By: Anna Merezhko February 10, 2017
For Media and Communication majors, it may be difficult to choose which career field they will be going into once they graduate. For Steve Pessagno, Alliance Director at GlaxoSmithKline, his choice was made easy after taking an internship at GSK.
As a high school student, Steve Pessagno wrote for his school newspaper, hoping to become a journalist someday, but after finding an excellent internship opportunity, his career set off in a totally different direction.
Whenever somebody asked Pessagno what alternative career would he have if it were not in the pharmaceutical industry, he says he would have been a journalist. With a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Pennsylvania, Pessagno said he could have opted for a career in journalism but he wanted to be a part of something bigger.
Pessagno grew up in Hagerstown, Maryland. His father was a professional golfer and his mother, a school teacher. His parents taught him the value of hard work from an early age.
“Well, clearly, you look up to your parents. My parents always pushed me to challenge myself and go beyond what is asked of you. Because of this I was very involved in my college and was able to obtain an internship at a global company,” Pessagno stated.
Pessagno did not go to any ordinary high school. He went to Mercersburg Academy, a highly selective private boarding school. Some alumni include seven Rhode Scholars, 12 Olympic gold medalists, two Academy Award Winners, and a Nobel laureate.
When he graduated from Mercersburg, he applied to the University of Pennsylvania. He recalled the two-hour commute he would take to go to UPenn every day. He commuted for two years, but then moved to Center City a few streets away from City Hall.
Upon graduating, he moved to Michigan where he continued his education and received his master’s in general management from the University of Michigan.
It was there that he came across a summer internship at GlaxoSmithKline, one of the nation’s leading pharmaceutical companies. GSK produces innovative pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, and healthcare products like Theraflu, a cold medicine, and Sensodyne, a toothpaste brand known for treating sensitive teeth.
Pessagno stated that the internship was just two months long and he tried to get everything done fast. He completed two months worth of tasks in just one month. As fate would have it, when he came up to his manager’s office, the president of the company, who just got back from vacation was there.
Pessagno stated that he has completed his work and asked if there was anything else he could help with. The president was pleasantly surprised and encouraged Pessagno to apply to one of the positions at the company. That is how Pessagno earned a rewarding career right out of college.
Throughout his time in GSK, Pessagno stated that he was very fortunate to have mentors who helped him throughout his career. His piece of advice to students who are trying to succeed in the real world is to never underestimate other’s willingness to help.
“I’ve had people that took me under their wing and advised me through many difficult decisions. All you have to do is not be afraid to ask for it.”
Currently, he has been working with GSK for 17 years. He went from intern to senior product manager, to alliance director and head of global alliance management operations.
The company encourages projects outside of the company. Pessagno has worked with Jay and Liz Scott on “Alex’s Lemonade Stand” which later led to his involvement in Coalition Against Childhood Cancer (CAC2).
CAC2 is a broad network of organizations and individuals that support other’s fight against childhood cancer. It was officially founded in 2012 with the intent to spread awareness and promote support for families who have been affected by childhood cancer. Pessagno is currently a board member and treasurer for the organization.
“When forming a nonprofit organization for something that is such a common battle for many families, it is very important to know how to network. You need to know a lot of people in positions that could provide support for the organization,” Pessagno stated.
“CAC2 consists of many such organizations. We have people who have also worked in the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation with me, as well as people who are involved in ‘Noah’s Light Foundation,’ ‘Solving Kids Cancer,’ ‘Make Some Noise: Cure Kids.’
“I knew I wanted to be involved in this when I volunteered for ‘Alex’s Lemonade Stand’ in 2006. Jay and Liz (Scott) are such happy people even after everything they have been through. They remain optimistic and hope to support other families who have been through what they have,” remarks Pessagno.
“That’s how CAC2 started. Most of the board members have been somehow affected by childhood cancer. Our president, Vickie Buenger, had a child that was diagnosed with cancer and still struggles from the aftereffects of chemo in his adult life.
“However, it’s one thing to have a child be diagnosed with cancer but something completely different to have a child die from it. It has an unimaginable effect and it is something that no parent or child should have to go through.”
Pessagno said that that is the reason why he advocates so strongly for such organizations. He likes to work in a place where he could make a difference. When asked how he could work participate in a field that is so emotionally draining, Pessagno said, “It is difficult sometimes, but you need to keep your eye on the ball and think about the difference it makes for the families who need your support right now.That’s who you’re doing it for.”
There is talk that CAC2 might be producing a TED talk sometime next year. Pessagno hopes it will further promote their cause.