Viewpoint: Meeting the Challenges of Recruiting for the Life Sciences Sector

January 20, 2022 – Coulter Partners is a board- and senior-level global executive search specialist focused exclusively on life sciences. The firm works closely with those at the cutting edge of innovation in the industry to understand their challenges. With an extensive global network and expertise gained over 25 years in the sector, Coulter Partners have become trusted advisers on leadership in the pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, diagnostics, health tech, CRO and services sectors.

Nicholas Green has been with Coulter Partners since start-up and has a 19 year career in executive search. Previously operating out of London, he has been leading the Coulter U.S. business for the past five years and given the breadth of locations Coulter operates in, he is based in Boston & Los Angeles. Today, Mr. Green’s focus is across the life sciences sector, working with industry leaders and investors, advising on board and senior executive leadership appointments, in commercial, R&D and across all the support functions, with clients across North America and those in Europe, who have North American operations or ambitions.

Mr. Green recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to current state of executive recruiting for the life sciences sector.

Nicholas, discuss the current supply and demand curve for life sciences executives?
The life science market has been buoyant since 2013 with huge inflows of investment and company formation. Demand for talent has been increasing year by year and with such intense competition companies are turning to top sector specialists, like Coulter Partners, to help them win the war for talent.

How much of this was driven by the COVID pandemic?

At the start of the pandemic, many companies went in to panic mode for a couple of months and stalled on recruiting. Recruiters too, were quick to lay people off. Having lived through the financial crisis with our management team and having seen the success of keeping our core team together, we put in contingency plans during this period but didn’t cut our team. Within a few months the market picked up strongly and we had the necessary resources to take on increased demand. We continued to hire team members through 2020 and 2021. The pandemic has been a mixed bag for the life sciences sector. Companies working to support COVID or involved in urgent care have fared better than those involved in non-emergency procedures and support. In biopharma, the success of Moderna and others supporting COVID has helped further validate the sector and company creation is now at record levels. There is a severe shortage of talent and compensation levels are rising rapidly, particularly in the US. Clients are seeking trusted advisors, rather than transactional recruiters and Coulter Partners has been well placed to support its clients, especially given that we now have the largest sector team.

What has changed in how you work with your clients to fill senior roles?

Coulter Partners has always positioned itself as a trusted advisor to the sector and with competition for talent so intense, clients value this approach more than ever. The fact that our management team is the original Coulter founding team resonates so well with our clients. There is no doubt that clients need to be more flexible in terms of their wants and they trust us to advise them on where they should flex or where they can organize themselves slightly differently to be able to fulfill the needs of their business.

Do you think these changes will be permanent?

The recruiting market in this sector will remain strong for the foreseeable future and clients will be looking to recruiters as their advisors. Those established sector recruiters will continue to do well. During the pandemic there have been many new entrants trying to take advantage of the economics. They have tried to compete on price but in reality, they do not have the sector knowledge or the ability to hire the top sector recruiters and are more transactional. These firms will struggle as the supply and demand evens out a little.

Can you share some recent search work completed by your firm?

The majority of our appointments in the US are at the C-level and we have recently completed leadership roles for both PE and VC-backed organizations and some of the larger life science and pharma companies. A big focus has been in oncology and neurology and lots of interesting work in the field of gene and cell therapy, most notably in CMC, operations and regulatory. We are also very busy on board assignments, where the focus continues to be centered around board diversity.

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