Evolving Dynamics of Recruiting In Life Sciences

December 23, 2016 – As the life sciences sector evolves, this specialized area of executive recruiting is changing as well. For Adam Bloom, president of The Stevenson Group, his expanding role as talent evaluator has elevated in importance due to shifting market forces that have resulted in heightened demand for executives with cross-industry and multi-functional expertise.

In the following interview, Mr. Bloom describes the wide range of clients his firm represents in life sciences and the specific skill sets he’s now required to have in order to work with each company and their expanding mandates. He also addresses how the life sciences sector has grown in the last decade, the new positions that have emerged, and the types of companies seeking this extraordinary talent. Finally, he details his expertise in healthcare, how that translates to life sciences, and he then looks ahead to the expanding role recruiters will likely play in identifying life sciences talent.

His expertise in healthcare sector recruiting was developed at Pfizer, where he led searches for external executive talent and managed talent acquisition teams in the company’s global pharmaceutical businesses. Since joining The Stevenson Group in 2006, Mr. Bloom has helped grow the firm into a mid-sized boutique focused on specialized therapeutic areas, technologies, and various functions in life sciences. Prior to his current position, he served as a director, managing principal, and co-head of the firm’s life sciences practice.


Adam, your firm works for life sciences companies that range from early stage to highly established. Provide for us a more in-depth look at the types of companies you work with.

In the constantly evolving life sciences sector, start-ups of all sizes are emerging across the U.S. and abroad to complement the small and large biotech and pharma companies that exist. The companies that we work with currently fall all across the spectrum. We work with the top 10 pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Takeda as well as some very innovative mid-sized and emerging companies. The great thing is that we get to execute some of their top-tier talent needs in managerial and scientific roles, but we also get to work on some of their smaller innovation sectors that have a more entrepreneurial flavor. Hence, we have a feel for the entire structure of these organizations as they grow and evolve. We have start-up clients in the U.S. like Torque Therapeutics, an immunotherapy company with some great scientific minds in Boston, and a very new and promising client in the U.K. called Evox Therapeutics that is trying to break the blood-brain barrier with its groundbreaking exosome technology.

“In the face of multiple pressures and shifting market forces, there is an increased demand in life sciences for executives who wear multiple hats.”

Because of our large network that we have built over the years, not only can we find the best talent for these upcoming companies and help build them from the ground-up, but we can provide them with talent resources that really help them in the long term. Additionally, we also work with marquee academic institutions like the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA. This allows us to keep a track of technologies and talent involved at one of the best academic institutions of the world.

To what extent has the life sciences sector changed in the last 10 years and how has that impacted the types of talent you are now seeking?

Pressure on pricing, regulatory changes, emerging innovations, collaborations, and a move toward patient-centricity have significantly changed the life sciences sector over the past decade. With a new political environment set to kick in, forecasting in life sciences has become even more challenging and our role as talent consultants has become even more vital. In the face of multiple pressures and shifting market forces, there is an increased demand in life sciences for executives who can wear multiple hats.

Please give us a sense of any new positions that have been created in life sciences and what types of companies might be adding them and for what reasons?

More than ever, our life sciences clients are looking for executives who can make them more efficient, outcomes-based, and cost conscious. This means well-rounded individuals who understand the science as well as the dynamics of the industry and have the leadership skills to work with multiple partners to find long-term solutions. We find talent that can run a lab or various aspects of a clinical trial and have the agility to translate their knowledge base over multiple therapeutic areas.  They also have to speak a universal language that can be understood by a scientist, a regulatory authority, and an operational expert as well as a patient. This is a particularly valuable competency in the increasing number of entrepreneurial start-ups.

Your background included time at Pfizer. Several other partners at the firm also maintain similar experience in healthcare prior to entering search. How important is that experience? 

We view the diversity of the backgrounds on our team as a competitive advantage. Understanding the customer mind-set is something all companies strive for, no matter what industry they play in. In our sector, talent acquisition and human resources play a lead role in firm selection, and we have worked hard to become the partner of choice. Our backgrounds are vital, because we have been on their side of the table and know the drivers that make them successful. We view ourselves as an extension of our clients and put pressure on our team to exceed expectations around service delivery. Our next generation execution platform has driven results that speak for themselves. Just as important as the diversity of our backgrounds is all the knowledge we have gained over the course of our multi-year expansion. For example, our research team has everything from a PhD in genomics and a Masters in neuroscience and biotechnology to majors in journalism and general business, not to mention an ex-contractor to the State Department. Our recruiters come from varied backgrounds as well, including big-firm defectors. Succession is a big challenge in executive search, and life sciences has a particularly challenging time ahead. However, we are well-positioned to become the big firm alternative because our long-term approach has driven impressive growth in a highly competitive space. It would be very difficult for recruiters from outside of life sciences or healthcare to join our firm at this point in time. Our clients rely on our expertise and broad network, and teaching someone the nuances of a client’s business would only slow down our delivery. There is a higher barrier to entry in our sector than in others, and only the best will thrive. The expectations around hiring a leader to drive an oncology R&D portfolio or finding an innovator to transform a global medical affairs organization are extremely high and demand a robust understanding of a complicated matrix. At this point, teaching the business would prevent us from exceeding expectations. This could, of course, change in the future.

Looking ahead, will life sciences continue to expand and evolve and how will that impact how your firm approaches talent acquisition? Do you think your roles will become more consultative where you are not just interfacing as recruiters but more as advisors?

Life sciences will certainly continue to evolve across the industry, particularly with the recent advancements in immuno-oncology, genome editing, and specialized patient-centric therapies. With a better understanding of rare diseases, we also expect significant progress against those elusive drug targets. We have always worked with our clients as long-term partners. We have client relationships that we have cultivated over decades, so our team understands the crux of how a particular organization was built and what the scientific and leadership profile looks like for a particular position. We are regularly engaged to build out entire leadership teams for our clients, and then assist those new leaders in building their direct reports. This only works when we can be trusted advisors, and viewed as talent experts.

Contributed by John Harris, Managing Editor and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief — Hunt Scanlon Media

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