March 11, 2021 – Bob Clarke serves as CEO of Furst Group, which provides recruitment services to the healthcare and insurance industries. He has been a trusted advisor to CEOs and boards for more than 30 years. His acumen in executive search and integrated talent management is valued by hospital systems, managed care organizations, medical groups, indemnity companies, end-of-life care providers, healthcare associations and other medical delivery systems across the U.S.
Mr. Clarke recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss the current state of the executive search market
Bob, discuss the current supply and demand curve for health- care/life sciences executives?
Like many sectors of the economy, healthcare and life sciences are undergoing tremendous change. Within each of these, there are some areas that would benefit from some fresh thinking as well as areas that present incredible growth opportunities. It is within the latter that there is and will be a high demand for leaders who challenge the status quo and aren’t afraid to shake things up. Organizations are looking for leaders who can take measured risk, who are thoughtful about the future, who can see future opportunities that others do not, and who are comfortable with and have a successful track record of leading through transition and chaos. In reviewing market trends, obvious areas of disruption stand out across all business sectors. Some people assume healthcare is stable – yet that simply isn’t true. While it may be a bright spot com- pared to many sectors, healthcare organizations took a significant hit along with everyone else in 2020.
Discuss the economic fallout.
The economic impact was two-pronged. Hospital beds filled up over capacity during the pandemic. There were shortages of staff to care for this increase in patients while at the same time caregivers were fearing for their own safety and the safety of their families. Organi- zations were forced to stop providing elective procedures that are typically the bread-and-butter revenue streams for many healthcare providers. At the same time, it is estimated that almost 15 million individuals lost insurance coverage during the pandemic, which has pushed a lot of people into Medicaid. Organizations in states that have turned toward Medicaid expansions over the last year and a half are definitely benefiting from this. However, Medicaid doesn’t pay at the same level as a commercial payer. So, from a provider perspective, they are doing the same work for less dollars on the margin. There is a significant transformation occurring in the use of technology to support and engage patients. Telehealth and remote visits for example have been talked about for years. Organizations have had multi-year plans to implement these types of “cutting edge” technologies, but historically, there’s been a lot of pushback against this. Efforts around telehealth initiatives have been fast-tracked amidst the pandemic and are now front and center. Like never before tools were and are being implemented quickly out of necessity, fast forwarding many planned updates by months if not years. Health equity disparities in access and the delivery of care for underserved communities and populations have always been critical areas of focus in healthcare. The pandemic has, in many ways, brought this issue into a brighter spotlight than ever before.
How much of this was driven by the COVID pandemic?
Acceptance of technology and expansion of services are being accelerated because of the pandemic. This is happening out of the need for healthcare delivery to meet consumer demand. There are times when you need to have an in-person doctor visit. But if you are fearful about going into a medical environment, you must turn to something else. And that something else is our ability to leverage technology. Consumers are pushing this transformation so that they can seek medical care at a time and place of their choosing. Healthcare organizations were forced to quickly adopt this technology as a way to interact with their patients and continue a source of revenue. It’s really not very different than how people engage with their bank, or Netflix, or any number of other services they interact with on a regular basis.
What has changed in how you work with your clients to fill senior roles?
As with many companies, the pandemic has forced us to adjust to new ways of working with clients to fill senior roles. Fortunately
for us, we have leveraged technology to serve our clients and candidates for many years. In fact, we created an infrastructure for
our very first remote team member more than 20 years ago. But aside from tactical changes and more reliance on our virtual tools, we recognized broader strategic issues at play. Subsequently, we were able to quickly adapt our approach to meet the business, emotional, economic and diversity needs of our clients. Business first was the simple distraction from day-to-day business caused by the pandemic. It’s one thing to worry about loss of your revenue or your product line. It’s quite another to think about your staff not being allowed in the office or even being fearful to work shoulder-to-shoulder with others. How do I access my staff? Is my staff doing okay? Several of my team members have young children at home or students off to college for the first time. How are they coping with this? How are they prepared to work from a home environment? How does the team stay connected to the business and to one another? These are examples of common questions that must be addressed.
The pandemic has had quite an emotional impact hasn’t it?
You can’t underestimate the emotional impact of this last year, especially in healthcare with people seeing the devastation COVID-19 has caused firsthand. Those people are fighting on the front lines every day and becoming extremely fatigued. When this all calms down, and they are finally able to take a big breath, it’s going to really hit them emotionally. This is something that happens with every trauma. You’re running on adrenaline, but you can only do that for so long. We are seeing the emotional impact play out as a shifting life balance. Individuals are reassessing their priorities, and frankly, that’s a wonderful thing. They are beginning to look
at opportunities that allow them to move closer to family, or to the suburbs. With the acceptance of remote working, they are exploring locations where they can spend more time with their family or in environments they enjoy. This is healthy for an individual, but it creates challenges for a business. It is anybody’s guess right now how the markets will react as the pandemic continues to evolve with no real end in sight. In studying the markets, however, you can see trends emerging with certain segments of the economy growing, while others will surely be left behind. Having clients across nearly every sector of the market, we are in a very unique position to spot these trends and to help our clients be proactive
in hiring the right strategic leaders. Racial and gender disparity people are recognizing that a shift in how racial and gender disparity is addressed is long overdue. The time for change is now. For more than four decades, we’ve focused our efforts and client conversations on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. We believe that it is our responsibility to thoughtfully engage our clients when creating teams within their organizations to ensure that they reflect diversity at all levels.
Do you think these changes will be permanent?
Will traveling to meet with clients and candidates be more reliant on things like Zoom calls? Part of the fun of what we do is meeting and interacting with people. Humans being humans, we rely on personal interactions. In-person meetings will and should come back into the process. But it will be a balance of leveraging technology when, where and how it’s appropriate, and then identifying the best or ideal opportunities for personal connection. Going back to the traditional way of engaging with clients and candidates is simply not an option as expectations have changed and opportunities to leverage technology have been recognized. One simply has to be aware of the limitations, plan around them, and offset them. We have a very robust processes for engaging with clients and candidates alike that rely on personal interaction as well as appropriate tools and assessments that ensure we have complete understanding around an engagement. The realities of social distancing during the pandemic have been tough for people to navigate, but the growing level of comfort with video conferencing, as an example, demonstrates our collective ability to change our old way of thinking.