In recent conversations with investors, availability of the right people to join biotech Boards has come up as a recurring theme and the prevailing belief seems to be that there aren’t enough talented people to go around. I must admit, I’ve found this both surprising and disappointing because the availability of really talented, creative and inspiring people in this industry seems almost boundless and their value is too often overlooked.

In fact, what I’m hearing supports my view that the life sciences sector, built on innovation and entrepreneurship, is too often held back by conservative and risk-averse behaviours by more traditional thinkers. Yet, never has the life sciences sector been more important or achieved such a high profile as it has during the pandemic of 2020.

Boards need to be more purposeful

We’re all thinking about how the world could work better once we are through this pandemic, or at least once we have all adapted to it, and I would certainly like to think that people are willing to embrace new behaviours. One that would help the life sciences sector is for Boards to reflect society rather better than they do by being more diverse;  we have written much on this topic in the past to show how diverse Boards are more successful by almost any measure. Secondly, Boards will need to be more purposeful and aligned to a greater breadth of societal and strategic imperatives.

The Global Board Survey of 2020 looked at over 1500 Board Chairs and Board members from around the world, representing a huge diversity of business, both large and small. The overarching conclusion is that one of the distinct characteristics of truly effective and value-adding boards, is the shared vision of wanting to make a positive difference – obviously for the company but increasingly also in a broader societal context. In other words, Boards that we can categorise as Purposeful Boards. The survey also showed that Boards feel least comfortable around cyber risk/data privacy, digitalisation, talent management and innovation. This should not be too much of a surprise as these areas are farthest away from the Board’s traditional focus but neither should this be difficult to fix.

Four recommendations to focus on

I found the four recommendations of the global survey compelling and relevant, Boards must:

  • Engage – fully embrace the needs of all stakeholders to be more purposeful.
  • Innovate – treat each and every idea passionately like a start-up would and free people’s thinking from the pull of the past, the corporate legacy and complicated internal politics.
  • ‘Glocalise’ – reduce those vulnerable global supply chains to minimise vulnerability.
  • Diversify – recruit fresher, digital-savvy candidates who know how to contribute with real value to discussions on sustainability, AI, robotics, blockchain and all the other disruptive changes that surround us.

Life Science Boards must rise to the challenge

Life science companies are perfectly positioned to be seen as purposeful and of course many do this brilliantly. With the merry-go-round of the same people popping up on one Board after another while investors complain of a lack of talent, now is the time to recognise that it’s not a shortage of good people that is the problem but a willingness to think differently. The pressure on Boards to be better aligned with societal need and to be open to increasing diversity should trigger an engagement with a new cohort able to move the industry forward with energy, creativity and inspiring leadership for a future where it will be more important than ever.

What do you think? Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss.

Mark Howard, Managing Partner

The RSA Group

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