Innovative engineers: Cassie and Chris

Chris Hajjar

  • Senior Financial Analyst, FP&A, Softgel, Catalent Pharma Solutions (Somerset, NJ)
  • M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2013
  • B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Lehigh University, 2012

Cassie Tian

  • Marketing Specialist, Catalent Pharma Solutions (Somerset, NJ)
  • M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2014
  • B.S., Bioengineering, Lehigh University, 2013
The entrepreneurial way of thinking is applicable to every project I’ve ever worked on for Catalent.
-Chris Hajjar
Going through the TE program was the transition point of my life. I discovered talents I never knew I had.
-Cassie Tian

While Chris and Cassie pursued different undergraduate engineering majors and graduated with different cohorts of the Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) program, both landed impressive positions at Catalent Pharma Solutions. Chris was hired just a few months after receiving his M.Eng. degree and, one year later, he recruited Cassie to join the team.

Why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh's TE master's program?

Chris: As I neared completion of my bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, I felt pulled to stay at Lehigh and continue my education. I wanted to augment my Mechanical Engineering program with a master's degree that would broaden my understanding of the business world. Once I heard about the then-brand-new TE program, everything fell into place. I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment – my parents started two businesses – and was eager to learn more about this world. It just made sense.

Cassie: During my undergraduate years, I had an internship at a small biotech consulting startup which I loved because I got to work on different projects and was challenged every day. This motivated me to complete a minor in Entrepreneurship along with my major in Bioengineering. After I heard about the TE program, I met with Professor Lehman [Professor of Practice in the TE program]. He has a medical degree and was able to provide me with very specific answers about how this program might fit my particular interests. I was hooked immediately!

I should also say that, as I researched other entrepreneurship programs offered across the country, I was further convinced that this would be the best program for me because of the hands-on approach. Lehigh's TE program is much more about experiential learning – with everyone working on their own projects – that the others I found as possible alternatives.

And did the experience live up to your expectations?

Chris: As part of the inaugural class of 14 students, I was quickly impressed by the flexible and customizable nature of the program. Those interested in strengthening their skills in order to get a job can do so; those set on starting their own business can focus on that. While TE projects offer an opportunity for students to test out theories and practices, TE courses teach students about the nuts and bolts of the field and provide exposure to real-life entrepreneurs. Professors Lehman and de Vinck [Professor of Practice in the TE program] connected us to countless startups. I loved listening to stories from the founders about why and how they got started, what their short- and long-term goals were, and what challenges they encountered along the way.

Cassie: TE opened my eyes and showed me my potential. I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone, and the experience truly changed my life. Over the course of the year, the 27 of us who comprised my cohort developed really strong bonds with each other – became as close as a family – and I'm still in touch with many of them. We traveled through the process together, developed our entrepreneurial identities together, and learned real-life skills together.

What skills did you develop in TE?

Chris: I took a lot away from Professor Lehman's lessons on financial spreadsheet generation and analysis. Understanding and being able to speak the language associated with a balance sheet, cash flow, and profit and loss statement was something I wanted to learn from the start, and it's proven to be invaluable.

Cassie: There's quite a long list, actually. I learned many skills specific to entrepreneurism, of course, but I also learned a lot that's applicable to almost all jobs, such as how to pull resources together, give great presentations, and pitch an idea. I learned how to tell a story, explain a problem, and work toward resolution. And I learned how to work collaboratively to make things happen.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

Chris: I developed an entrepreneurial way of thinking which is immensely helpful. There are customers tied to my projects, and they have to see the value proposition. I frequently find myself having to develop a business case, pinpoint the capital required, and assess the long-term financial benefits of execution.


Cassie: I'd have to say that I learned to think bigger and that I gained greater confidence in my own abilities. When faced with a challenge now, I come at it from a different perspective…one that's much more customer-centric and attuned to the implications of whatever actions I decide to take. In addition, I see myself as better equipped to bring people together to achieve a common goal. My classmates used to call me “the connector,” and I'm putting these skills to good use.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

Chris: We both affiliated with Catalent Pharma Solutions right after earning our M.Eng. in TE degrees, and we both started in Catalent's Global Operations Leadership Development (GOLD) program, an intensive, two-year, three-rotation leadership development opportunity designed to accelerate career growth.

Can you expand on that?

Chris: I began my rotations as a GOLD Associate in St. Petersburg, FL, as an Operations Shift Supervisor, assisting with day-to-day supervision of machine operators and aiming to increase the efficiency of Softgel capsule cleaning, inspection, and packaging processes. I then moved to Somerset, NJ, where, as a Quality Strategy Associate, I led a five-person team in the development of a quality and regulatory playbook for Catalent's strategic expansion into the animal health market. My third placement was in Winchester, KY. As Process Engineer, my work focused on ensuring day-to-day equipment operation and improving infrastructure. Now I'm once again based in Somerset, NJ, which is headquarters for Catalent.

Cassie: My first GOLD assignment was in Woodstock, IL, where I worked in Equipment Control creating control processes and auditing critical equipment to eliminate compliance risk. During my second rotation, I served as a Training Program Coordinator and Continuous Improvement Specialist in Research Triangle Park, NC, creating a new technical training process and working on several projects designed to improve manufacturing efficiency. My third rotation was in Somerset, NJ, where I served as a product marketing management associate, as a continuous improvement lead, and as a new program launch lead. The latter involved a new program called Optiform Solution Suite which is targeted at providing services for early stage biopharmaceutical companies. In some respects, it was like a startup within Catalent. I've since graduated from the GOLD program, but I'm still based in the same location.

How did your TE degree help you to obtain this position?

Chris: Catalent was a company in a growth phase, privately owned but with full intentions of going public (which it did in 2014). They were looking for well-rounded individuals with the very specific combination of engineering backgrounds and entrepreneurial thought processes–individuals who could be groomed as leaders to help grow the company. My credentials fit the bill. I would even say the TE program put me a step of ahead of the peers with whom I was hired. Many of them had their master's degrees in Chemical Engineering or Bioengineering, which makes sense when you're going to work for a pharma company, but I often tell the story of our first week of work when I was the only one who knew what EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) means and how important it is.

Cassie: When Chris came to Lehigh as a recruiter for Catalent, he told me that if I liked TE, I'd like the GOLD program. And he was right! The company is very fast paced and entrepreneurial, but I felt completely at ease during my Catalent interviews because TE prepared me so well. I was able to bring the academic qualifications, the confidence, and the drive.

TE made a big difference when it came to landing the job at Catalent, but it also helped me start my own company. In 2015, I launched a biotech network conference/speaker series, Biotech & Pharma (B&P), which I operated for a while as a side venture. TE gave me the tools to get this startup off the ground. For example, I was way ahead of the game when it came to creating a business plan, logo, and marketing pieces. Like I said, lessons learned in TE apply to more than just TE.

Can you tell us more about Catalent?

Chris: Catalent is a global provider of advanced delivery technologies and development solutions for drugs, biologics, and consumer health products. Founded in 2007, Catalent has more than 9,000 employees worldwide in nearly 30 locations. Forty-eight of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies in the world use our services.

Cassie: Catalent partners with pharmaceutical companies to deliver better treatments faster – both within the body and within the market – and drive brand growth. Catalent is a marketplace leader where opportunities abound, and it's a visionary corporation. It's also a place where a mechanical engineer and a bioengineer – us! – can use our talents and our entrepreneurial strengths for high-impact, cutting-edge innovation.

What are your current responsibilities with Catalent?

Chris: After completing the GOLD program, I was named Commercial Operations Manager/Analyst for the Softgel division. Much of my focus while holding that position was on growing and expanding the division through revenue forecasting, market data analysis, and new product tracking. The TE program gave me a head start in this area.

Then in August 2016, about a year and four months after becoming Commercial Operations Manager/Analyst, I secured my current position as Senior Financial Analyst, FP&A, in the Softgel division. I had known for several years that this was the job I hoped to do next. The individual who named me to this position, my current boss, knew I had an engineering bachelor's degree, as well as significant experience in the Softgel business unit, but when he learned I had an understanding of profit and loss statements and balance sheets, it pretty much sealed the deal. And, of course, the reason I had that knowledge to bring to the table was because of the TE program. Professor Lehman's classes on financial spreadsheets were probably my favorite segments of the program.

My responsibilities at present involve executing financial planning and analysis across the global Softgel business unit – more than $800,000,000 in revenue across about 13 locations – to drive organic and inorganic growth. I also support the monthly, quarterly, and annual work involved with reporting, budgeting, and forecasting.

Cassie: When I was working with the Marketing team for my third rotation, I realized that I really wanted to stay in Sales and Marketing. I'm now working in Marketing with a global team. My specific responsibilities include market landscaping, campaign execution, customer targeting, and strategy development for our sterile technology. In this role, I'm able to tap much of what I learned in the TE program, such as how to pitch an idea, find common ground, and bring people together.

Have you had occasion to work together at Catalent?

Cassie: Yes, actually, we've had the opportunity to work together on the Optiform Solution Suite project, providing a measure of overlap in our responsibilities which, in some respects, mirrors the overlap in our career paths.

Do you have any career goals that you would want to share?

Chris: In the short term, I'm looking to increase my understanding of business strategies. I find it very interesting and would like to learn more about how and why company leaders make strategic decisions that drive the company down a certain track. The long-term goal has always been some type of entrepreneurial venture of my own. Taking that leap is not a casual decision, but one for which I'll be ready because the TE program prepares students so well. In the meantime, I'm applying all that I learned and gaining a great deal of insight along the way.

Cassie: I want to learn as much as I can in my current position and contribute to Catalent's growth and success. And, like Chris, I'm eager to learn more about business and strategic planning. The goal, really, is to position myself for whatever the future brings, whether that means continuing to contribute at Catalent – endless possibilities! – or striking out on my own in some new venture.

How would you sum up what TE did for you?

Chris: The TE program provided me with a solid educational foundation that's catalyzed my growth at Catalent, as well as my own personal development. What amazes me the most, I'd have to say, is that I learned so much in such a short time.

Cassie: That one year in TE was one the most memorable years of my life. It gave me a platform for my abilities, a better sense of what these are, a pathway to pursue my interests in both Bioengineering and Entrepreneurship, and the tools to succeed. Basically, it changed everything.