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Investment banker, Charlie Caldwell, on life sciences consulting and the business side of science

Charlie Caldwell: Healthcare Investment Banker at Salem Partners

In this episode, Charlie Caldwell describes his unique career journey.  While he originally aspired to be a medical doctor, Charlie discovered that he had an interest in scientific research, and decided to go to the University of Southern California for graduate school.  However, as a PhD student, he realized that his true calling was in the world of business.  While still in school he started a company with his friends, Southern California Opportunity Analysts, which provided early-stage regulatory and strategy advice to biotechnology startups.  “At the time, I had very little business experience,” Charlie says.  “I felt like I knew something, but definitely didn’t feel like I knew enough to charge a lot for it.”  SCOA ended up offering a lot of their advice for reduced rates, or even for free, meaning that Charlie and his friends were best compensated in the form of valuable experience.

After graduate school, Charlie moved on to a role as a consultant at ZS Associates.  He recommends management consulting as a great formative learning experience for those interested in the world of business.  While he had to learn a lot on the job, he described his there as “drinking from a fire hose” of knowledge, akin to getting a degree from a business school.  Charlie then had an opportunity to move on to his current position at Salem Partners, an investment banking firm, where he works on deals in the healthcare and life sciences sector.

For graduate students interested in investigating careers in the world of business, Charlie has a lot of advice.  First, he offers a maxim from one of his advisors: “Always network by trying to find how to help others.”  While he says that there is value to trying to meet people in your intended field and then asking for their help, many of the most important relationships he’s formed in his career have come from assisting people in many diverse fields.

If you think you’re interested in getting into business, go for it.

Charlie Caldwell

Second, Charlie emphasizes the importance of persistence.  “If you think you’re interested in getting into business,” Charlie says, “go for it.  There’s going to be a zillion reasons why you’re not qualified, of why it’s not going to work, or why you’re not going to get the job.”  But deciding not to go for an opportunity is the only way to actually make it impossible.  Most of Charlie’s applications for consulting jobs didn’t even turn into interviews.  However, he was able to find a great job by applying to new openings constantly.

Finally, Charlie says that “job prerequisites” should be taken with a grain of salt. “Don’t go off a list of job requirements,” he says.  “Those are not requirements.”  Indeed Charlie believes that he’s never actually met all of the stated requirements for any job he’s applied for–and neither did anyone else applying for those jobs.

Notes for this episode were written by Sam Asinof.

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