This blog was written by Ankit Mahadevia, CEO of Spero Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.
Much has been said about who and when to hire in this blog (here and here for example), but the how is just as important. What I’ve observed having built teams across multiple companies is that the support one enlists to build a team can dramatically impact the quality of the process. I will spend a few paragraphs on the cast of characters that can help this important process be as successful as possible:
Board and Team
We are big believers at Spero in the power of the collective in assessing cultural fit. There is a lot of formal scholarship supporting this [here for a reasoned explanation about the power of consensus]. A good fit means that a star hire can spend energy on the tasks at hand rather than working to fit in or resolve unnecessary conflicts. Collaborative doesn’t mean an interview with everyone in the company, of course – there are many ways to proxy for the “team vote.” At Spero, for example, we’ve enlisted a “Culture Club” (cue the music) at the VP and Senior Director level that we feel has a strong sense of the company’s culture and direction to be an integral part of every hiring process.
In addition, especially for senior hires, enlisting a specific member of the Board can help drive the process home. Having another set of eyes on fit and talent, and conveying to the candidate the importance and seriousness of your company’s interest can only help in our opinion. Choosing a Board member with a functional overlap with your hire (if possible) works out great especially if you are hiring outside your own specific expertise. Thoughtful counterpoint from a Board member has in several instances nudged me away from a problematic hire, or pointed me towards a diamond in the rough.
Executive Search Firms
Especially as one builds scale, to get a recruiter or not becomes the question. It is sometimes a point of pride for leaders that their raw magnetism and network is so vast that they were able to get a key hire over the line without one. Ego aside, in my experience, even though you can run a marathon in work boots instead of running shoes, why do it if not required?
The right (more below) search partner can really jumpstart a process; at Spero this has led us to engage a search for half of our senior hires, even if we had our ideal candidate in mind at the start. The right search firm can:
- Make calls you can’t (or would rather not): Biotech is a small world full of interconnecting relationships. Especially for a high profile hire that is currently employed, having an independent party beginning the initial outreach can expand reach and efficiency.
- Expand the pool beyond the “usual suspects” – as we here in Cambridge believe we are in the center of the universe, we can fall into the trap of not looking beyond our borders and networks for the best people. Some of our best hires have come from outside the Boston area, and were individuals we would have been unlikely to meet.
- Provide an independent sounding board: IF you’ve picked the right search partner (see below), it can be helpful to have an independent set of experienced eyes uncolored by your and your company’s biases.
Not all search firms are created equal. I have found that the best ones 1) deploy a senior person on the front lines with you and your potential hires, 2) really (really) understand your story and can communicate it well and 3) have been in business long enough to have built a well trained eye for talent. We tend to go with search firms that are strong generalists rather than technical specialists as this eye for talent is so important to us in the initial screens.
All of this said, it is my opinion that one has to commit fully to hiring a great person. It needs to be at the top of your to do list to get done and get done well. Regardless of your recruiter or your Board, only you can invest in the relationship with a new hire that drives a successful process and ultimately a good working relationship. Still, having the right colleagues on your side can help immensely and then free your time up to build a great business with the team you’ve put together.