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Why Life Science Executive Recruitment Firms Fail Their Clients – A View from Across the Pond

Life-Science-Executive-Recruitment (Demo)

Natasha Allen
Global SVP & Europe Region Head
Bench International

Why Life Science Executive Recruitment Firms Fail Their Clients – A View from Across the Pond

Let’s start with an overview of Life Sciences in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom (UK) leads the biotech pack with breakthrough life sciences start-ups, according to a recent McKinsey report. In fact, more than 30 percent of the nearly 1,400 biotechs in Europe originated in the UK, positioning it 2nd only to the United States (US). In addition, private and public investment, deals, and IPOs in the UK all reached record highs in 2020.

We have seen tremendous change in the last few years with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. And new rules and regulations are on the near-term horizon as the government has confirmed that new rules will be introduced in draft legislation this summer allowing biotech firms the ability to claim R&D tax reliefs towards R&D investment and innovation undertaken in the UK to help ensure the life sciences sector remains the biggest investor in R&D in the UK.

At Bench, a key market is the Life Science start-up community, where the dominant growth is taking place on both continents. Our ‘One Team, global footprint enables us to address executive recruitment needs regardless of where companies are based, as they grow and expand. UK biotech CEOs often elect to scale their operations and pursue acquisition by a large pharma company or go public with an IPO on US exchanges. From an impact standpoint, UK CEOs report that the relative size of the US market compels most companies to launch in the US first, requiring US-based leadership and operations. This trend, combined with an observed shift away from big pharma retaining senior roles in Europe, makes a strong case for an enduring relationship with a global life science executive search firm that can meet evolving global recruitment needs.

What is the value of a global search firm?

The obvious value for European headquartered life science companies is to seamlessly place executives in senior roles in a U.S. headquarters or subsidiary. That requires a trusted partnership with an executive search firm with strong relationships on both sides of the Atlantic. A successful partnership necessitates an in-depth understanding of the company’s needs and culture, as well as creating and retaining a vast, relevant network of executives to fill often very specialized roles within compressed timeframes. As a function of their structure and P&L, the huge, multinational recruitment firms lack the agility to amend course based on market trends, provide real time market feedback, or build and retain long-term relationships.

What questions should executives ask before retaining a global search firm?

There are some key questions to ask. The first is: ‘Do you have master service agreements in place that limit my candidate pool?’ The next: ‘How will you ensure my candidate is a cultural fit’?’ Last and most important, ‘What are your impact numbers?’

The right answers

1) Don’t limit my candidate pool
These are real issues that significantly impact the scope and quality of a search. For example, many of the larger recruitment firms tend to have a high number of master service agreements (MSA’s) or ‘hands off’ agreements from their legacy bank of client engagements throughout pharma and Life Sciences. That means when they take on new business, they have a very small pool of candidates they are allowed to engage. At Bench, we are selective and limit the number of MSA’s we enter, so we can provide clients with a large talent pool. In fact, we have a database of over 150,000 Life Science & Healthcare executives and professionals.

This is a major reason we are often brought in for ‘rescue searches’, after other agencies have failed to bring in a candidate. Another is when a firm has done a traditional search and “here’s your three candidates – now pay us”. We structure our engagements on a milestone payment process; we take the risk with our clients. We don’t expect to get paid until we perform. The large firms motivate their recruiters on a transactional basis, while we see ourselves as a partner, before, during the recruitment and long after. And we pride ourselves on ‘finding the unfindable’.

2) Only the personal touch leads to cultural fit and longevity
For cultural fit, we cannot over emphasize the importance of a personal approach. We understand our clients, not just their resourcing needs. We get a feel for the organization, the personality types, and leadership styles. Many larger firms have designated business development people that go out and find the business then hand it over. So, the person that you built the relationship with is replaced with someone that doesn’t know you or the company or the culture. At Bench, we are unique in that we don’t compete internally; there is only one P&L. There are no borders; we are One Global Team.

On the candidate side, we vet candidates well beyond the resume. Of course, Covid has changed the way everyone works, communicates and lives. With video conference interviews the recent normal, many candidates are interviewed, accept offers and are now working without having seen anyone in person. That scenario makes the personal touch more challenging, yet even more important. We want our candidates to know the company beyond the role, so that the attraction is the company vision and passion, the people they’ll be working with, not just the opportunity to take the ‘next step up the career ladder’.

Focus on value and impact

These are all important differentiators, but the question of actual impact is a quantifiable measure of success and should be assessed. A recent survey revealed the most important metrics in the executive search industry worldwide are: 1) the business performance of successful candidates over time, 2) the length of tenure of successful candidates, and 3) diverse slate of candidates.

Let’s unpack the value and impact numbers at Bench. That is really the bottom line for our clients. To start, we have a 98% success rate of all recruiting and mapping engagements with three-quarters of the leaders placed remaining with the company for at least 5 years. What that means is enhanced stability and leadership, and ultimately results. In fact, our clients have achieved $150 billion in exits over our 40-year history. The last metric, diversity, is a core value of Bench. We were built on the foundation of diversity and inclusion and over half of our placements over the last 5 years represent ethnic, gender, and/or underrepresented populations. Our clients understand both the virtues and the compelling business economics that result from inclusivity. Plus, we want to place the best candidate – period.