Supporting the Next Generation of Leaders at Pfizer

When I think about the next generation of leaders in the workforce today, I often think of the seismic shifts these twenty and thirty-somethings have seen in their relatively short time in the professional world.

Many Millennials – roughly, those born from 1981 to 1995 – entered the workforce at the height of a financial crisis and Great Recession that sent shock waves through the world economy. Now, the oldest members of Gen Z – roughly, those born from 1995 to 2010 – are starting their careers during a global pandemic and growing cultural movement around equity and racial justice.

Having lived through these era-defining moments at such a young age, it should come as no surprise that our Millennial and Gen Z colleagues have a markedly different view of work than their predecessors. This isn’t to say that their outlook is negative or pessimistic – quite the opposite. In my experiences, they are often more optimistic about their future and the future of work than previous generations.

But, as we think about how to welcome, retain and develop this next generation of leaders in the workplace, understanding the differences between them and their predecessors is crucial to creating company cultures where they can grow and thrive.

As the leader of Pfizer’s Oncology division, I’ve found there are three key aspects of work that Millennials and Gen Zers view differently than previous generations: Purpose, Diversity and Inclusion and Growth and Development.

Study after study, including a recent analysis from Deloitte, show that professionals in their twenties and thirties are more likely to place importance on a company’s purpose and values than older professionals. Simply put, they expect the companies they work for to have a clear purpose, and to stand by it.

Sure, these concepts seem straightforward enough and you might even be thinking, “my company already does that.” But, let’s explore what this looks like in practice. Most Millennials and Gen Zers came of age in the era of smartphones and social media – so they are not afraid to make their voices heard and hold companies accountable for their actions (or inactions). Gone are the days of companies staying silent on important societal issues. Young people understand that businesses and society are intrinsically intertwined, and they expect companies – and the men and women who lead them – to use their voices, resources and influence to effect positive social change.

The first step to effecting this change is to have a clearly established purpose that delivers value to people beyond your shareholders, including to employees, communities and more. At Pfizer, our purpose is breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. It fuels everything we do and reflects our passion to do good in the world and support the places in which we operate. It’s why we have been working around the clock to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in record time, while continuing to adhere to our high standards of quality, safety and scientific integrity. At the same time, we are also finding new ways to support people living with cancer and other serious diseases throughout the pandemic, such as expanding at-home delivery of Pfizer medications and accelerating the use of digital and virtual tools in our clinical trials.

Diversity and Inclusion:
There’s an undeniable business case for advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that diverse companies are more profitable, drive more innovation and creativity and have more engaged and productive workforces. They are also more likely to attract top talent, especially Millennial and Gen Z talent.

Millennials and Gen Zers are the most diverse generations in the workforce today in terms of race, ethnicity and gender. They have seen the benefits of diversity and inclusion first-hand – and have made it clear that it matters to them when choosing an employer.

This means that business leaders should be taking actions to foster more diverse and inclusive environments at every level of their organizations. At Pfizer, we’ve made this a priority from top to bottom, starting by recruiting interns for our undergraduate Summer Student Worker Program from traditionally underrepresented communities. Hiring interns from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds builds diversity in our organization from the ground up, while creating a sustained shift toward a more diverse workforce going forward. We have also committed to increasing minority representation within our leadership teams, especially amongst Black and Latinx colleagues.

Beyond Pfizer’s walls, we are connecting with diverse Gen Z talent by participating in career development programs for local high school students and sponsoring STEM education programs in the communities in which we operate. We are also working to tackle health inequities that disproportionally impact people of color or older people – by supporting community education initiatives around cancer prevention and treatment in underserved areas.

Companies that don’t put an emphasis on diversity and inclusion risk their younger employees becoming disengaged and may even prevent top talent from applying in the first place. In today’s environment, it has never been more vital to a company’s success and it’s a non-negotiable for Millennials and Gen Zers.

Growth and Development:
Young people entering the workforce today expect less rigidity and more flexibility when it comes to charting their career path and are more likely to seek out self-development and training opportunities. They are also much more willing to change jobs to find these opportunities than previous generations. A recent Gallup report reveals that 21% of Millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-Millennials who report the same. The lesson for companies is that they need to support young people’s interest in continual career growth and create opportunities for mentorships, shadowing and other forms of development. Mentorship opportunities are particularly important for younger employees, as a mentor can be a catalyst for enriching their career journeys.

At Pfizer, our Marketing Rotational Program offers MBA graduates the opportunity to gain a foundation of experiences in core marketing functions across our different business units, to empower the development of future marketing leaders and general managers within the company. Throughout the program, colleagues have access to various career and leadership skills development opportunities and have the chance to network not only with fellow rotational colleagues and program alumni, but also with senior leaders across the company.

I participated in a similar program after I graduated from business school, and I often think about how formative it was for me in my twenties. There’s no doubt that meeting with and learning from so many talented people was beneficial as I navigated my own career path. It’s one of the reasons that I helped establish the Marketing Rotational Program at Pfizer, to ensure our company could offer these experiences to up-and-coming leaders.

Millennials and Gen Zers will soon make up most of the workforce. Developing these leaders of tomorrow is an imperative that all companies and business leaders should take seriously. Our companies will be better for it.

About the author

Andy Schmeltz

Andy Schmeltz

Pfizer, Global President & General Manager, Oncology

Andy Schmeltz is the Global President and General Manager of Pfizer Oncology. In this role, he leads the team responsible for Pfizer's industry-leading portfolio of 23 innovative cancer medicines and biosimilars that reached more than 568,000 people living with cancer worldwide in 2019.

Under Andy’s leadership, the business has experienced tremendous and continued growth. In 2019, he championed the $11.4 billion acquisition of Array BioPharma Inc. to strengthen the division's leadership in cancer care and expand the company's portfolio into additional areas of unmet medical need. 

Beyond oncology, Andy has held numerous leadership positions in different therapeutic areas during his 25 years in the healthcare industry, including cardiovascular-metabolic, neuroscience and pain, infectious disease, inflammation and immunology, as well as consumer health. Prior to his current role, he was Senior Vice President of Pfizer’s Patient & Health Impact division, where he was accountable for demonstrating the value of Pfizer’s medicines and vaccines as well as ensuring people around the world gain affordable, timely access to these products. Before joining Pfizer, Andy worked at Abbott Laboratories.

Throughout his career, Andy has led diverse teams that consistently deliver strong results by setting a compelling vision that instills purpose and creating an open culture where people feel inspired and can be their best selves. Andy believes that by building a trusted environment where people can stretch for excellence – business and society will thrive together.

Andy has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Columbia University, and his Master of Business Administration from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.

Connect with Andy on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter