Opportunities and challenges of executive search in life sciences

15. March 2017 | Drooms Global

Stephan B. Breitfeld is a Managing Director at GenSearch. We asked him a few questions about talent development in the field of life sciences.


Stephan B. Breitfeld, Managing Director of GenSearch / Executive Search Professional for Life Sciences

What are the most important trends you see in the life sciences industry over the next five years?
In the life sciences industry, there are many topics and developments that are relevant to us because they always have an immediate impact on the staff that is in demand. At the moment, Companion Diagnostics is certainly an important topic with all its facets, as well as the potentials of biosimilars and, of course, the large areas of digitization, big data and data security. Against the backdrop of the digital revolution in the healthcare sector, this will continue to be important for us for a long time.

What makes executive search in life sciences special?
What makes this job special is certainly the diversity of positions. We are talking about an industry that covers a wide range of medical devices, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Looking at the research and development departments in these sectors alone makes one thing very clear: it does not get boring! There have been and are still very small, very innovative companies within these industries with very exciting products, which we are allowed to contribute to. It is always a pleasure to learn something new!

What is such an executive search process like?
There is no solution algorithm. Each search is different and is also viewed and treated individually by us. The top priority is therefore always to continuously adjust our processes - even during a search – so that at the end the customer is satisfied with the result. So we do not begin by opening up the manual and following the steps but, as is quite common in project management, we have to prepare strategically individual solutions.

Which course of search leads to an optimal result?
With an open and trusting communication between all parties involved, the search projects achieve the optimum result. This includes rapid feedback from all stakeholders at any time during the project. This is so important because some search projects have to develop in an agile manner, and the result depends decisively on this flexibility. Sometimes, the customer only becomes aware at a later point of the process who they are really looking for. We always have this in mind.

Whose side are you on?
I consider myself as a moderator between all parties on the one hand, and a project manager for all processes within a search on the other. It is important to draw attention to where it is needed.

Is there any specific knowledge or characteristics that you are always looking for?
If there is a trait that you always need, then that is certainly resilience. Today's life and day-to-day business includes crisis management and the associated creation of new resources for further personal development. This is certainly something we are always looking for.
On the other hand, specialist or expert knowledge is becoming less and less important the higher up you get on your career path. Certainly, a specific level of familiarity with the product or research object is necessary, but the higher the position the more important becomes knowledge of the processes and the handling, as well as "leadership qualities".

What makes a search successful for you?
From our point of view, a search is successful when customers and candidates are satisfied in the end. This is important because only an optimal result for both parties is an optimal result for us as well. The satisfaction of the candidate might be expressed e.g. through a trustful feedback when there are unforeseen problems. Customer satisfaction is generally expressed by follow-up projects.
A great part of our philosophy is to bring together this resulting network from different disciplines. To this end, we use our own specialist events such as Life Science Talks & Dinner in Paris, or our "Get-together" for the second time this year on the eve of the Bionnale in Berlin.

How can candidates prepare for a high-profile interview?
This is of course also individual, both for the customer and for the candidate. In principle, however, they can always bring a good mood, cultivate an open communication style, know when to listen, and ask questions which lead to the conclusion that preparation has taken place. Despite such preparation, you should also be careful not to play any role, but to present yourself as you are.

Stephan B. Breitfeld is a Managing Director at GenSearch; An international HR Services Consultancy with a particular focus on life sciences. He has more than 16 years of experience in searching for executives in the life science & industrial fields.