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Antonis Tsakotellis, Ph.D., MBA

Antonis Tsakotellis

Antonis Tsakotellis

Internal Audit Manager
Takeda Pharmaceuticals

BSc, Chemistry, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Ph.D., the Ohio State University; MBA, International Institute in University in Geneva

Antonis Tsakotellis has had an exciting career journey from studying microscopic phenomena in inelastic scattering as a physical chemist to verifying compliance codes and conducting audits at a big pharmaceutical company.

Tsakotellis received his Ph.D. from the Ohio State University where he specialized in physical chemistry, quantifying different physical phenomena with various instruments and techniques. Shortly after, he went on to pursue a postdoc with Philip Morris as a research scientist. Realizing that he did not want to do scientific research for the rest of his career, Tsakotellis made a pivot in his career and found a different role as a quality auditor at Philip Morris. This was a springboard for him to dive deeper into the financial world and also pursue an MBA to supplement his new career.

Now, Tsakotellis is an internal audit manager at Takeda, where he executes and reports on various types of audits of the company and its many branches across Europe, ensuring all corporate regulations are being met.

I like my job at Takeda Pharmaceuticals because I feel closely aligned with the company’s mission and commitment of bringing better health and a brighter future to patients worldwide with their focus on oncology, neuroscience, gastroenterology, plasma-derived therapies, and vaccines.

Why did you choose chemistry as a field of study?

My father was a Ph.D. pharmacist with a background in medicinal chemistry. As a curious child, I would sometimes read his organic chemistry textbooks that were lying around the house. Even though the content was advanced, chemistry was always fascinating to me, and I was excited to explore the world of chemistry. In high school, I did well in my chemistry classes and enjoyed studying it, so I decided to major in chemistry when I got into college.

Why did you decide to get a Ph.D. degree?

After completing my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to conduct my own research and discover something new. My father was a positive influence in my decision to pursue a graduate degree as he was a research fellow at the Stanford Research Institute, now known as SRI International early in his career. I learned a lot about what research entailed at institutions in the US from my father and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the Ohio State University.

I decided to transition my focus from organic chemistry, what I mainly studied as an undergrad, to physical chemistry because I realized I was not great at organic “wet” chemistry, and I preferred working with the mathematical aspects of chemistry. I always liked quantifying physical phenomena with different instruments and interpreting data. As a physical chemist, I really enjoyed learning new skills such as designing and building parts of scientific instruments, performing statistical data analysis, and operating and troubleshooting lasers, molecular beams, and high-vacuum pumps. As a result, I was happy with my decision to switch my discipline in grad school.

Did you have any internships, research, or other experiences that you found to be especially impactful?

I worked as a high school intern for two months in a quality control lab at one of the largest Greek pharmaceutical companies, called Vianex. I was able to get this internship through a family connection as internship positions at that time were not readily available to the public in Greece. I worked with my internship supervisor, who was a young and enthusiastic analytical chemist that made learning fun. He was very articulate when teaching me how different components of machines worked, which piqued my curiosity in chemical instrumentation. During my internship, I learned the basics of chromatography and statistical analysis as I was checking for quality of samples and testing different pharmaceutical products. As an intern, I learned a lot about the manufacturing operations in the pharmaceutical industry, giving me a glimpse of what a future career in that field entailed.

What was your first position?

My first position was a postdoc opportunity with Philip Morris USA in Richmond, VA, continuing my work with instrumentation and gaining additional experience with working with FT-IR spectrometry. In addition, I learned about patents, intellectual property, and collaborative research with US national labs.

After a year and a half in my postdoc position, I accepted a permanent research position at Philip Morris International in Switzerland. After about two years in that position, I decided that research might not be what I wanted to do for my whole career. Realizing that my professional interests were shifting, the management of Philip Morris International helped me identify other opportunities that I might be interested in and offered me another position to work as a quality auditor within the Quality Assurance division of the company. I worked in that role for about three years and gained valuable experience in working with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) quality management system. I was performing ISO-type factory audits for direct materials vendors (e.g., ingredients, packaging materials of Philip Morris. I also assisted with onboarding new vendors by outlining our company’s quality requirements and identifying gaps between these requirements and the vendors’ quality systems.

As I worked within this role, I also started an MBA program at the International University in Geneva (now known as the International Institute in Geneva) during my free time in the evenings. The curriculum was entirely in English, and my studies were concentrated in finance as I preferred quantitative aspects of business.

What do you do now, and what are your primary responsibilities?

I now work at Takeda Pharmaceuticals as an internal auditor thanks to my past experience within the life sciences industry and the concepts I learned while getting my MBA. As an internal auditor, I execute and report on operational-, compliance-, and financial-related audits of Takeda’s local operating branches across Europe to ensure we are following pharmaceutical standards and corporate regulations. The purpose of internal audits is to evaluate and improve the company’s internal control framework and risk management procedures.  

Can you describe an average day at Takeda Pharmaceuticals?

There is a lot of variety in the work of an auditor, ranging from collaborating with upper management on corporate strategy to interviewing local branch management to learn their main business activities to extracting and analyzing data in the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. I must be able to understand a lot of different processes in a limited amount of time, have a clear picture of the company’s organizational structure, and keep up with the changes in the company. Sometimes, I will travel to another country and will handle business in different cultures while speaking in different languages. There is a lot of information exchange as an auditor, so it is important to be able to analyze data efficiently, summarize conclusions succinctly, and communicate clearly to other leaders at the company.

Tell us about the team(s) you lead and your role as a leader.

I typically lead a team of three to six of third-party staffed consultants on an audit assignment basis. Before diving into the work, I usually conduct short interviews with the consultants to find out their strengths and areas of expertise. On the basis of these discussions and the needs of the audit assignment, I assign specific areas of the audit program to each individual consultant. During the audit fieldwork, I usually hold review meetings with the consultants to figure out what challenges exist and what potential audit findings need to be raised to the management of the auditable entity.

What skills or strengths make you an especially good fit for your position?

In graduate school, I loved to analyze quantitative information as a physical chemist. I wanted to ensure that I continued to include some quantitative work in my career because I was good at it, and it brought me fulfillment. In my current role, I still use my analytical skills as I review business processes, use data to solve business problems, and come up with ways to make processes more efficient.

What do you like most about your job?

I like my job at Takeda Pharmaceuticals because I feel closely aligned with the company’s mission and commitment of bringing better health and a brighter future to patients worldwide with a focus on oncology, neuroscience, gastroenterology, plasma-derived therapies, and vaccines.

Looking back, what do you think you would do differently? What advice would you offer someone looking for a similar position?

I might have taken a more interdisciplinary approach in graduate school and studied biophysics or biostatistics. I always liked the quantitative aspects of chemistry, and I would have enjoyed applying those concepts to biological systems and possibly pursued a role where I could have contributed to the drug development cycle. I also would have attended more scientific conferences and networked more because it is always helpful to meet new people and learn new skills.

What are your favorite ACS resources?

My father attended many ACS conferences as a research fellow and encouraged me to become an ACS member and attend ACS conferences as he saw great value in the scientific talks and programs. As a graduate student, I attended career seminars at ACS meetings where I learned more about careers outside of the laboratory and what skills were important for non-US chemists to have to advance their careers in the US workplace. 

I also enjoy reading science and business articles in Chemical & Engineering News so that I can stay up-to-date with the newest trends and developments of the chemical sciences industry.

In the past, I’ve received helpful advice from ACS Career Consultants at ACS conferences to enhance my résumé and identify key skills to learn for my career.

Currently, I am looking to establish an ACS International Chapter in Switzerland. I am excited to improve my leadership skills as we build this community from scratch and offer resources to ACS members outside of the US. 

What do you like to do for fun outside of your job? Do you have any hobbies?

I enjoy playing tennis, and I am trying to learn more foreign languages. At the moment, I am learning German.

What is the best career advice you’ve received? 

One piece of advice was from an ACS Career Consultant at an ACS conference. At that time, just after graduate school, I had applied to a variety of different jobs and was only getting rejections. I was struggling to identify which kinds of roles or industry I wanted to pursue. I was very worried, but the adviser was able to help me realize that it was important to focus on the job I wanted most, and I started prioritizing on applying to industry research positions. In addition, the career adviser also gave me a couple of networking tips and how to engage with employers. This helped me get my first job at Philip Morris. The second piece of helpful advice was from my graduate school thesis adviser, who encouraged me to never stop learning and always be willing to help others.