical work day will involve some literature research into current developments in the healthcare sector, the life sciences, international economics in my field and activities of my home state. I meet regularly with colleagues to discuss projects of our company in terms of internationalization, will answer questions from life science clusters and companies, and contribute to activities of a network of European life science internationalization facilitators. Occasionally, I visit conferences and meetings in the healthcare sector, support my colleagues at the big trade shows in medical technology, and travel abroad to either prepare or implement activities for my company.

What I like most about my job is the diversity of topics that I work on, as well as developing and implementing concepts in order to help people with shared interests from all over the world to get together and develop new ideas. What I don’t care for that much are “networking events” where I don’t feel a clear sense of purpose.

The skills that I need in my job are, in no particular order: a curiosity for many different fields in the life sciences and the acceptance of being able to understand a little of everything, but not being an absolute expert in one specific topic; an understanding of the different requirements of science and industry; the ability to handle many different projects, cooperations and requests simultaneously; openness for different cultures; and fluent English skills.

The challenges of the future for an internationalization agency like ours, and, in extension, challenges for me will be to keep a competitive advantage over other institutions that also offer services in the field of internationalization. And we also will have to show why and where international contacts are important, even in times of more isolationist tendencies worldwide.

My academic training still helps me on a daily basis, because it allows me a critical assessment of the innovations that companies offer, it helps further in understanding current trends and their possible fields of application, and, perhaps most importantly, it allows me to quickly find promising matches between researchers, institutions and companies.

Coming from an academic employer, it would have been advantageous to get a better understanding of the economic side of the healthcare sector. But this is knowledge that can be gained through talks with company owners and industry clusters.