In 1999, just a few years after graduating with her bachelor of laws degree and joining a private law firm in Québec City, Caroline McNicoll met a special client. He was a retired vice president for a multinational Canadian corporation, and as McNicoll listened to his stories about his business travels, on which he’d always take a young attorney to assist him, something about them struck a chord.
“That’s when I really realized that I had always been attracted by the international scene,” McNicoll says. “What he was describing was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Today, after only a few big moves, she’s the general counsel and corporate secretary for Montréal-based Pharmascience, the third-largest manufacturer of bioequivalent medicines in Canada, and her role entails deep immersion in international law and business.
It was 14 years ago that McNicoll met the client who changed the course of her career, but her shift in direction after their encounter was almost immediate. She left the private firm in Quebec City after a few months to attend the University of Ottawa for a specialty in international business law. “I was reinventing my young career,” she says. At the private firm, McNicoll had been interested in the business aspects of the projects she worked on, so she began to consider the possibility of in-house work.
Then, while working on her master’s memoir (a slightly shorter version of a thesis), she was approached with a job offer from Canadian giant Bombardier. She joined the company after finishing her degree, diving headfirst into international projects, including work in South Korea and legal support for the company’s total transit systems division.
Pharmascience By the Numbers
More than $700 million
In annual sales
Employees in Canada
Invested in R&D every year
In donations of medicines to developing countries over the past five years
Countries targeted for international expansion
It was 2007 when she joined Pharmascience; she was only 33, but she already had plenty of experience abroad negotiating international infrastructure projects and agreements. “I wanted to take a leadership role where I could make a difference,” she says. “When I interviewed, I told them I had no knowledge of the pharmaceutical field but was willing to learn. Pharmascience was in a continuous and fast-growing mode, was financially healthy, and had ambitious expansion plans.”
Currently, Pharmascience exports to more than 60 countries, and it has recently extended its reach with a new office in Saudi Arabia and a new business venture in South Korea, where McNicoll worked before. As the head of the legal department, McNicoll oversees four attorneys, and she and they work in collaboration with the company’s Canadian and international business units, including its global operations, scientific affairs, finance, and HR centres of excellence, facilitating the accomplishment of the company’s strategic objectives and providing counsel to its senior leaders.
Pharmascience’s decision to expand into South Korea came about when the country’s government’s announced that it was setting new standards for medicines. “The government was going to put in place a system that would be more geared toward quality medicines, which is exactly what we are offering,” McNicoll says. “We immediately started identifying potential partners.” She helped Pharmascience negotiate with a Korean company, Korea Kolmar Co. Ltd., to set up Pharmascience Korea, a new, jointly owned company that expects to launch Canadian-made bioequivalent medicines by mid-2014.
Ambitions remain high for Pharmascience as it targets 15 more countries for expansion, and the CEO hopes to soon achieve double-digit sales growth in international markets. When it comes to global expansion, “the biggest challenge we have is making sure that we’re open enough to listen to local experts, needs, and practices,” McNicoll says. “We want to bring our values and vision, but we also have to adapt them to local needs and reality.”