Search Firms Help Life Sciences Sector Adapt to Change

January 12, 2017 – For executive recruiters working in the life sciences sector, the last decade has been one of transformation. Pressure on pricing, regulatory changes, emerging innovations, collaborations, and a move toward “patient-centricity” have all helped shape a new field of play.

As an uncertain political environment begins, forecasting in the field has become increasingly challenging and talent consultants have become even more critical to success. With multiple pressures and shifting market forces, the demand for executives who can wear multiple hats has only grown.

Translating a Knowledge Base

These days, life sciences clients are asking for executives who can make their organizations more efficient, outcomes-based, and cost conscious. They want multi-skilled individuals who can effect change on many levels. “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,” says Adam Bloom, president of Fort Lee, New Jersey-based Stevenson Group, which specializes in searching for life sciences talent.

“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.”

Adam, whom I interviewed recently about his firm and the evolving needs of life sciences, developed his expertise in the healthcare sector 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, he has helped grow the firm into a mid-sized operation focused on specialized therapeutic areas, technologies, and various functions in life sciences. Before stepping into his current role, Adam served as director, managing principal, and co-head of the Stevenson Group’s life sciences practice.

Taking the Long View

Life sciences is an area that is perpetually reshaping and renewing itself, with start-ups of all sizes emerging across the U.S. and abroad to complement the small and large biotech and pharma companies that already exist, Adam explains. The Stevenson Group’s clientele ranges across the spectrum, from top 10 pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Takeda to 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,” says Adam. “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.”

The Stevenson Group takes the long view, in both the firm’s nurturing of its industry connections and in recruiting individuals who will have long lasting impact for their clients.

“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,” says Adam. “We also work with marquee academic institutions like the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This allows us to keep track of technologies and talent involved at one of the best academic institutions in the world.”

Among its competitive advantages, the Stevenson Group’s team members have diverse backgrounds. As with any recruiter, for any industry, Adam knows its crucial to understand the mindset of his firm’s customers. In life sciences, talent acquisition and human resource leaders play a lead role in selection of search firms, and the Stevenson Group has made it a priority to be at the top of their list.

“Our backgrounds are vital, because we have been on theirsid of the table and know the drivers that make them successful,” says Adam.

A Higher Barrier to Entry

“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 doctorate in genomics and a master’s 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, of course, remains a major challenge for executive recruiters, and the life sciences sector in particular has its share of thickets to work through in the years ahead. Still, Adam believes his organization is well-positioned to be the premier big-firm alternative. In a highly competitive space, the Stevenson Group’s long-term approach continues to drive impressive growth. That’s good news for clients, but bad news for recruiters from outside of life sciences or healthcare who hope to join the firm.

“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,” says Adam. “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.”

Adam and his colleagues are well aware that their firm’s success is in no small degree connected to a comprehensive understanding of their clients’ history and needs, not to mention the advisory role they play. That will be even more important as the sector moves forward, particularly with recent advancements in immuno-oncology, genome editing, and specialized patient-centric therapies. Progress against a variety of rare diseases, which have historically eluded drug treatment, is also underway.

“We have always worked with our clients as long term partners,” says Adam. “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 Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief — Hunt Scanlon Media

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