by Patricia Keener, Head of Early and Mid Careers
An interest in stem cells, gene therapy, and the value of wanting to help people has been the thread running throughout MBA 2016 Crystal Ruff’s career. She is currently a Senior Executive on the Life Sciences Strategy Consulting Team at Ernst & Young (EY) Parthenon.
What were you doing before you came to LBS?
I was involved with cell and molecular biology and neuroscience research, looking at whether stem cells could be used to help kids with brain injuries and adults with spinal cord injuries.. After my PhD I had the privilege to work with one of the world’s foremost spinal surgeons, who said to me that a PhD wasn’t enough for where the field is going, and that I would need something else. I could have pursued either an MD or an MBA, but after researching LBS and being offered the prestigious Jeremy Asher Scholarship, I decided to explore the commercial aspect of the work I was doing and take the MBA. I came to LBS, where my life was changed.
Did you have a clear idea of where you wanted to go after your MBA?
No and I still don’t, because the field is growing so fast that we can’t predict where it will be next year, let alone in 5-10 years! I wanted to stay aligned with my values and interests. At the same time, I wanted to take time to explore different possibilities and how what I already had to offer might connect with the growing possibilities of work in biotechnology. I began experimenting and trying things out. After completing my first TEDx talk through LBS , I got involved in student healthcare at the school – being elected as President of the Healthcare club, started the advisory board, health tech challenge, youth health parliament, and got involved more with the Career Centre by establishing two career reps in the club.
How did you prioritise where to focus your energy?
The best piece of advice I received early on came from Professor Alex Edmans, who not only teaches Corporate Finance but also teaches you about life. He gave a talk about things he wished he knew when he did his MBA. He said every single day you will be presented with multiple, really interesting options of how to spend your time. They are all going to be really interesting and high-profile opportunities. What you need to do is to remember why you’re here. Take the opportunities that point you in the direction of where you want to go in the end. It applies to all areas of life, keep your goal in mind, and each day, take little steps toward it. There are lots of shiny things that can distract you, but choose what will take you to a place where you want to be. I found that advice helpful in determining where to put my energy.
How did you leverage the MBA and the LBS community to get more experience?
I am an active member of the LBS alumni network. In fact, my two most recent roles and several consulting engagements came through LBS connections and opportunities. In the last role, wanting to give back to the LBS community, I engaged my employer to create LondonCAP projects for the programme’s first 2 years and to sponsor the Healthcare club and Health Tech Challenge (that I had previously started). I have also engaged my current employer – EY Parthenon – to support this year’s LondonCAP program so I can hopefully replicate this success and support in the new role. I also took on board advice from Jurek Sikorski, Entrepreneur Mentor in Residence (EMiR) and Chairman of the Healthcare Club Advisory Board, “Don’t use the word internship. You are not a student intern. You are a consultant doing a project – and always make sure your employer understands it as such.” Because I had tracked my accomplishments and linked them to my career goals, I was able to negotiate a higher salary for my summer consulting project with a leading cell therapy company, leveraging not only my PhD and scientific background but the value of my MBA.
How did you get to the role you are in today?
After graduating, I worked as an independent consultant for a year and a half for different clients in the biotech, AI and VC space, such as Benevolent AI who are using AI to enable drug discovery and development. This gave me the chance to experiment with different business aspects and roles. One of my clients, who I met through an LBS connection, eventually asked me to stay on full time as lead of strategic initiatives and innovation in Europe Middle East and Africa. Whilst there, I started a $300 million genomics accelerator for early stage companies in the gene therapy/genomics space and completed a substantial fundraise. Hopefully, this will enable future discovery and entrepreneurship in this critical, growing field, both in Europe and beyond!
One key piece of advice for fellow MBA students:
Take time to build connections. Any business school can give you a business education, but what really sets LBS apart is the high-quality people you will meet along the journey. These don’t only exist in your class, but in other programmes, visiting students, school patrons and also in the great professors and staff that LBS boasts. Really dig in and help each other. Mentor and help your classmates when needed – you might be surprised that it doesn’t just flow one way! A great example of this has to do with my current job, which is a direct result of reverse-mentorship. Through the LBS community I had met a promising young woman, Sabrina Xu, who was a MiM alumna interested in the healthcare space and I agreed to mentor her in the technical aspect of Biotech. At the time she was at Deloitte and as we worked together, she made the move to EY Parthenon. She knew that I was also looking for my next role as well. Sabrina had a conversation with one of the partners who mentioned they wanted to grow in the three areas that were my technical specialities, as they wanted more strength in the technical areas. This led to the partner approaching me for an initial conversation and a few interviews later, I got the role! It’s proof that mentoring can work both ways. Networking with all of your amazing LBS compatriots is tremendously valuable; be sure to engage with everyone and maximise these amazing relationships!