Chris Stokes (Sociology & Anthropology, ‘03) General Manager, Eli Lilly Korea

Chris Stokes (Sociology & Anthropology, ‘03) General Manager, Eli Lilly Korea

Tell us about your career journey.

My current career wasn't my original plan. I met my wife at Mason, and while we were dating long-distance, I wanted to return to Northern Virginia. So I took a random job as a sales representative at Pfizer, which ended up sparking my interest in the healthcare sector and the pharmaceutical industry. I saw physicians and patients, and it opened the door to my pharma career.

Fifteen years ago, I joined Eli Lilly, my third company after I finished college. Initially, I worked in public policy on various US and global policies. But when I moved to corporate headquarters, I sought opportunities to explore different aspects of the business. The company has been instrumental in giving me diverse experiences, from understanding how our products are paid for in the US to marketing strategies and team management.

I learned that core skills such as quick learning, effective communication, teamwork, and disciplined execution are vital. I've held roles in market access, sales management, marketing, strategy leadership, and even served as the Chief Operating Officer for our US business.

In recent years, I've been a General Manager, first in South Africa and now in Korea. Each job has helped me acquire new skills and broaden my impact on people. The company has given me opportunities to do meaningful work, and my goal is to reach and help as many individuals as possible in each role.

What helped you get to where you are now?

I’m a former athlete who ran track and field during my time at Mason. From being a student-athlete, I learned the discipline to deliver as a student and how to compete. When I went into sales, it was like being a successful student, because I needed to understand what I was selling.  And I needed to compete. You’re competing against yourself for the goals that you’ve set or you compete against the competition.

That sales job also gave me insight into how a business works, especially how the pharmaceutical industry really works. But I was always also interested in broader impact. I wanted to know how a big company operates, but also how do we do operate in a fair and equitable way? So that was how I leveraged my time a s salesperson. I enjoyed it! It was fun and hard at the same time.

What was the highlight of your Mason experience?

My time at Mason was truly exceptional, with a few standout highlights.

Becoming a student-athlete was a great accomplishment. And my coaches and teammates really helped me excel as a student-athlete. I will always remember even the tough practices but also the feeling of accomplishment and the celebration of all my teammates. 

The athletic experience was awesome, but there are also some small things. Mason's not a huge campus but we would go to the Johnson Center and it’s a melting pot of people from just all over the place. 

Lastly, the proximity to Washington, D.C., having the opportunity to be that close to our nation's capital and history was the best experience. That was a memory that I will always cherish.

What’s your career advice for Mason Korea students?

I've learned from a long time in my profession that having really good writing skills is underappreciated but highly valuable. Practice your writing skills and especially your ability to communicate a message concisely. Verbal communication is important, but writing is essential in my opinion. 

Don't undervalue the skill of partnership. You can't do anything alone, no matter what we might think. Being a good teammate is important. So learn how to be one. You don't have to be the leader all the time. Rather, listen to others and help them. 

Be patient with yourself and with others. 

Learn how to learn the technical skills required for whatever it is you're doing. Understand the rules, understand the macro environment and really take the time to learn it. 

Don't be too hasty to move too fast. There's a lot to gain if you take your time.

Lastly, I always advise people to find good mentors who with their experience can help you see things differently and keep you from getting stuck in your own perspectives. 

What does the future hold for you?

It's hard to say because if I look back five years ago, I didn't see myself here in Korea. 

There is this poem by Will Allen Dromgoole that I really love and that helps me answer that question. It's called the "Bridge Builder."

This poem talks about an old man navigating a path who gets to a river and crosses it. Then he begins to build a bridge over it. A young person watching the old man asks why he wastes his energy building a bridge after him when the old man will no longer return. The old man says, “I'm not coming back but I'm not building a bridge for me. All the things that I had to go through were challenging for me. I'm building this bridge for somebody else who's coming to help them get over these challenges.”

I see myself as someone trying to build a bridge for the next generation. We need a bunch of bridge builders to help people advance. 

And so what's the future? I hope that wherever I can I will build a bridge and pave a way for others to get to a company like Lilly or to advance their career to a high level. Whatever I can do to teach them, that's what I want to do.