During his undergraduate days, Grant Whitney ’12 was a master of campus trivia. Rain or shine, you could find him striding down Trousdale in the afternoon, dispensing USC facts and figures while fielding questions from prospective students and their families — all while walking backward. “I loved being a USC tour guide,” Whitney says with a smile.
Today, he is district manager for AbbVie, a global research-based pharmaceutical company based in Chicago. He leads a team in Wisconsin that educates health care providers about options to support patients living with rheumatoid arthritis. It is a far cry from being head tour guide at USC, but he points to a common thread: providing timely, accurate information to those who might most benefit from it. “I consider it a valuable opportunity to not only help patients but also hone the leadership skills I began to develop at USC,” he says.
Whitney never planned on joining the health care field, but his interest was piqued at a USC career fair. The mechanical engineering major came across a health care company that developed heart stents, which are small mesh tubes used to widen arteries. “It seemed really cool and like a direct application of fluid dynamics, a course I had just taken the previous semester,” he says. It was also felt gratifying to put patients at the center of his work.
Soon, he was helping out on a variety of the company’s functional engineering projects, including designing and patenting more comfortable ways for Parkinson’s patients to walk around with medication injection pumps. He enjoyed working behind the scenes in the lab, but when the opportunity came to join the sales and marketing division, he decided to take a risk on a different career path.
“For my personality, marketing seemed like it could fit since it’s very much about communicating with real, live human beings, not just little petri dishes,” he says.
Learning New Lessons
He transferred to AbbVie’s London office as a product and brand manager and immersed himself in learning about therapies for blood cancers. As he worked on drugs that were not yet on the market, he gained a better understanding about regulators and health care payors — such as PPOs and HMOs — and how they perceive the value of new therapies to a larger population. They’re all lessons he hopes to bring back with him to the U.S. health care system as he moves forward in his career.
He has also found that his engineering background comes in handy. “The algorithmic thought process gives me a kind of rigor to look at both straightforward and complex problems with a stepwise approach. There’s not a day that goes by in my life that I don’t apply that process,” he says.
Now in Chicago, he is looking forward to new opportunities with a team focused on a recently approved therapy that is part of the company’s immunology portfolio. He may not have foreseen his path to the health care industry, but he is pleased to have the opportunity to explore different roles within it. All the while, he has kept his sights on the patients at the center of his work. “There’s this kind of human component to all this,” he says. “Whether you’re a doctor or a lab researcher or a health care economist, we’re all in this for people.”