03 Mar Trends in Finding the Unfindable in Life Sciences Recruitment: An Interview with DeeDee DeMan
Founder, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
What are most significant recruiting shifts that you have seen in Life Sciences executive search over the last ten years?
The most pivotal shift we have seen is the industry focus on recruiting women, ethnically diverse and other under-represented groups for board seats, as well as senior leadership roles. As a woman leader, it feels quite unique to be a part of a population that is finally ‘en vogue.’ Though some of the focus is due to state legislation and stock exchange policies, particularly for independent board directors, a primary rationale that goes well beyond enforcement, and occurring at all levels, is the recognition that diversity has been proven to have a direct impact on company earnings and ROI. The broader trend we are seeing is that diversity is becoming a leadership imperative invoking operating principles throughout the sector’s employee populations, resulting in a complete ecosystem shift. With this shift has come the growing pains of supply and demand, given that the Life Science sector has historically not focused on advancing the careers of diverse populations.
A solution Bench has deployed in responding to the need for diverse populations is our firm’s proprietary Bank of Women®, which encompasses Ready Now Board and C-Suite Ready women leaders, as well as dual diverse leaders who possess domain expertise relevant to the needs of each of our clients. In addition, Bench has created a fund of ethnically diverse candidates to ensure all candidate slates for boards, as well as all segments of the Life Science enterprise value chain, have high diversity representation for each assignment. This is reflected by our scorecard, with a cumulative average of 85% of independent directors and 55% of executive/leadership candidates placed representing diverse populations.
Another trend worth noting is that executive leaders, as well as the industry’s population at- large, are increasingly becoming their own business managers. They are managing their careers very differently, somewhat closer to ‘free agents’ than ever before. For example, many Life Science executives remain in their positions a mere two or two and a half years, leveraging a key milestone to both move on and move up elsewhere. My observation is that companies suffer greatly from this short-term focus, as it often takes a good two years for a new executive to understand and ensure the business’ trajectory to affect a positive impact. What’s worse is that when they leave, they take this institutional knowledge with them. As both an investor and a servant leader, I find this trend to be very concerning. Notably, the pandemic and the trend of remote working has worsened this ‘free agency’ mentality. It’s much more difficult to build commitment, camaraderie and culture through a camera.
How has Bench pivoted in the last ten years to address these changes?
We are certainly doing a lot more of what I call highly complex searches, particularly where there is a scarcity of very specialized domain leaders available, again another supply and demand issue. Add to that, the thirsty momentum for diversity and you define our specialty in being able to deliver unicorns. To meet this complex demand, we have heavily invested in human and technological assets to win on behalf of our clients.
Another big change we consciously made was to engage more with startups and emerging growth companies, vs. committing to multiple Big Pharma and MedTech companies. This means we ride the same roller coaster as our clients. It takes a special kind of passion and commitment to gut this out, particularly at times like this, when so many of our client companies are suffering greatly from such steep losses in valuation. It is truly like a marriage. We are in it ‘for worse,’ just as we are in it ‘for better’ times. Big Pharma can be a great training ground and teach the rigor that is vital to drug development, but Big Pharma leaders often get bogged down in the many bureaucratic layers yielding slower progression. Accordingly, vetting them for being under the microscope of a small company where there is no place to hide, is mission critical.
Raw speed, without cutting corners is a brave art form for our clients and they deserve to have us in lock step with them. While this semi virtual world makes it more difficult to read ‘culture,’ our passion for cultural fit remains ever present. We know that in smaller companies, one ill-fitting hire can devastate an organization. Our objective is to know our clients so well that we can complete each other’s sentences – as with any long-term relationship.
We use a third-party assessment tool that we have relied upon for the last 20 years, but have ramped up our use for this 3rd eye scrutiny in the past decade. Some recruiting firms have bought their own assessment companies, but we have witnessed that their alleged firewall between recruiting and candidate assessment can be breached. To maintain getting too emotionally involved in championing candidates we believe that a fully independent candidate assessment, responsive to work style and leader behaviors that can ‘flip’ under significant pressure, must be ferreted out. Besides, what life science company isn’t under significant pressure these days? With these assessments, joined with 360-degree references and our comprehensive candidate vetting, we are able to present a multi-dimensional predictor of each candidate’s success.