Successful Biotech companies – “It’s all about teams and people”​

Successful Biotech companies – “It’s all about teams and people”​

Next week, I will be chairing a panel at BioForward 2019 where the topic will be “The Importance of Appointing & Retaining the Right Team & Board for your Organisation” It reminded me of an event that Horton International Global Healthcare sponsored a couple of years ago – the BioCity Annual Lecture in Nottingham, UK. where the guest speaker was Dr. Andy Richards CBE who spoke about his career in the industry, the lessons he had learned and his hopes and expectations for the future.

During the Q&A session, Andy was asked what the most important ingredient was when it came to building a successful bioscience company. He didn’t hesitate when he said, “It’s all about teams and people”. I could not agree more but working out what the required skills and attributes are, then identifying and attracting those people, is a challenging exercise.

I have spent the past 30 years looking for just those people, firstly in my career with Genzyme and GeneMedix then for the past 15 years within Executive Search, where I have helped early stage bioscience companies to build the team that will make the company tick. I thought I would share my thoughts about the skills and attributes that I believe are needed in the emerging biotech sector.

Providing Leadership and setting the culture

The company CEO has to be an enthusiast, have a clearly defined vision, and be able to communicate that vision to all staff. This will help him/her to build the culture within the company; building the expectations within the organisation and setting the norms. The CEO has to have real credibility and be a true leader. Recruiting staff who share the enthusiasm and the vision is a must, if the cultural environment is to thrive.

Scientific and Technical Expertise

It goes without saying, that in a small organisation each person has to be able to contribute fully, and provide the scientific or technical skills that the role and the organisation needs.


Emerging bioscience companies are not for people who are clock-watchers or like to work from 9-5. But it is not just about putting long hours into a role, it’s about working smartly and being able to put the extra hours in a peak times. It’s also about taking on tasks and getting things done, without necessarily being instructed. The final line in the job description may say “to undertake any task, as required”.

Hands-on and Flexible

A former biotech CEO, joining the company from big pharma, told me that he was left in little doubt that his role was going to be very hands-on, when he arrived at his office to find his desk in a flat-pack with a set of assembly instructions. An emerging biotech company is no place for people with a false feeling of grandeur; if a job needs doing, get up and do it!

Team player

The team element is so critical in a small, dynamic organisation. Everyone has to be an individual contributor, but most importantly, has to have a set of shared goals and values with the people around them. Working in a biotech environment can be stressful, and support from co-workers can be essential. Most importantly, however, is the desire to be part of a “success culture” rather than a “blame culture”.

Strong communicator

Probably essential in any key role in any industry.

Quick Learner

Within an emerging biotech company, there are usually tasks that need to be completed, without having the people with the previous experience of completing those tasks. This inevitably requires someone to learn the basics of whatever is required (and quickly), and be able to convince others that that they know what they are doing! Having self-confidence and the innate intellect to nimbly learn new skills, is essential.

An enthusiast

Having a strong belief in the goals of the company and the willingness to share in the successes and the challenges of the rest of the team. This is really a job for people with the “work hard / play hard” mind set.

In a nutshell, working for an early biotech company isn’t for everyone. For every success story, there are many more tales of clinical failures and/or the inability to raise new funds. So anyone entering the bioscience world has to be a realist, and has to be able to bounce back if they are knocked down. But the journey can be a fantastic experience; exciting and creative work colleagues, new and innovative science and the ultimate aim of addressing unmet medical needs.

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