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The Rise and Rise of Interim Managers in Life Sciences

Authored by Karl Simpson

Over the past 20 years, the industrial world and the global workplace has witnessed one of the most dramatic changes in the way organisations assemble the requisite skills and experiences necessary to drive their businesses. Individuals have transformed the way they think about the working environment, moving from the relative stability of long-term permanent employment to the transitory opportunities initially offered by ‘consulting’ and latterly the ‘interim executives’ market. The blend of resources that companies now used to achieve their objectives are varied, with outsourcing and services companies a more prevalent participant in support and delivery than at any time in history. Equally, as companies rationalise their core workforce, they grow ever reliant of other flexible workforce solutions to meet their broader resource demands. This has given birth to a large increase in ‘freelance’ workers, and today the ‘interim executive‘ is a very real and unique class of this workforce who are driving the success of many companies across a myriad of industry segments. In this article, we take a look at key reasons why this workforce is of such value to the life sciences community.

#Project Culture

Interims provide an eloquent solution to a diverse array of business challenges. Their employment serves many needs and the tasks they inherit numerous. Companies in general, and certainly life sciences companies, increasingly find their organisations oriented to ‘project working’. Work does not follow an infinite continuum, instead experts with multiple skills are often assembled to deliver a particular project within a set timeframe. It might be to drive the clinical development of a new therapeutic drug, innovate a technological advance to enhance the value and application of a medical device, or perhaps to move manufacturing plants from one part of the world to another. Whichever, the very core of the task is project based. As many companies in the life sciences sector have reduced their core workforce substantially, they are often reliant upon finding people who can come into the company immediately with all the requisite capabilities to do the job and deliver the project.

#Dynamic skill demands

The process of taking a drug from research, through early development, into full clinical development and commercialisation, takes a very long time. Not only does it take time but it also takes a huge reservoir of knowledge, skills and expertise to execute every step along the way. As the program evolves, then so many different capabilities are needed. Whether in a large company or small biotechnology company, the use of capabilities acutely designed to address that specific aspect of the development are critical. In this sense, interim executives perfectly meet the business driven experience requirements.

Similarly, if you look at the growth of most biotech companies, they try to keep a very small and lean team of core staff. Added to this, they employ the capabilities of proven experts who can contribute very specific knowledge to their business at the required stage. They rarely can afford to make permanent commitments of employing people like this, nor often can they utilise them fully on an on-going basis. To have access to such a wealth of experience through interim executives, brought together for a key purpose or strategic objective, serves the company incredibly well.

#Challenging recruitment cycles

We would all love to be able to identify the need for a new recruit and then instantly dip into the market and quickly hire the ideal person. However, the truth of today’s recruitment market is quite different. Instead, we often face international recruitment searches conducted across borders, cultures, currencies and economies. This complexity, coupled with a distinct challenge of assembling suitable candidates in highly specialised skill-sets and with lengthy notice periods, lead to lengthy recruitment timelines. Senior and specialised recruiting can take months to get right and it can be months before the person starts. Yet, all this time your business has needs, it is dynamically changing. You need people of particular expertise and you need them now. In this regard, interim executives offer you that perfect solution. Attainable in days or weeks, they bring exactly the knowledge and experience your business demands while you continue to pursue the perfect permanent hire.

#Venture backed businesses

The life sciences market is populated with a high percentage of companies backed by venture funding or private capital. Whether the business is backed by a traditional venture capital company, a corporate venture fund, private equity, a business angel or some other financing vehicle, the venture partner is likely to take a very strong interest in the performance of the business. When a business is under performing, the investors need to ensure the reasons for this under performance are not due to the way in which the company is managed by the CEO. If the CEO, or another executive, is seen to ineffectively lead the company, a new CEO or executive needs to be appointed to turn the situation around. CEO’s make decisions about the business which are often affected by intense pressures facing that business, whether they are pressures around drug development failures or perhaps the licensing of a key asset. If investors lose faith in an executive to address these issues, they can rapidly deploy interims. Interim Executives are a very good way to arrest poor performance and to set the company on a more positive trajectory until a suitable permanent successor is found. Also, the key to success in many small venture funded companies is the ability to be nimble, to change direction quickly. The ability to rapidly assimilate the right leadership to achieve key strategic objectives is fundamental and interim executives can neatly fit these pivotal milestones.

#Change programmes predominate

If you work in the life sciences sector and you’ve not been subject to a change programme of some type, you have been extremely fortuitous. This industry has been restructuring, rationalising workforces, strategically realigning, outsourcing, relocating to low-cost countries, seeking new models for innovation and drug development, basically trying everything it can to achieve greater success. Change programmes are the ideal landscape for the interim executive. They can bring their particular brand of expertise to deliver a designated programme. They bring objectivity and an ability to enact the tough decisions that more politically positioned leaders sometimes find difficult. Similarly though, change programmes often map out a destination and you need certain capabilities to navigate the course which are not always locked up in the increasingly resource constrained environments. The life sciences industry is set to continue to undergo radical changes that will be necessary for its prosperity in a post-patent cliff and austere economy. These changes can be delivered through intelligent use of highly capable and expert interim executives.

Interim Executives is a growing workforce and this growth is a response to the demands that have arisen from some of the industry’s specific conditions outlined above. Looking forward, you can clearly see the continuing rise of this workforce as these issues pervade this life sciences sector.


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