The MBA and Meaningful Work: Meet Jim Trenkle of Gilead Sciences


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As a successful bench research scientist for pharmaceutical developer Gilead Sciences, Jim Trenkle, MBA 16, found himself wondering about what came next in the life cycle from bench to bedside.

His team had been involved in the most successful pharmaceutical launch of all time: the Hepatitus C drug Harvoni earned revenues of $14 billion in its first year of sale.

But Jim became increasingly curious about later stages of the supply chain: How is a drug introduced into the marketplace? What is its long-term impact downstream? How will it benefit mankind?

Exploring outside the boundaries of his job title 

In a new role as senior manager of the Liver Disease Project, Jim moved from working on a single drug to managing the entire Hepatitis C and liver fibrosis portfolios. And still he wondered what lay beyond the parameters of his specific job title.

“I was interested in in thinking more deeply about business problems,” he remembers, “but pharma is not renowned for people development.” So he began considering an MBA as a path to more meaningful work.

(Wondering about your possible path to more meaningful work? Click here to get our five steps to making your next career move.)

While Gilead offered its own internal MBA course, Jim again challenged the culture’s thinking and applied to the evening weekend MBA program that excited him most: the one at Berkeley Haas. “People had also told me that portfolio management was an administrative role and wouldn’t be right for me,” he says, “but it didn’t hold me back. I was there for reasons of my own.”

Making the shift from science to business thinking

Once he joined the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program, he found the kind of practice and exposure to new disciplines he’d been seeking. As he learned basic business competence and financial modeling skills, the leap from science to business thinking came naturally. “I found ways to connect the work I was doing at Gilead with my coursework,” he says. “For my game theory course, I wrote a paper on pharmaceutical pricing. I looked for opportunities to marry the two in a synergistic way.”

During his three years in the EWMBA program, Jim made two more moves within Gilead – first to associate director of the Liver Disease Project and Portfolio Management and more recently to associate director of Commercial Planning for Liver Disease. His new degree prepared him to take on increased responsibilities for analyzing, forecasting, and decision-making. “Building on my basic science background, my new skills allow me to tie that into a financial model and put some hard numbers next to what a project could be worth,” he says.

The deeper satisfaction of a broader perspective

 With each internal move he’s made, Jim has found deeper satisfaction in the broader perspective he’s achieved on pharmaceutical development, from the raw science to its impact on patients, their families, and doctors. He credits his own iterative process with helping to determine what “more meaningful work” looks like, reflecting on his own values and motivations.

But his trajectory is far from over. “I don’t know where this journey’s taking me,” Jim says, “but I have an internal compass. As long as I’m aligned with my central purpose, each step is important. I own my individual story.”

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About The Author

Eileen is Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals. She enjoys meeting prospective students and helping them explore the benefits of an MBA, and hopes these blog posts provide valuable insight into the Berkeley MBA experience.