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How tapping into the HLS Leadership Network unlocked new insights and opportunities for this GEMBA-HLS '20 grad

September 2, 2020

Pierre Côte (GEMBA-HLS ’20) has graduated from the Global Executive MBA for Healthcare and the Life Sciences (GEMBA-HLS) program, but his days spent learning about new markets and traveling the world are far from over. Côte recently relocated from Montreal to Lyon, France to pursue a new three-year rotational program with Sanofi Pasteur.


Pierre Côte (GEMBA-HLS ’20)

He’s excited to dig into new projects and learn about all areas of this global organization, and he is still in disbelief about how this incredible journey began.

It started with a phone call, when Côte was mid-way through his program and reaching out to senior leaders through the HLS Leadership Network at Rotman. One evening, while waiting to catch a flight, he connected with Dr. Dion Neame, country medical head at Sanofi Pasteur Canada — who, coincidentally, was waiting to catch his own flight at a different airport.

“I remember well the deep and rich conversation I had with Pierre and thinking ‘are all his GEMBA-HLS classmates this insightful?’” recalls Dr. Neame.

Côte remembers hanging up with new perspectives on work, culture and leadership. Though he didn’t realize it at the time, he had just made an important new connection. This initial chat served as a preparation for a series of other conversations with various contacts he’d meet through the GEMBA-HLS program, ultimately landing him in a new professional role.

Côte’s experience speaks to the power of the HLS Leadership Network. This network, which connects GEMBA-HLS students with senior executives across the healthcare and life sciences sector, gives students the unique opportunity to speak directly with executives and learn about their perspectives on current business trends and issues. In many cases, students find mentors or learn about the skills and experiences most in demand, so that they can better position themselves for professional opportunities that might arise.

“It’s remarkable that there are very senior people in Canada and across multiple industries who are intentionally making time to speak to students,” says Côte. “The HLS Leadership Network is one of the most valuable resources that the GEMBA-HLS program has to offer.”

“I was looking to broaden my horizons and gain insight on markets and industries that I didn’t know enough about.”

—Pierre Côte, GEMBA-HLS ’20

Why heading to business school is a lot like learning a new language

Côte was adamant about pursuing a Global Executive MBA for Healthcare and Life Sciences because he wanted to make sure that the next big ideas in science were realized.

Before coming to Rotman, he had amassed years of experience in medical affairs, managing labs and conducting research (including earning a PhD in medical genetics). In that time, he had seen several scientists develop great ideas but fail to make compelling pitches to secure grants, collaboration opportunities or investment capital.

“Successful scientists need to be able speak two languages — business and science,” explains Côte. “Being able to communicate effectively is just as critical as the idea you’re developing. Otherwise, how will you inspire others to believe in your project?”

He knew that the best way to master this new ‘language’ was to practice with other speakers, so Côte was eager to speak to as many leaders as he could about healthcare, science, digital technologies, and venture capital financing.

By his count, he reached out to more than 40 people, including advisors in the HLS community and contacts from the Rotman alumni network. He was deliberate in who he approached, and came to each meeting with tailored questions and topics that the contact would be uniquely qualified to discuss.

“The goal of these conversations was not to get a job but to learn,” says Côte, who was especially interested in emerging trends and markets, what skills leaders leveraged the most and the challenges senior executives faced on the job.

“I was looking to broaden my horizons and gain insight on markets and industries that I didn’t know enough about.”

The conversations with new contacts also gave him clarity on his own interests and strengths and where someone with his skillset might thrive.

“That’s the power of the informational interview,” says Côte. “Every time you speak with someone, you become a bit more knowledgeable and a lot clearer on the next set of questions you need to ask yourself.”

“The goal of these conversations was not to get a job but to learn.”

—Pierre Côte, GEMBA-HLS ’20

How he got the job: coffee chats, the GEMBA-HLS and good timing

Coincidentally, his professional development was well-timed to the learning experiences presented through the GEMBA-HLS program.

Côte kept in contact with Dion Neame after their first call. They eventually met in person, when Dr. Neame came to deliver a guest lecture to the GEMBA-HLS class.

“After meeting with Pierre and the GEMBA-HLS class in person, I spoke with Professor Will Mitchell and we agreed that since the class was already planning their next residential module in Singapore, it would be a great opportunity for the class to meet my Sanofi Pasteur Singapore colleagues,” explains Dr. Neame.

In Singapore, the class spoke with the Global CMO of Sanofi Pasteur, Su-Peing Ng, who presented a recently established the Future Leaders in Motion program, aimed at recruiting professionals at the intersection of healthcare and business.

At that moment, the wheels started turning in Côte’s head. He took advantage of the opportunity “to ask too many questions”. At the end of tour, he was handed a business card for the coordinator of the leadership program and urged to follow up.

By that point, he knew he wanted to specialize in scaling innovations and medical effectiveness. He could also draw upon his recent conversations with business leaders, which added fresh insights to his work. He was confident he could make a big impact at an organization like Sanofi.

In his call with the program coordinator, he also referenced some of the topics that he had first discussed with Dr. Neame. That conversation served as an unofficial first interview, and it led to another interview and another — until he was eventually offered a spot in the program.

As he says good-bye to Rotman, he leaves a few parting words for current and incoming students: get out there and speak to people. Tap into the rich network at Rotman.

“The first few conversations might be clumsy or awkward, but you’ll get better at it. Your network will expand. You’ll know more. Eventually the conversations will feel fun,” says Côte. “More importantly, these coffee chats will help you figure out what you want and what you have to offer. You’ll be ready to tell your story when the right opportunity comes along.”

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

Pierre Côte

Class year



Life Sciences

Current position

Global Lead, Digital Scalability and Innovative Engagement
Future Leaders in Motion Program
Sanofi Pasteur
Lyon, France

Previous employment

Various roles (including Incubator co-founder and chair, medical science liaison, medical science liaison manager) with Boehringer Ingelheim
Montreal, QC

Previous education

PhD, Biology
McGill University
Montreal, QC

Executive MBA
in Healthcare
and the
Life Sciences
Learn more»