2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Samantha Palmer, Wharton School

Samantha Palmer

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (Wharton San Francisco)

Committed to advancing translational medicine to improve human health. Family and volunteering are my passions.”

Age: 34

Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica – Currently living in California

Family Members: Single; Immediate family – parents and brother

Fun fact about yourself: Timely fun fact – Microphotos of viruses from my Ph.D. thesis lab’s work were used in the movie “Contagion” to depict the fictional virus that caused a pandemic similar to today’s SARS-CoV2.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Ithaca College, BSc Biochemistry

Graduate School and Degree: Cornell University, Ph.D. Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis

Where are you currently working? Amgen, Strategic Planning and Operations for Office of the Chairman and CEO (past 6 months); Director Business Development (prior 4.5 years)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

  • San Francisco Marin Food Bank volunteer – Member of a cohort at Amgen that volunteers to package food for distribution throughout the San Francisco and Marin counties in Northern California each month. Each year, the food bank distributes 48M pounds of food serving 32,000 families each week.
  • The Wharton School (EMBA) – Director’s List – Term 4

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a Director in Business Development (BD) at Amgen, I led global search and diligence efforts for licensing, partnership, VC investment and M&A of potential therapies targeting inflammatory diseases across rheumatology, dermatology, respiratory medicine, and gastroenterology. Mid-2019, my BD team and I completed a key strategic acquisition which happened to be the largest in Amgen’s history ($13.4B). While I am proud of completing the deal, I’m even more proud of how Team Amgen rallied together to achieve success in short order. As Babe Ruth once said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime”. Knowing that Team Amgen will continue to make a difference in the lives of patients through this acquisition makes me proud and gives me comfort that our patients are in great hands. I continue to live my dream of helping to advance medicines from bench to bedside. Now, due to my Wharton education, I will merge my scientific and business acumen to contribute further to the interests of human health in a more dynamic manner and build value-creating companies to serve patients.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Linked to the above question – Needless to say, during this deal, I was taking a full course load of credits, never missed class, completed all exams and assignments with very little sleep, and took on lots of travel and endless late nights. I remained focused and committed to both school and work with the support of my family and friends who kept me sane. Despite the daunting workload during the summer of 2019 and ironically almost missing a final Corporate Development exam due to a delayed flight returning from a diligence trip, I was able to achieve the Director’s List that term. One month later, I also transitioned into my new role at Amgen serving in the Office of the Chairman and CEO. I always remind myself of the phrase, “Diamonds are formed under pressure, but never forget they are not formed overnight.” I know that I must keep persisting even through the darkest and hardest moments as there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Tough one – there are so many. I would say Kevin Kaiser was one of my favorites. His lectures appealed to an innate belief system I had but couldn’t put a name to. He introduced a concept called ‘blue-line management’. Per his course description, this is an approach in which all decisions of consequence in an organization are made with one aim: create value. He emphasized that unfortunately great swathes of value to the organization and customers are destroyed because of a common tendency among business executives to manage towards achieving increased share prices. Many believe that achieving indicator targets, financial and nonfinancial, is tantamount to value creation. Instead, he taught us to consistently focus on positive NPV investments and doing the right thing by employees. These behaviors will raise the firm’s intrinsic value and drive further focus on the needs of customers. A higher share price is the reward for good management, not the goal, and unfortunately, many companies see the reverse.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? During the application process, I thought, if I wanted to continue a career in Business/Corporate Development, I needed to have good training and understanding of Finance. Also, if I want to one day lead a division (or company), I would also need to have a good foundation in Strategic and General Management. The Wharton brand is well recognized for these and many more facets and also offered a convenient West Coast campus with the same curriculum and professors as the 2-year full-time MBA program in Philadelphia. This sounded like a positive NPV investment to me!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? My classmates and the professors – I work quite a lot and am very passionate about what I do, so many times I don’t make adequate time to have a social life. Business school gave me the opportunity to create genuine and new friends as an adult – many of which I know will last a lifetime.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I can truly do anything if I put my mind to it. Practicing agility, flexibility, persistence, and grit while finding the time to embrace and appreciate my support system were crucial to my success. In the first few months of the Exec MBA, I wasn’t sure how to juggle a demanding job and find the extra hours for class every other Friday/Saturday alongside an additional 10-20 hours a week for homework and studying. I learned very quickly that the fastest path to success was to enable the success of my study team and together we could conquer any and everything. Leaning on my study team members and reciprocating, enabled both individual and collective learning, built trust, and resulted in us achieving all of our goals. We always took time to show appreciation and knew when to take a break. I’ve applied the same at work and truly enjoy uplifting my work colleagues and enabling their success so that together we can serve patients each day.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? This was the hardest part of Wharton. Though I’m single, I am very close to my immediate and extended family. Especially in the first year, work and school took a toll on my personal relationships. There was always something non-personal I had to do – “work-work”, homework, studying, catch a flight, etc. and my weekends were not my own. In my second year, I aimed to have more control and balance in my life – I began to pencil in 30 min slots to connect with my friends and family, scheduled lunch dates with colleagues, and tried to enforce specific sleep times in the evenings. It didn’t always work, but I’ve learned to celebrate the small wins.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Enter the program with a clear vision or at least 2-3 options of what you want to get out of the EMBA so that strategic elective selections are made. You will be exposed to many different and new career possibilities you’ve never considered and it could be easy to leave EMBA unfocused and confused about what career path to choose. Have good answers to why you want to do the MBA and how you plan to utilize it.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not spending more time with my classmates when I could. SARS-CoV2 prematurely ended in-person class sessions about ½ way through the last term – Spring 2020. Given how busy I was with work and school, I had committed to being more social in Term 6, but life had other plans. Building your network is a gift you give yourself and others, especially during business school. For an introvert like myself, I initially found networking difficult and exhausting.  With time and through building camaraderie within the class cohort, it got easier and more rewarding with time. I wish I had committed to it earlier in the program. Lesson learned, (as my parents would say), don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Rajiv Srinivasan is a US Army veteran who, like many, returned to the US with battle scars. He’s shared many of his stories with me and I admire his leadership, courage, positivity and his ability to be focused and triumph in the face of challenges. He is a reminder of the resilience of the human mind and soul. 

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I realized I wanted to one day lead a biopharma division or company. Complementing and merging my scientific background with good business acumen could uniquely position me to serve patients in a multi-faceted manner.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I’m still figuring out what the single long-term goal is, but I am considering several paths within biotech/pharma:

  • Leading a business unit with P&L responsibility
  • Head of Corporate Strategy and Business Development
  • COO
  • CEO

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A steady and reliable helping hand they could consistently rely on in a time of need or chaos.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Travel to and explore a different country every year
  2. Start a non-profit focused on improving science/medical/healthcare ecosystem education for the general public to enable better societal and policy decision

What made Samantha Palmer such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Samantha Palmer, Ph.D. is an admissions director’s dream, she is smart, accomplished, personable, and humble.  From the moment I met her, I was impressed by her intellect, poise and interpersonal skills.  Sam has been a key contributor to her class, a patient and knowledgeable leader and someone we are proud to have as an alumna.”

Barbara Craft
Director of Admissions
Wharton MBA for Executives, SF

“From the time I interviewed Sam, I knew that she would be a great addition to our Wharton family and she proved that out time after time.  She was always quick to lend a hand to a classmate and to share a positive word with friends and administrators. As a leader, both professionally and as a student, she also knew when to lean into the experience and ask for support. Samantha juggled a lot personally and professionally during these two years and her success across many measures speaks to the breadth of her capabilities and kindness.”

Bernadette Birt
Executive Director
Wharton MBA Program for Executives, San Francisco


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