November 17, 2022

Dissecting a Life Science Executive Search

By DeeDee DeMan, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Bench International.

A Time Like No Other

We have no historical frame of reference for where the industry is. With the current market volatility, leaders at life science companies are cautiously planning every move they make like a methodical game of chess. For companies to keep advancing human health during challenging times we must make novel decisions to preserve the businesses that deserve to make it because they’ve got great science or a great platform technology. It’s up to the C-suite and board to ensure the businesses have sufficient financing and they are executing on their strategic plans. There is money out there, and a lot of it; it’s just that investors have parked it on the sidelines for now, resulting in a freeze frame in company development. Because so many emerging companies have been frozen in time without funding to advance their pipelines into the financial scale up of clinical development, a big question has surfaced: What impact will this have on patients in the future?

Personal Networks Are Often Insufficient to Identify the Best Candidates

Many life science companies believe they can best fill open leadership positions and board seats through their own networks. For example, we find a lot of the same people on multiple boards, because they’re friends of either the CEO or someone on the board. The problem is these companies are not creating an objective search for best-in-class domain experts. This evokes the same question: What impact, if not going for best-in-class leaders, will this have on patients?

The Six Necessary Components of a Successful Executive Search

Having the Right Team
We see a lot of companies hiring one of the Big Four recruitment firms because it’s a ‘safe choice’. Yet a year or so later, the search firm has not been successful in filling the company position. So, in the pharma world, we become the emergency second-line therapy. Of course, it would make a lot more sense to have started with a firm that possesses deep life science expertise, access, and reach. These firms understand why having leaders with experience in navigating products through clinical trial design and regulatory processes is much more important than individuals that solely understand the value of the science. Seeking out a highly experienced team that specializes in life sciences and is skilled in the aforementioned ways will be a gamechanger in sourcing the most ideal candidates for the executive roles you’re aiming to fill.

The Magic Behind the Curtain: Secrets of What Defines Great Recruiting
When we initiate a new search, the executive recruiter, who has already developed a relationship with the client and understands the need, becomes the team chair. Our teams are comprised of four to six members including research, operations, and project management who all hear the same requirements at the same time. Following launch calls, we create a project plan with activities, time lines and responsibilities, and our milestones, outlining how we are going to meet the client need. Our research team is responsible for engaging the global network and building the candidate pool. We vet the candidates for domain, functional, and fit and work with operations to deliver the final package to the client.

It Starts with Research
Having a research team that knows how to solve for client needs and requirements is key to finding the right talent. They are able to identify candidates where internal networks and other recruitment firms have previously failed. A member of our research team is on every client call to pick-up on subtle plan changes and understand the client’s threshold of pain. They use their expertise to go out and look three dimensionally at all potential candidates focusing on the broad end of the funnel first.

Building the Candidate Pool
Next, the recruiters start refining the search toward the narrow end of the funnel. That includes the hardscape skills—experience, competencies, and accomplishments—plus the soft skills including communication and leadership style, beliefs, values, adaptability and integrity; all elements that determine if the candidate fits the company culture. Importantly and appropriately, we are also asked to create balanced, diverse slates. The message as to the value of diversity is sinking in.

The soft skills cannot be overemphasized. Executive search firms must understand the candidate’s personal agenda, business vision and mission to validate their focus on how they expect to impact patients. Does their ethos fit hand in glove with the client? For me, ensuring that a leader not only fits into the culture, but will guide the culture, or in some cases, improve it, is critical. We are acutely aware that a wrong fit can devastate a culture and the business. These are the critical drivers that firms must meet with passion, examining all motives closely as candidates are vetted.

The Secret Weapon
At Bench, we invest heavily in each team supporting our clients. After the team has agreed that we’ve found and vetted the best-in-class, we then use third-party assessments to review the candidates for their communication and work style, serving as an independent third eye for our team’s work product. This is a critical quality assurance check that most recruiters forego, but is another important checkpoint in narrowing down the talent pool.

Operations are Critical
The operations team of an executive search group is the air traffic controllers of the business, controlling and coordinating client meetings and interviews. They put together the data on each of the fully vetted candidates to ensure that an entire data package of primary research is produced for each candidate. Candidates should not be recycled over and over again for different clients because each one will have very specific needs. Rather, every recruiting project requires primary research on behalf of the client. Operations should also be providing regular status reports to clients so they have full transparency of the current and targeted candidates along with time lines.

About Bench International:

This is one of the first secret sauces that Bench brings to the table—a truly integrated team with multiple skill sets in recruitment, research, project management and operations, all coming together on a global scale to look at our client’s problem and then solve for that problem. Typically, within three weeks from launch, we are able to deliver vetted candidates who are ready for formal interview, with a 90-day completion target. We want our clients to understand that we’re not a transactional firm. We earn the right to be known as a partner.

Learn more about how Bench International serves the executive recruiting needs of life science companies.