Shifting Needs in Life Sciences Attract Non-Traditional Talent

Slone Partners, a specialist recruitment firm focused on the thriving healthcare and life sciences sectors, walks us through the big shift to candidate pools of greater professional diversity across the field.

January 19, 2018 – To keep up with the mind-bending changes that are coursing through the life sciences sector, recruiters who specialize in this area are keeping an open mind to new possibilities in their own work.

As Leslie Loveless, CEO of Slone Partners explains, the life sciences industry has become increasingly consumer-centric, opening the door for recruiting more talent from outside the field. In addition, exciting progress in areas like gene-editing, and the promise it holds, has piqued the interest of many executives who in the past would have given the sciences a wide berth. An entrepreneurial spirit permeates much of the industry, and that has also attracted non-traditional talent.

In the interview that follows, Ms. Loveless discusses the growing shift to candidate pools of greater professional diversity. She also talks about how the environment at companies in the life sciences sector differs from more traditional healthcare concerns. And, she looks to the future of both the sector and her firm.


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Ms. Loveless has deep knowledge of the healthcare arena, with more than 17 years of experience in both the industry itself and recruitment. She had been with Slone Partners for nine years, including a stint as chief operating officer, when she became CEO in 2016. Her role as leader of the firm’s executive search team, meanwhile, keeps her perpetually involved with clients and candidates and the daily workings of the firm.

Previously, Ms. Loveless was director of training and development for AmeriPath, and before that, national sales trainer for Quest Diagnostics. Early in her career, she was a teacher, which she credits with helping develop her communication skills and passion for helping others achieve their full potential.

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To what extent has life sciences changed vis-a-vis senior-level hiring?

We’ve noticed a huge shift into personalization – what’s best for that individual patient in diagnostics, therapeutics, services and wearables. Especially in life sciences, you can see it with the emergence of immuno-oncology, advances in precision medicine, and the application of artificial intelligence. Everything is heading in that direction – that consumer-centric, patient-centric approach – and the inflection point is almost here.

What’s changed most?

People want to be more deeply involved in their healthcare. As a result, our science clients are increasingly open-minded to candidates from more diverse professional backgrounds that are more consumer focused in terms of services, products, wearables, industrial design and even academia. Our clients are also realizing the importance of business backgrounds complementing competencies in the sciences. We recently interviewed Joydeep Goswami from Thermo Fisher, who discussed the importance of achieving his MBA at MIT concurrently to his M.S. and Ph.D. Hiring open-mindedness is also extending to younger generation employees who emerge from exciting, energetic campuses like Stanford. Cutting-edge thinking is balancing more harmoniously with traditional science approaches, with emphasis on all types of employee diversity. So if a candidate is seeking a director level to C-suite opportunity in the market right now, and they understand commercialization, personalization and speaking directly to end users, they’re brilliantly positioned to join the sciences.

“The intersection between diagnostics, therapeutics and technology is here – total convergence – and very talented people with multiple-tool box skill-sets are moving between these worlds more fluidly now.”

The progression of technologies and science along with the crossover that is beginning to occur between diagnostics, therapeutics and technology is incredible. How has that impacted your business from a search standpoint?

The intersection between diagnostics, therapeutics and technology is here – total convergence – and very talented people with multiple-tool box skill-sets are moving between these worlds more fluidly now. If you look at companies like Google or Apple that either externally invest in the sciences or create actual subsets to their existing businesses, they’re now attracting senior-level personnel who hadn’t previously considered moving into the sciences. Due to wearables, targeted diagnostics getting the right tests to the right people, and personalized medicine services, the science space driven by cloud businesses or hardware businesses is simply becoming significantly more attractive. Look at CRISPR technology, a gene-editing tool that literally alters the human genome; companies that are using the CRISPR technology have a real opportunity to cure diseases, not just treat them. The promise of curing cancer is a far different proposition than treating cancer, and a lot of people want to be a part of that breakthrough now, even if they’ve never worked in healthcare. So the number of retained searches we’re being assigned and the numbers of candidates we’re attracting is booming in this converged space. And Slone Partners continues to help clients build dynamic businesses that make big things, and breakthroughs, happen. Senior leadership is key, and that’s our specialty.

To what extent have you had to recruit senior-level talent from other industries and do you feel that professionals in other disciplines cross over well to life sciences? Or is it too science oriented to consider candidates from industries like financial services, for example?

We recruit outside of life sciences and diagnostics regularly because clients are asking for technology wizards in bioinformatics, for instance. Our clients are increasingly less concerned about where candidates come from and more focused upon skills and culture fit. But the financial services question is interesting, because many of our clients – both at start-ups and mature companies – are prioritizing finding candidates who have skills in capital raising, dealing with investors, running publicly-traded companies, and have experience in IPOs and exits. Finding pedigreed people, star athletes who have participated in those financially-oriented chains of business events, is vitally important now, with compensation rates going up.

How do the cultures of life sciences companies differ from that of more traditional healthcare companies, and how have those differences affected how you search for top talent?

As a general rule, life science companies – unlike traditional and therefore traditionally-cautious healthcare companies – are “shooting for the stars” in terms of what they are developing and hoping to commercialize. The people who work in life sciences literally want to change the world, chasing the unthinkable and want to be history makers in their quest to cure disease. So as a result, our life sciences clients are looking for entrepreneurial, audacious minds; high energy, progressive people who aren’t just brilliant but who don’t see or acknowledge roadblocks because they are driven to go around them. In our searches, we look for passionate people with an entrepreneurial bent who have histories of making breakthroughs, running leaner “start-up mentality” teams, who thrive on innovation and “sky’s the limit” thought processes. Yes, they must understand business, and the commercial realities and challenges they will ultimately face, but most importantly they must be brilliant at futurethink.

You recently launched a new website. What’s next for Slone Partners? What will be different in your space in 10 years?  

Our client base in life sciences and drug development is growing very rapidly. We expect this trend to continue and that the intersection of therapeutics, diagnostics and laboratory medicine will drive interest in pulling the best from all of these areas as we lead searches. After an excellent 2017, Slone Partners continues to grow in 2018 with our newly-established U.S. western division, bringing aboard additional recruiters and senior management, deepening our expertise in biotechnology / bioengineering / bioinformatics, and marketing our very focused, narrow executive search expertise in a more geo-targeted manner. As our tagline indicates, “People Are Our Science,” and in 2028, in a world we believe will only become digitally “noisier,” the intimate services we offer our elite clients will still be in high demand.

Contributed by Michael S. Hawkins, Director, Marketing and Brand Managment; Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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