Working in healthcare gives a special twist to your job and the joy of working

Spotlight on:

Michael Karlsson

CERN experience:

Former staff member between 2000 and 2006


IT Head and Business Partner - Neurology and Immunology for an international – Global science and technology company


 Michael Karlsson was a former colleague from my day in the Advanced Information Systems (AIS) project at CERN and we got back in touch recently when, as he says with a smile, “you guys popped up on LinkedIn!”  Now a member of the CERN Alumni network, he tells us about his unique professional trajectory.

A true child of International Geneva

Michael completed high school at the International School of Geneva and went on to study in his home country in Sweden where he obtained a Master’s degree in Computer Science and Informatics from the University of Gothenburg. He never really lost touch with Geneva and obtained a summer internship in 1995 in CERN’s Finance department.

After two short work experiences, first as a systems engineer in an ERP company and then as an IT consultant, Michael became aware of the varied career possibilities available at CERN.

In 2000, he was recruited on a staff position to implement a logistics and purchasing ERP component as part of the “best of breeds” suite of administrative applications that CERN had opted to install, within its AIS project. First a team member, he later took on the leadership for the implementation and integration of CERN’s new treasury management system.

Stepping up to the next level in IT project management, Michael embarked on a further year as CERN Pension Fund IT manager, to coordinate and supervise all IT activities, involving pension fund matters.

This experience taught me the importance of thoroughly understanding business processes, how they interface with each other and how the data flows, as well as the importance of adding value to these processes from the IT perspective”, explains Michael. “Learning all this in an international collaboration environment, early in my career, made an even higher impact on my professional life.

Building up IT consultancy expertise and a keen interest for strategy and marketing

His contract with CERN ended in 2006 and Michael explored all options to stay in the Geneva area where his family had settled. “There are quite a lot of options in the IT space if you wish to stay in International Geneva and both my previous experience in consultancy and my CERN experience were a definite advantage, says Michael.

Indeed, he was recruited in 2007 by a small consultancy firm whose main client was Merck-Serono, a global firm specialised in Healthcare, Life Science and Performance materials, which also communicates on their love for science and passion for technology. During the next 7 years, Michael continued providing IT consultancy services to Merck via two further consultancy companies. There, he built up the significant experience in IT consulting and the customer-oriented approach that served his objectives later on in his career. He worked in multiple areas in various IT projects covering, supply chain, manufacturing, Finance and mainly marketing and strategic activities.

In December 2014, Michael was recruited by Merck as their Global IT Delivery manager. This meant overseeing all IT projects in the Supply chain and manufacturing area.

Michael left Geneva for the great Boston area in 2016 where he is now IT head and Business partner, Neurology and Immunology, for Merck Group, focusing on the area of research into Multiple Sclerosis.


My job as business partner

“While MERCK has another group for research and development, my role as a business partner is to support the global Neurology Franchise with all digital activities. For the past few years it has been mainly focused on preparation for the global launch of a new medication. This means defining digital strategy and leading tactical execution of digital activities. I am fully integrated on the business side but I report to the IT department”, says Michael.

“Launching a new medication requires many functions to deliver for many years but once it is approved, a new set of activities start, and they include communicating and educating healthcare professionals about the new medication: why it is beneficial, who can benefit and what these benefits are.

As IT Director, I help define and support the global strategy with technology and digital. I have to see what is already in place and what can be added to drive this strategy from a global perspective. I provide guidance and potential deliverables for the execution of the strategy that is decided.  

In different countries where our global group operates, the legal and regulatory aspects are very different. In addition, the communication with doctors, other professionals and the patients needs to be tailored to each culture and country.  

I try to be as close as possible to the actual business processes. In this sector of industry, this means learning about a disease, such as Multiple Sclerosis, about the symptoms and how this disease affects the life of the patients.  Of course, it also implies learning how the healthcare professionals work and the challenges that doctors and nurses meet.  Understanding this allows us to communicate to the healthcare system: why should they prescribe this medication, what impact does it have on the life of patients. I also use for this purpose, the testimonies that we get from the patients and how the medication changed their lives.

To give you a more precise example, we have launched a new medication for highly active relapsing MS that can deliver and sustain 4 years of disease control with a maximum of 20 days of oral dosing in the first 2 years []. It gives the patients freedom to live their life without necessarily having to take tablets or injections every day.

The perspective that I have chosen is to not focus on technology because the risk would be to lack added value to solve the problem. You need to get closer to the origin of the problems and find out what we can  do to solve them using, amongst other things, technology.

Of course, I do keep a technology watch to find solutions. It is actually fantastic to be on the IT side and medical care at the same time, because many disruptive things are happening in these fields today. I do feel I am in the right place at the right time.”

Data at the heart of all business processes

We have a lot of insight generated by customers and patients, we manage as much data as we are allowed to, and we try with artificial intelligence to see how we can explore it to push the barriers further. My company is recruiting data scientists. When I joined to the CERN alumni Boston meet up in May this year,  it was very interesting to see how earlier physicists had moved to other jobs, and many of them into data science.

Data scientists are increasingly moving into this space. To the higher extent still on the R&D side but the value of data is becoming widely recognised as a provider of insight for business strategy.”

Looking forward to making a greater impact

I asked Michael how he saw the years ahead in his career.  “My ambition is to make an impact in people’s lives and give hope where possible. Being part of healthcare and driving digital change in this industry is a privilege! Ideally, I would like to grow into more senior positions in order to increase the impact that I can make, I see myself growing in that space, but of course, it remains to be seen.

My vision is to stay close to the people. From an IT perspective we have fantastically smart guys but the application of this intelligence is lost if this does not generate more value for the professionals in healthcare and the patients.”


Building a community is a tough job

Michael is pleased to have reconnected again with CERN via the CERN Alumni network. He is very much aware of the challenges in building a community: “I tried to build a community in the Multiple Sclerosis space and I know how hard that is. You need to find where your added value is and you need to surf on the momentum. In addition, the competition is high with established professional networks such as LinkedIn. Why would you use a different community space if everything you need is already available somewhere else?”

Indeed Michael, building a diverse and supportive network is a challenge; But CERN is a unique place and keeping a strong and dynamic lifelong link to CERN is also a unique opportunity, this is what we offer. Joining the network and letting us know what they are up to in their lives is also the first important sign of support of CERN’s mission that our alumni can give!

Time to say good-bye ... Michael says hello to former colleagues Magnus Bjork, Mathew Herbert, Jean-Luc Doublet, Jean Dagron and James Purvis and shares a last message with his fellow alumni: “CERN is a very inspiring place, but similar inspiring places and challenges are also waiting for you when you leave!”


Other news