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IU program aims to turn lab rats into leaders: Business training is tailor-made for scientists

July 7, 2008

Andrea Walker is a chemist with management aspirations. But instead of signing up for a traditional MBA program, the team manager at Indianapolis-based AIT Laboratories will enroll this year in a slimmed-down business program that focuses on the life sciences.

The program, called the Kelley Executive Certificate in the Business of Life Sciences, is a new creation of Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. The program will conduct most of its classes online over a one-year period.

The courses will hit the five core components of a master's of business administration degree: accounting, financial management, human resources, marketing and value chain. The twist is that the case studies and content will come from the life sciences industry.

"If you were in a typical MBA program, you may not get that connection to life sciences," said Walker, 28, who became manager of AIT's confirmations and certifications team earlier this year. AIT performs toxicology and other testing on biological samples for pharmaceutical, health care and other customers.

IU's goal is to give scientists the business skills to lead the companies that make up Indiana's growing life sciences sector, said George Telthorst, director of business development for IU's Center for the Business of Life Sciences.

Earlier this decade, academic, corporate and government leaders bet on the life sciences sector as the key driver of economic growth in Indiana. From 2001 to 2006, the state grew the number of bioscience jobs 9.2 percent, compared with 5.7-percent growth for the nation as a whole, according to a June 18 report from the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Telthorst spent a few months last fall talking to Indiana companies about their interest for such a program.

"Several of them said, 'It's a war out there for talent,'" Telthorst recalled.

So far, four companies have agreed to send employees to the program, which begins in September. In addition to AIT, they are Warsaw-based Symmetry Medical Inc., Jeffersonville-based MedVenture Technology and Beckman Coulter, a Californiabased maker of medical testing instruments that has operations in central Indiana.

Other companies that have expressed interest include Eli Lilly and Co., Cook Group and Zimmer Holdings Inc., Telthorst said, but he added that none of them have committed to send students.

Zimmer officials, for example, said the program could be a way to educate new marketing staff members on the peculiar regulations and rules of the life sciences and health care industries.

"They're probably good at doing commercials and things like that. But the whole question of label claims, market to patients but don't antagonize doctors. All of this is important to them," Telthorst said.

Telthorst also is trying to recruit from health care companies in surrounding states. Earlier in June, he made trips to Chicago and St. Louis.

Telthorst wants to have 25 to 45 students signed up when the program kicks off in September in Indianapolis.

IU business professors will teach the courses over the Internet, including business economist Larry Davidson.

The face-to-face time will be a week of classes in June in Indianapolis that cover human resources.

The course costs $15,000. That's expensive, acknowledges Michael Evans, CEO of AIT Laboratories. But the company is paying that money on Andrea Walker's behalf because he thinks she's the kind of employee who could one day lead the whole company.

And the company keeps getting bigger. It has 220 employees now and is on pace to double its revenue this year.

"We're going to need people to move up as we continue to grow," Evans said.
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