Aligning the three business "rights"

March 1, 2007
David Wallder
Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Volume 19, Issue 3

The acquisition and integration of postdevelopment phase staff could be likened to a relay race where making the hand-over of the baton correctly is critical.

Commercial success in any company is generally dependent on three key attributes being in alignment —having the right people in the right place at the right time. The achievement of these three criteria enables a business to fulfil its potential. Get the combination right and the probability of your business succeeding increases; however, get any one of them wrong, and it is likely that you will not be in business for long.

David Wallder

While this might seem obvious, there is a subtlety to aligning these attributes that is frequently overlooked. During their lifetime, businesses evolve so that what is appropriate at the time of a company's start-up phase (when the company is mostly technology driven) is often not the same as what is required to take the company forward to an exit event such as a trade sale IPO, RPO or a major licensing deal.

It is true that a certain amount of luck is critical to business success, but the company's human capital should not involve luck at all. The human resource should be strategized, continuously reviewed, and managed with as much attention and care as is taken with the company's finances.

As a life sciences company moves from the science phase to commercialization, the focus on human capital is primarily on scientists and technicians. But if things go well, identifying the point in the company's evolution where new skills and competencies must be found and integrated to ensure commercial success is crucial to survival.

The acquisition and integration of postdevelopment phase staff could be likened to a relay race where making the handover of the baton correctly is critical. It is important to have a strategic business plan that takes you from the start-up phase all the way through to an exit event, with staffing forming the foundation.

In the early stages, the company's board is likely to be small with only a part-time CEO or CSO. At this point, the demand for business skills may seem a distant problem, but it is one that many companies face much sooner than expected. This leads us to another aspect of the three 'rights': balance.

Balance is crucial to success as the board and senior management team must have the right mix of full-time executive positions and nonexecutive directors, and to have a supportive, energizing association as opposed to a 'master–slave' relationship. The board's role has to be both supportive of, and challenging to, the senior management team. This management team in turn should have an entrepreneurial flair, along with the ability to complete deals — ultimately they must be able to sell the company.

The right management team also adds value by attracting investors, partners and future associates including future board members, executive management and junior staff. Integral to this is the requirement to build, understand and have a strategic view of the management team as it is created. This process requires thorough researching and analysis of references to understand each of the individuals in the company, both in terms of their current skills and competencies, and to be able to envision what will be required for the next stage of corporate development and, ultimately, for the end game.

People are generally hired for their skills and fired for their attitude so the need to make the right personnel decisions at the initial recruitment stage is crucial. Sourcing the right people can be done several ways. A common method is through personal networking, but there is a 'hit or miss' quality to this that adds extra time, effort and the potential for error into the process. While sources such as networking can sometimes identify a few people, inevitably the 'pool' of candidates will need to be supplemented.

One way to find the right staff is to use a professional headhunter that can add value to the staff acquisition process from candidate calibration and benchmarking, through search of a particular market sector, to brokering the final offer and securing the chosen candidate.

To conclude: it is not enough for a company to have great science. It must have a great board, management and staff. The returns from having recruited the right team at the right time and in the right place — in other words, in a timely fashion synchronized with the company's growth — cannot be understated.

David Wallder is a director and founder member of Aggio (UK).