CEO Spills the Secret to Attracting, Retaining Biotech Talent

August 13, 2018

Pharmaceutical Executive

One of the most important jobs of a biotech executive is building a strong team that will not only keep a company competitive in the current market, but will also have the stamina to carry it into the future.

As the CEO of Eloxx Pharmaceuticals, one of my main goals is to attract top talent to our fast-growing team.

The success of a biotech company is largely dependent upon a leader’s ability to attract and hire experienced employees who are passionate about the cause. Over the course of 30-plus years, I’ve been fortunate to have learned so much from working alongside top leaders in life sciences and I am able to apply the best practices I learned from them to attract and retain top talent. 

Innovation is a team sport

One important quality we look forward in our hiring is an individual’s ability to work collaboratively and problem solve. During the hiring process, we ask the question – “Can you build credibility with your colleagues through reliability and are you comfortable collaborating with people who have diverse perspectives or different backgrounds?” 

Diversity is at the heart of creating the strongest programs and the high performing teams. As CEO, you must invest time in considering every employee and demonstrate an investment in them. Non-gratuitous rewards and recognition build a strong employer value proposition and ensure your biotech continues to attract and retain top performers. This is especially true at the start-up stage, when companies need to consider each employee in terms of what they can contribute to a culture committed to diversity in thought, voice and experience. 

In addition to diversity, we focus on real-life examples which are proof points when individuals overcame challenges or helped to forge a group of individuals together as a team. Biotechnology is a complex and challenging field, so it’s very common to face set-backs, disagreement and conflicts. Therefore, it is critical that the individual is able to stay solution-focused and reach out for diverse perspectives in order to address the problem and continue to move the company forward. Are they comfortable understanding that it’s not about being the smartest person in the room? It is all about creating the right team environment which provides opportunities for the diverse team members to contribute and work towards solutions.

Become a Talent Magnet 

There is always a “tipping point” at which a transformation happens and you become a talent magnet for researchers, scientists and other high performing employees. High-potential individuals are attracted to working with other high-potential individuals and this is how successful companies build momentum. 

When I first joined Radius Health as CEO in 2013, there were only six employees. When I left in 2017, there were 650. We went from being an under-the-radar biotech that no one had ever heard of, to being the fastest growing biotech company in Boston, according to The Boston Globe. We were able to do that, because we recruited top talent and high-performing teams. If you look at companies that run into trouble, it is those companies that lose talent. Without the right people to execute on the strategy, the company won’t succeed.

Look to hire individuals with a track record of success-which is defined by delivering on projects and working to create a culture that supports diverstiy, collaboration and innovation. When seeking new career opportunities, people reach out to their network of colleagues who they know are effective and great to work with. This creates a cycle in which high-talent individuals know other high-talent individuals and act as a magnet to the company. It is the company’s talent engine that drives growth.

At Eloxx, we have approximately 20 employees and expect to double in size by year end. In fact, we’ve just attracted three new leaders to the company whose experience will accelerate the company’s growth. 

As a biotech CEO, I believe that identifying, attracting and retaining a group of experienced individuals with demonstrated success in the biopharma industry, who also share similar views on creating a place for high potential individuals to fulfill their destinies, is what makes a successful biotech. 

 

Robert E. Ward joined Eloxx as chairman and CEO in December 2017. He previously served as the president and CEO at Radius Health where he successfully completed the company’s initial public offering and raised more than $780 million from private and public investors. Ward has held a series of management and executive roles with companies including NPS Pharmaceuticals, Schering-Plough (Merck), Pharmacia (Pfizer), Bristol-Myers Squibb and Genentech. He has been a director of Akari Therapeutics, Plc since 2016 and chairs its Governance Committee. He also currently serves as a director of the Massachusetts High Technology Council. Ward earned an B.A. in Biology and a B.S. in Physiological Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an M.S. in Management from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and an M.A. in Immunology from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He lives with his family in the Boston area.