US Capitol Building, Washington DC

2 things I did while serving as Director of Partnerships & Cooperation

John R. Gagain Jr
3 min readMay 28, 2019

I never envisioned myself working in the tobacco industry. While being recruited in 2017 (because of my experience with the United Nations, campaigns, political communications, and international development), I listened objectively to the company’s new vision — to rid the world of cigarettes forever. I have always been open-minded.

This work rekindled my grandfather’s life and my memories of him. My paternal grandfather smoked 3-packs of Chesterfield cigarettes per-day. He would be in his early 90s if he had lived to 2019. I loved him like a second father. Losing him early in life was tough on all of us. My grandfather and anyone who smokes cigarettes deserves access to smoke-free alternatives. I felt noble at this job when I would hear that even one person quit smoking cigarettes.

Both sides of the debate surrounding — tobacco cigarette control & reducing the harm cigarrettes cause — stake out their positions with deep conviction and rhetoric often. I put people first at Philip Morris International. I was able to make an impact for the benefit of public health and the health of human beings, particularly smokers looking to quit or switch to less harmful unsmoke technologies.

1.) Even though I was new to the company, new to the industry — with this being the first time I ever even worked at a corporation — I was asked to represent my team and the company in very important circles.

a.) I helped pioneer a new internal YouTube-style TV program for employee engagement at the company. I was chosen was chosen from among 80,000+ employees in over 180 countries to sit with just 11 other colleagues to discuss the future of the company with its CEO, Andre Calantzopoulos at company headquarters in New York City.

b.) I was asked to represent the company at a private “Ideas Salon” called the Challengers Summit to discuss the “essential questions” of our planet with a small group of people like Howard Buffett, US presidential candidate, Andrew Yang; Dr. Alex Jadad; the founder of TEDx, Lara Stein; and Epic Decade’s Seth Goldenberg at Ocean House in Rhode Island.

c.) I was selected to be one of just 30 young professionals for the company’s first ever “External Affairs Management Studio” in Switzerland.

2.) Most importantly, although my scope of work was Latin America & Canada, I was based in Washington DC — home to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I joined the company in early 2018. The company submitted its application to the FDA and defended it in early 2018.

Throughout 2018, while I was at the company, the gold standard for impact and achievement was to obtain FDA authorization to sell the company’s new product that is less harmful than cigarettes. FDA authorization would reverberate throughout markets and the public health community around the globe.

Nothing in an effort of this magnitude is achieved by one person. The team behind this effort was expansive. I like to think that I played a pivotal role as one of only a handful of people in Washington DC telling the company’s story and vision for unsmoking the most harmful part of cigarettes — the smoke.

I told our story over-and-over to dozens of (possibly over 100) key influencers and decisionmakers at over 300 events at prestigious think tanks and institutions in Washington DC. This was my job as Director of Partnerships & Cooperation. The company received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization in April 2019. I left the company in May 2019.

May 2019



John R. Gagain Jr

I’m a Change professional that loves facilitating workshops for teams looking to be more innovative & impactful; coaching, storytelling, & leadership.