Lionel Phillips’ parents took a breath. They were 9-to-5 kind of people, he a banker and she a school teacher. Their son, already very successful in pharmaceutical sales and marketing, had just told them his plans to leave the relative safety of Novartis, where he had helped turn Diovan from a $200 million blood pressure medicine to a $1 billion commodity. And now he was about to strike out on his own, with little more than a laptop and a table he had in his basement.

"Son," they said. "Are you sure?"

Phillips is not the type to be unsure. After all, if it didn’t work out, he would just go get his old job back. What he didn’t want was to be sitting in a rocking chair as a little old man and mutter to himself what might have been. Four years after his parents’ initial shock – which was, for the record, followed by boundless encouragement – Inside Edge Consulting is a pharmaceutical consulting firm grossing almost $5 million a year.

And it has gotten out of the house.

In April, 2003, Phillips took his laptop and that table and used it to start Inside Edge in the basement of his Somerset home. Then he took his best suit and his list of contacts and walked into pharmaceutical firms, looking to sell them on his services. The first three years or so taught him a lot about running his own business. While his wife, Jacqueline, director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, and their now 6-year-old child were as supportive as possible about having an 11-person business in the house, Phillips says the routine simply got a little old. Last October Inside Edge moved to 103 College Road, and now serves 10 pharmaceutical clients, including Novartis, Pfizer, and Easai, a medium-sized firm in Woodcliff Lakes.

Inside Edge, named for the fact that all employees come in with a deep knowledge of the industry, works with pharmaceutical branding, advising companies how to better position and market their brands with doctors and hospitals. The firm advises speaking engagements and boards and helps with business planning, Phillips says.

How the company differs from others, he says, is through its plans of action. "Meet the Experts" culls advice and insight from top people in medical fields, while "Executive Encounters" takes a similar approach with business clients. "War Games," in which Inside Edge consultants will help clients analyze a product as if it is a competitor, walks companies through clinical trials, comparisons, and potential disasters like Vioxx.

In 2003 the $2.5 billion anti-inflammatory was yanked from the market when it was linked to high risk of stroke. Similar drugs, whether on the market or ready to hit, suffered by association. Phillips says exercises like the war games help companies foresee and analyze major problems before they become real ones.

Phillips came to his knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry by way of 20-plus years of experience. A 1984 graduate of Mercy College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He earned his MBA from St. Joseph’s University in 2005. Phillips started out by looking for a sales job in the New York Daily News. He applied for the job at Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline, because Beecham said it would give him a company car.Three weeks later, he got the job and the car and hit the road selling amoxycillan. From there, he moved onto Novartis, before finally realizing that he wanted to do it for himself.

One thing he says he never had was that moment of terror so many entrepreneurs get a year or so into their businesses. "I learned that having one client is very risky," he says. And he learned that credit for clients is a game it takes time to learn well.

But Phillips also learned an important lesson – support from family and from the business community get you through a lot. "If other people believe in you," he says, "they help you."

By now, he says, his parents’ initially furrowed brows are a distant memory. And if his entrepreneurial spirit is not quite as daring as his combat photojournalist brother’s, his belief in the value of hard work and attention to detail makes up for it. Phillips says Inside Edge focuses on three main aspects of marketing: brand advocacy, brand optimization, and brand control. Despite all the trends that point to mega-mergers and mega-companies, Phillips says he will call his company successful if it remains true to those three things.

"We’re going to be bigger," he says, adding that he hopes to expand his staff to at least 13 by midyear. "But we’re going to be bigger doing what we do well. Ultimately, it’s all about the patients."

Inside Edge Consulting Group, 103 College Road East, Princeton 08540; 609-520-1300. Lionel Phillips, president. Home page: www.insideedgeconsulting.com.

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