Women on Boards: A Life Sciences’ Perspective
More to follow soon...
Home > Media Room > Nick Stephens chairs a session at the BIA Annual Bioscience Forum in London
Nick Stephens chairs a session at the BIA Annual Bioscience Forum in London titled "Focus on Talent Management in the New World"
RSA CEO Nick Stephens chaired a session at the BIA Annual Bioscience Forum in London titled "Focus on Talent Management in the New World". The following is a synopsis of this session: Perspectives on Talent Management in the New World.
The restraints under which UK biotech is operating have been well-rehearsed, noted Nick Stephens, as he introduced the first session on Talent Management. Money is tight, cash is short, the place where people are investing is the East - be that China or the east coast of the US. "There is a vacuum in Europe and especially here in the UK."
It is now accepted that the venture capital funding model is broken; the value of businesses is not going up and UK biotech is missing inflection points. The result is merger and acquisitions, leading to downsizing and fewer roles - there is more to, but less for everyone to do. In this environment, "The key is to make your company into one that survives," said Stephens.
To some it may seem an expensive luxury, but at such a time Talent Management is ever-more important. "When there was lots of money we lived in a bubble and allowed ourselves to underperform," Stephens said. "The business plan didn't drive the business, the pipeline didn't call the shots in the way it should; we carried on playing with the things that interested us."
If there was a reorganisation it was often a case of changing the label on the door but continuing to do the same things as before. Stephens believes biotech faces a particular problem in this respect: most businesses start at the preclinical phase when the focus is on science. Organisations can rapidly get out of kilter with lots of scientists doing preclinical work, when the business should be moving on to hire people focussed on development.
According to Stephens there are lots of biotechs with scientists still doing what they did when the company was founded. "They need to bring in new skills; this is self-evident. What you see is organisations that are lagging behind their pipelines." Now said Stephens, "The time for rearranging the deckchairs is over. Biotech needs new strategies, new directions."
The Talent Management Gap
As Carolyn Ponder, Partner at the Scala Group noted, everyone pays lip service to the importance of Talent Management, but there are three gaps when it comes to embracing it:
While usually it is seen as outside the area of major concern, actually Talent Management needs to be at the core. "You can't develop a leadership programme as a Human Resources initiative," said Ponder. Talent Management is not just a case of instituting systems and processes. Individuals have to take responsibility.
With competition is now coming from India, China and Brazil, there is a need to innovate across organisational boundaries, to spot opportunities and manage uncertainty.
"If there is not Talent Management from the top of the business, you won't achieve these things at all," Ponder warned, adding, "Indeed, I would argue that Talent Management is as critical to a business as its financial systems."
Another feature of biotech is the high level of collaboration with external partners in academe, CROs and licensees. "In other words, you need Talent Management not just in the company, but also outside," Ponder said.
While it is usually the case that companies have a good feel for their technical talent, there is little understanding of the behavioural talent. "You've got to discuss with people coming up through the organisation regularly, and you've got to listen to what happens at the bottom. You can't afford negativity, because talent turns itself off, so you've got to make sure people feel needed."
A further misconception is that Talent Management is solely concerned with grooming the elite. "You need to use all your pebbles," said Ponder. "There is a greater return on investment if you take an inclusive approach, embracing all talent." This will provide a clear idea of who has the talent for the next role, and who is happy and does not want another role.
In summary, said Ponder, "The recession offers us the opportunity to change the way we work as leaders of organisations. All employees need to raise their game - don't allow people with a lack of competence to stay."
Talent Management in a recession
There is an inherent conflict in the biotech sector: The industry as whole needs to develop talent, but individual companies now, more than ever, cannot afford the money to do this, said Alan Garmonsway, Managing Director of Garmonsway Green Consulting.
In the hard times of recession Talent Management takes on a different complexion. Headcount is pared to the bone and there is no second tier of management to groom for succession. But there is still a need for decisions and planning on whether to develop or to bring in skills. As Garmonsway noted, "not many research directors in biotech come up through the ranks, they are brought in," and at the same time, "Moving people internally to do new things will inevitably mean a dip in their performance in the early days," - something a pared-down company cannot afford.
To see the light at the end of tunnel, companies need to engender a culture of effective delegation. This requires functional heads to advance to higher levels, increasing the overall ability within a company to delegate.
At the same time, the downsizing and mergers and acquisitions that have been sparked by recession, have to be piggy-backed as an opportunity to develop talent. For example, transition teams can be set up to carry out particular projects. "This gives you an opportunity to see how people work and use them in future in a different way," said Garmonsway.
Outsourcing is another area where it is possible to piggy back Talent Management. Staff are asked to build relationships with external suppliers, and again this is an opportunity to assess and develop people.
Other examples of a creative approach to Talent Management in a recession include:
"The climate is difficult, but doing nothing about Talent Management is a false economy," said Garmonsway. "Decide on your key individuals and use business opportunities on which to piggy-back talent management."
Talent Management on the front line
Ursula Ney, Chief Operating Officer of Antisoma described how the company is deploying Talent Management in the economic crisis to harbour cash resources whilst moving on to develop a commercial focus, as the lead products reach the end of clinical development and preparations are made to market them.
With the financial markets closed, Antisoma has decided to concentrate cash on the programmes that are most likely to deliver value in the shorter term, whilst retaining depth in the portfolio. "There were hard choices to be made to focus in on the value drivers in the portfolio, and focus on the people that can deliver that value," said Ney. In addition, the company needed to decide if these people should be based at the UK or US operations.
Following a review in the 2008 - 2009 financial year, 20 people were made redundant across the company at both the US and UK sites, to reduce duplication and focus on the expertise that was needed for the future. "A lot of these people had been there a long time - but they did not have the rights skills for the stage the company has now reached," said Ney.
It is tough to make people redundant and the uncertainty and loss of colleagues is hard on the people who remain. "Those left have got to support you, so don't slash the training budget and make it horrible for people."
Following a recruitment freeze, Antisoma has now got a targeted recruitment plan in place for the key expertise it will need to take the lead programmes forward once the Phase III trials report. "We will be preparing to file NDAs and for market. [The recruitment plan] covers not just permanent employees but also contractors that will be needed for fixed amount of time," said Ney.
Realigning talent in the face of an impending cash crisis
An imbalance of skills and a shortage money confronted John Dawson when he was appointed as CEO of Oxford Biomedica plc in October 2008, after the lead product TroVax failed in a Phase III study in renal cancer.
"I walked into a state of the nation situation: the company was imbalanced, TroVax had just failed and there was one year's money left." The difficulty was to finesse the needs of the company against the short cash window. "The board needed to be strengthened and the company realigned to a more commercial focus. We needed new hires and there was also the issue of [low] morale over the loss of TroVax to deal with," Dawson said.
In 2008 headcount was reduced by 14 percent to 76, moving the centre of gravity away from science to commercialisation and extending the cash window to the second half of 2010. Oxford BioMedica worked with the FDA to understand the implications of the failure of the TroVax trial, and to allow further development of the product.
The decisive element in securing the company's future was the extremely good relationship that had been built up with TroVax partner sanofi-aventis. That enabled Dawson and his colleagues to negotiate the return of the TroVax rights to Oxford Biomedica with a GBP 11 million settlement fee from sanofi, and at the same time agree a new collaboration with the Paris-based company for four preclinical ophthalmic programmes. That deal gave Oxford Biomedica a GBP18 million upfront payment, with a further GBP 16 million to fund R&D of the products.
"We've now got GBP30 million in the bank, which takes us to 2012 - that's a great place to be in the current market," said Dawson.
In a very difficult situation, Oxford Biomedica strengthened its board and management, focused its development, streamlined operations and rescued TroVax - which is now ready to be re-partnered. "We are now well-positioned for value growth and wealth creation," said Dawson. "We've got the products, the management team and the infrastructure to do it."
The role of Talent Management in Boosting the UK's Capacity to Innovate
Tony Bradshaw, Co-Director of the HealthTech and Medicines Knowledge Transfer Network, described plans that are being drawn up to build the UK capacity to innovate in life sciences through putting in place a Talent Management programme for the sector as a whole. The overall aim is to make the UK a global hub of education in life sciences.
The work of designing the programme draws on previous experience and observation from bioProcessUK. This highlighted, for example, that there is a need to work with schools and with graduates, to build the reputation of the sector and pull in well-qualified recruits. At a post-graduate level the key thing is to create links between higher education institutions and industry, to ensure skills development meets industry needs, and to allow doctoral students to spend time working in industry.
Once in work, mentoring programmes have shown their value in helping people develop their talent and skills. However, said Bradshaw, the critical mass is not there. One element of the Talent Management programme for the sector will be to engage small biotechs in Executive Leadership, possibly through a Virtual Academy of Leadership.
"This is about growing innovation capacity in the UK. The public funds a lot of R&D but is there the innovation capacity to take advantage of that research?" concluded Bradshaw.
|Copyright © 1981- RSA||Legal Notice | Privacy | Cookies|
|RSA Consulting Limited
Registered office: 1-5 Park Street, Old Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL9 5AT
Postal address: The Melon Ground, Hatfield Park, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL9 5NB
Registered in England
Company registration number: 1803896