From research to career in marketing - Veterinary Practice
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From research to career in marketing

talks to Gaynor Hillier of Novartis Animal Health about her career in the technical, marketing and management sides of the animal health industry

GAYNOR Hillier, general
manager UK and Ireland for
Novartis Animal Health, had her
heart set on a career in research
when she left university with a
BSc(Hons) in biology.

But after finding that path to be
less fulfilling than she had hoped, she
moved into the world of animal
health, joining NOAH as technical
executive in 1990, staying there for
four years before joining Mycofarm,
part of Intervet UK, and filling
various local marketing
roles while completing a
postgraduate diploma
from the Institute of
Marketing. Eventually she
was appointed director of
international marketing at
Intervet International.

Gaynor moved to Novartis
Animal Health in 2008 and worked
for a time in the US before returning
to the UK and taking up her present
position in 2011.

JA. What was it that drew you into the
world of animal health?
GH. After university I spent two
years working in isolation in research,
which I did not enjoy because I am a
people-person, even though research
was what I had always wanted to do.

I did one of those degrees when
you spend a year out in industry in
research, working with Whitbread in
their biochemistry lab and I
thoroughly enjoyed that. I graduated,
went into research and really
struggled with it.

It was one of those things where I had built up an expectation around
what a career in research would be
but when I was doing it as a real job
it just didn’t deliver for me.

JA. So what next?

GH. I saw a job advertised for the
National Office of Animal Health
(NOAH) in the New Scientist and
applied – successfully. I was there for
four years and learned a huge amount
from some great people. I also did six
months at FEDESA, which doesn’t exist any more and is now part of
IFAH, in Brussels on secondment
from NOAH.

But it was time to move on and I
had discussions with various
organisations in the industry but
Alvin Cerely [then of Mycofarm,
later with Vétoquinol] had the first
conversation with me about
marketing. I had wanted to go into
regulatory affairs: in my time at
NOAH I worked closely with the
VMD on technical and legislative
issues and I enjoyed the political side
of regulatory.

But Alvin said, “Why don’t you
put the skills that you have in the
regulatory world to full effect in the
marketing world?” I thought he was
crazy. Anyhow, I joined Mycofarm at
Cambridge and was involved in
marketing various products.

Mycofarm was taken
over by Intervet which
launched Cardiovet and it
was very exciting to bring
an ACE inhibitor to the
veterinary market as the
first company to move into
that area. Rob Morris was
appointed product manager
to launch it and I worked
closely with him [Rob now
runs a pharmacy group in
Northamptonshire and is
the pharmacy
representative on the VPC.]

I stayed in product
management and marketing until 1999 when Intervet acquired
Hoechst and then I went through the
merger with Hoechst, moved into a
marketing manager role and took on
the companion animal products that
Hoechst had.

Many individuals in animal health
have been through mergers and
acquisitions and will know it is a very
demanding time and can be very
internally focused. We came out the
other end with a lot of new people
and a new business structure.

The move towards companion
animal and livestock business units
with sales, technical and marketing
working closely together presented a
great career opportunity for me. I
was offered the post of business unit
head in Intervet in 2003, which was a
big challenge but a great learning

Then came one of the bigger
career discussions of my life: my
aspirations were to move into the
European and global fields with
companion animal but instead I was
offered the chance to head up the
livestock business unit. So I changed
from companion animals to livestock.

This was 2005, a time of major
changes to the Common Agricultural
Policy; cash flow was under great
pressure for farmers and the animal
health business was
impacted. It was an
incredibly challenging
time but interesting
and another incredible
learning experience.

JA. You obviously enjoy
fresh challenges … so what
was the next one?
GH. When I have the
chance to talk to team
members now about
coaching and
development opportunities, I always
say the biggest learning opportunity
comes from moving totally out of
your comfort zone into an area you
know nothing about; and you really
have to bring all of your leadership
skills to bear.

Two years after my switch to
livestock I was offered the global
head of marketing position. Looking
back, there was no way I’d have gone
from business unit head companion
animals to that position.

I relocated to Boxmeer in The
Netherlands and that was a great time
to start looking at different countries
globally. With all the changes –
AkzoNobel selling off Intervet and
then Intervet Schering-Plough
coming together – I left Intervet in
August 2008 and joined Novartis.

Novartis had an opening in the US for vice-president of companion
animal marketing, so I went back to
my companion animal roots but in a
company where parasitology was at
the core of what they did, and in the
heartworm market in the US which is
unlike anything that we are familiar
with in Europe.

It was interesting, I met some
really great people and found myself
on another steep learning curve. But
when I had been there for around
two and a half years I was offered
this position back in the UK.

It was a great opportunity to
move back and take on a general manager
role. Not having
worked in Novartis in
theUK,it was a
totally different

My other half,
Drew, and I were both
very sad to leave the
US. He had worked
for Elanco for 26
years and gave up his
role there, taking early retirement to go to the US with me.
There are many men who have
travelled around the world with their
roles and taken their wives with
them: I have done it the other way

JA. What surprised you most about
working in the States?

GH. Just the enormity of the
country, the size of everything. We
had a sales team of 200 people and a
veterinary team of more than 25, one
for each of the Novartis sales
districts. Nothing prepares you for
that in our market.

Relationships between companies
are more competitive in the US, for
example in terms of trying to deal
with a marketing competition issue or
an advertising issue that here in the
UK would be dealt with under the

NOAH code of practice. In the US it
is the FDA that regulates advertising.

JA. What about your management style
and UK management in general?

GH. In my opinion one of the
biggest challenges in the corporate
world is decision-making – the speed
in making decisions, how the decision
process works and how many people
need to be involved before actually
making the final decision.

We always try to look at the
business from the customer-centred
perspective and put ourselves in our
customers’ shoes.

They must sometimes think,
“Why does it take a team of people
to meet three times before they make
a decision that to me seems very
straightforward?” And I can
absolutely understand why customers
are frustrated by that approach; I can
understand why our sales team phone
in and say “they are always in

It’s the way of corporate life but
it would be great to look at
improving the whole understanding
of the decision process and speed it

I like to be action-focused, I want
it done and to be done now. I am not
very patient. We have considerable
amounts of autonomy at local country levels within Novartis. There
are some very strict controls applied
but providing you work within the
legal, competitive, financial and
compliance controls, you can go and
do it. And I love that.

As far as my management style is
concerned, I would like to think I am
open, direct, approachable, energetic
and positive.

JA. How are things developing in the

GH. Our recent move to the
Watchmoor estate in Frimley has
really brought about a sense of
ownership and independence to the
animal health unit. We’ve arrived!

We have a global manufacturing
site in Dundee which manufactures
some products for the US market
along with all of our ecto-
parasiticides and flukicides. We have
recently had approval for a
substantial investment there to
increase our capacity and offer more

Our business in the UK is split
roughly 60/40 between companion
animal and livestock and we have an
aqua business as well. This is small
but rapidly developing business; our
customers are primarily fish farms in
Scotland and the Faroes, and we are
responsible for that from here with a team of two people who look after it.
We cover Ireland as well and also
look after pigs and poultry, which are
small divisions.

JA. What do you do in your spare time?

GH. It used to be cycling but is more
walking these days – particularly getting
to know the area around us where there
are some beautiful walks. Yoga is my
“thing”. I needed two hip surgeries four
years ago and post-surgery the medical
recommendation was to increase my flexibility, so I took up yoga and I’ve
found it makes a huge difference.

Drew is a big cyclist and he has just
done a Land’s End to John O’Groats
ride for charity. I used to do cycling but
he’s a serious cyclist and I’m really just
up for a Sunday afternoon potter to the

I grew up with pets but ever since I
started work, moving around constantly
and not home much during the week, I
don’t have time for pets in my life right

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