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Management teams: right people, right time, right place

For life science companies, getting the senior management team right can be more important to company success than the technology itself, says David Wallder of Aggio Partners.

Speaking today at the White Rose Bioscience Forum in York (Tuesday 31 October), Wallder told delegates:

“For early stage life science companies, building a successful management team is the ‘holy grail’. The best management can make ordinary technology fly, but poor management will very often result in companies with even the best technology either not achieving their full potential – or worse, failing miserably!”

Today's life science executives need a broader range of skills and competencies than ever before: raising funds, managing complex intellectual property and licensing issues and not least leading and managing their staff - all whilst aiming for realistic exit strategies for investors.

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“Building successful management teams is about hiring the right people at the right time,” Wallder says. ”A great start-up CEO will not necessarily be the right person at the series B investment stage, or at trade sale or IPO.”

Wallder advises that the UK should try to emulate the US, where life science companies take a different view to management: “In the US, the mindset is different”, he explains. “It’s recognised that the skill set required throughout a company’s life will be different at specific stages, and because there are so few people with the necessary skills and experience to drive a company from start-up to plc, it is common practice for senior management to be replaced during the company’s progression.”

However, in the US this is not viewed as failure on the part of the outgoing management – it’s simply a pragmatic step that ensures the continued commercial health of the company. Says Wallder: “The management is seen as having effectively completed the job they were hired to do at that particular stage. The beauty of the US practice is that it frees up talented executives for other companies, who are at the stage where they could use their particular skills and experience.”

In the UK, the perception of success and failure is different, he says, an outgoing senior management can be seen in a negative light, rather than congratulated for successfully taking the company to its next stage.

“The UK practice of hiring a CEO and then expecting that person to be all things to all people at all stages is unrealistic. This is particularly so when the founding academic takes on the CEO role. It is the responsibility of the company board and its investors to allow senior management to play to their strengths but to recognise when new strengths are required. The company will be more attractive to investors in later funding rounds if this issue is addressed before approaches for funding are made,” he says.

Jo Kelly | alfa
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