Q&A with Three Altria Employees

Published: Jun 04, 2024

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Recently, we at Vault sat down with some employees at Altria—the parent company of Phillip Morris USA, US Smokeless Tobacco Company, and John Middleton USA, among others—and asked them about what it’s like to work at the Richmond, VA-based company. We talked to Jack Marshall, the Senior Director for Regulatory Engagement; Vanessa Lopez, a Senior Scientist; and Jason Hong, a Senior Principal Scientist. Read on to hear about their experiences at the company.

Vault: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got to your current place in your career?

Jack Marshall, Senior Director for Regulatory Engagement: I'm a lawyer by training, and for many years, I did public policy and government affairs work for Philip Morris USA at a law firm. I loved that work and had an opportunity to come in-house and work on public policy issues with our government affairs team. Then I got to spend some time using my skills in a different environment, working with the media and our communications team. My current job is in the regulatory space. I do a lot of work with the Food and Drug Administration, public health organizations, and other external stakeholders regarding harm reduction.

At Altria, there are constant conversations about what you as an individual want to do to grow, what you want to learn about, and what you'd like to experience, and then trying to fit that into the larger business objectives. It’s a very conscious and deliberate effort to maximize people's time here. And I think that dedication to career development is somewhat unique to Altria.

Jason Hong, Senior Principal Scientist: I'm a senior principal scientist on the clinical studies team, and I oversee some of the ongoing projects with a new product line that we're developing. My background is in medical sciences, so I'm a trained M.D. But life circumstances led me to become a single dad, so I decided to focus on my family. I decided to go into the research field. As a medical student, I did a lot of research in neuroscience and pharmacology. I began work in a neuroscience lab looking at neural prostheses—basically brain implants for patients coming back from combat with traumatic brain injuries.  Later, I became a project director for a war-wounded veterans project, which is where Altria found me.

So that's kind of my journey into this whole field.  

Vanessa Lopez, Senior Scientist: I received my bachelor's at VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University. I got my bachelor’s in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry. Before I joined Altria, I was working downstairs in our contract lab, Eurofins Lancaster Labs. There was a scientist position open when I was just casually looking for new positions in the area. I've been with the company now for five years, and I've moved along the technical ladder since then.

Vault: What appealed to you most about this position during your job search? What made you choose Altria over other opportunities?

Jason Hong, Senior Principal Scientist: Our vision statement is, “Responsibly lead the transition of adult smokers to a smoke-free future.” And that's what I believe in. And coming from the medical field, I wanted to help bring new reduced-risk products to adult tobacco consumers. Before I came to Altria, I thought about the skill sets I possess and wondered how I was going to apply them to something that matches up with my vision and passion. So I think that’s what led me here to Altria.

Jack Marshall, Senior Director for Regulatory Engagement: From a public policy perspective and an external engagement perspective, it was all just fascinating work. I think as I look back and think about what's inspired me here, kept me here, gets me up every day. It's two things at Altria. One is the people. The people are fantastic. It sounds like a cliche, but this place is a family with a lot of super smart, hardworking people who honestly care about each other and the work that we do.

And the second thing is the challenge of the work. Our industry is one in transition, and that's exciting, but it comes with tons of challenges. And that means a lot of day-to-day work and coordination across the company with scientists, lawyers, and the businesspeople who run our operating companies. That makes it really, really fun because we have to function as a well-oiled machine, and that energizes me.

Vault: How do STEM principles play into Altria’s business, and what sort of opportunities are there for STEM majors?

Vanessa Lopez, Senior Scientist: I've been given so many opportunities at Altria, just from a scientific development perspective. I've gone from working under a senior scientist to being one—my job description has ranged from e-vapor to novel oral products, and now I'm in the New Product Assessment, Inhalable group, which focuses on new reduced-risk products that still fall under the inhalable category; such as heat-not-burn and e-vapor. So, I've had the opportunity to work with top-of-the-line equipment and different methodologies.

My specialty is liquid chromatography, but I've done work in gas chromatography, too. So, from a bench perspective, I've had a lot of opportunities that way. There are also other opportunities for development as well. I've been in different leadership development programs to help me become more confident in myself and my role.

Jason Hong, Senior Principal Scientist: We work with the vision that the products we're developing will eventually lead to the availability of and our consumers having the option for reduced-risk products. The fruit of our labor doesn't always come right away because the products must go through an extensive regulatory review process. But this is what we work towards, and it’s the thing that motivates me every day.

Vault: What advice do you have for anyone interested in working at Altria?

Jack Marshall, Senior Director for Regulatory Engagement: My advice for those interested would be to be open. Listen, meet some people, and hear what the work is all about. And I think that will have a major impact on your decision to consider joining the Altria family, because I think you'll find the people are fantastic and smart, the work is super challenging, and Altria is really being very intentional in giving people great career opportunities—opportunities for growth, opportunities to own their work, opportunities to lead, and to contribute to Altria achieving its vision, which is to move beyond smoking. And to be able to contribute to that, I think, is a tremendous opportunity for all of us.

Vanessa Lopez, Senior Scientist:  Altria is a great company to work with. We have many opportunities and resources, not only in the lab but also in our benefits and being able to develop our core strengths and strengthen our other skills. The most rewarding part about my job is not only being given the opportunity to grow professionally, but also being able to provide potentially reduced-harm products to our customers.

I'm excited that we are exploring future business opportunities beyond nicotine and products that can expand our portfolio. The work that we do and how it affects our customers is really rewarding for me, knowing that we're helping some of our customers navigate their reduced-harm journey, going from smoking to reduced-harm products so that they're less affected by the results of smoking.

Jason Hong, Senior Principal Scientist: When I think about my time here at Altria, one of the things that has been really impressive to me is people. I know that you hear that a lot from a lot of different companies, but you know, the level of collaboration and level of expertise in this company is phenomenal. The expertise, resources, and collaboration that you have within this organization are second to none, I would say.

 

   Jack Marshall, Senior Director for Regulatory Engagement

 

  Jason Hong, Senior Principal Scientist

 

   Vanessa Lopez, Senior Scientist

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