Work looks very different than it did this time a year ago. Those fortunate enough to still have jobs are executing them in new ways and many aren’t so lucky. Career paths that seemed smart a year ago are dead ends and alternatives are few and far between. Southern California equestrian Deven Vespi offers a positive counterpoint in sharing her passion for animal pharmaceutical sales as a rewarding career for ambitious go-getters.
The pet care industry was growing before COVID and has expanded further since its outbreak. People who already owned pets are home spending more time with them. And new pet ownership has increased during the pandemic. Happily, adoptions from small animal shelters and rescues operations are at unprecedented highs and equine counterparts have seen a significant increase, too. (See story on that happy scenario at Redwings Horse Rescue & Sanctuary.)
Deven had been touting the field since well before the pandemic. The Florida native moved to California in 2015 as territory manager for Luitpold Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Adequan i.m. (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) and is now known as American Regent Pharmaceuticals. She was only 25 and it was her first job in the field. Suggested by her horses’ veterinarian in Florida, pharmaceutical sales is not an easy job to land, Deven clarifies. But it’s been worth every minute of the six months she put into finding a way into the profession.
Talking Common Interests
“Your day-to-day interactions are talking about common interests — helping animals — that drive the lives of everyone in the field,” Deven summarizes. “Everybody has a passion for the work and it’s so motivating and fulfilling. I never felt like it was ‘work’.” From her earliest horse crazy kid days, Deven found ways to finance her riding habit. As an adult, the “animal pharma” path nicely enabled her to own, compete and provide top care for her two dressage horses that now live near her at Hinneman Farm in Southern California’s Murrieta.
Deven’s experience is pharmaceutical sales, but she notes that Zoetis, Merck, Merial, Elanco and their corporate ilk have opportunities beyond sales. Especially as the pandemic has driven online purchases, digital marketing skills and business intelligence are at a premium. Operations and research and development are additional options, she says. “There is a ton of stuff you can do beyond sales. It might be easier to get a sales job if you are already working for an animal health company in another capacity.”
Sales has been a good focus for Deven. She debunks the notion that an effective sales person has to be naturally outgoing. “I think it can be a learned trait. I am not naturally extroverted but I was good once I got my footing,” she says. “The first time I called on a veterinary clinic I was so nervous, I messed up the doctor’s name. But now I can speak to anybody.”
Job training and skills development is typical for these relatively large companies, many of which serve the human health market, too.
Introverts should keep in mind that it’s often relatively easy to discuss subjects that involve a personal passion. The priority of “sales calls” for most companies is educating veterinarians on the company’s medications and treatments, sharing new developments and research and fulfilling client needs. Deven emphasizes how important relationship are for equine pharmaceuticals. “As a horse person, you have a much easier time speaking to equine veterinarians,” she says. “We’re both in the industry due to our love of the horse.”
Opportunities for career advancement and lateral moves between species are other advantages in the animal health space. Along with the gratification of helping animals, there is the excitement of new trends, many of which are migrating to or from human medicine. Various forms of regenerative medicines, like Alpha 2, IRAP and PRP, are changing the landscape of the equine veterinary world. Preventative care continues to be a focus of the veterinary and human medicine world.
For all the above reasons, careers in animal pharma are hotly sought. A science degree of almost any kind is an advantage in landing such positions, Deven says. She has a dual degree from the University of Florida in biology and psychology, with an emphasis in neuroscience. She started college planning to be a veterinarian and gained valuable experience doing research in the University’s veterinary hospital. While she changed her mind about that path, Deven knew she wanted a career that would enable continued horse ownership and those experiences were critical to getting it.
Equally important, a firm foundation in veterinary science is key to maintaining meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with veterinarian clients. Understanding how and why a pharmaceutical works in the body of a horse or another animal is the most effective sales method. “The science is what you are selling,” Deven explains. “Veterinarians are some of the smartest and quickest people I’ve ever met. They will come back to you with science questions that they expect to be answered.”
Volunteering at veterinary clinics and interning in the industry are good inroads, especially for high school and college students interested in positioning themselves as strong candidates for future openings. Many of the largest companies have equine-specific internships that can be great doors into the field, Deven notes. Asking questions of and networking with veterinarians and company reps is smart, too.
As in any competitive career, being a “go-getter” is critical, Deven stresses. She recalls six months of “asking everybody I ever met if they knew someone who could help me get into the pharmaceutical industry.
“It can be a long road to get into the animal health pharmaceutical industry, but once you are in it, it is an incredibly rewarding career with many benefits,” she continues. For those at the application stage, requesting informational interviews of the recruiter or hiring manager is smart preparation.
A go-getter nature has now expanded Deven’s career options. She recently completed her MBA from Colorado State University, studying while working full-time. “An MBA really takes you out of your bubble,” she says of the expanded range of business ideas she’s now developing and pitching. She also earned her real estate license and has been consulting with the equestrian brand marketing firm, Entrigue Consulting.
Most importantly, Deven continues to own and enjoy her two horses. Along with facilitating Deven’s career as an accomplished amateur dressage rider, they periodically let her put her veterinary knowledge to personal use in navigating their needs through normal performance horse health issues. It’s the life she dreamed of when she first targeted an animal pharmaceutical job. While her new degrees may take her in new directions, Deven highly recommends that path for equestrians seeking a personally and financially rewarding career involving horses.